…well, the SSSC, to be more precise. Friday night signalled the welcomed end to a busy week, and was even more eagerly awaited as we’d managed to book ourselves two places to dine with the Secret Service Supper Club.
The SSSC is the brainchild of Louise Barnard, a local Cordon Bleu-trained chef and the owner of Baby Bites, who you may have come across at one of the city’s Love Food Festivals. Since June 2009, Louise has been hosting infrequent dinner parties at the beautiful old house that she is currently house-sitting – dinner parties where 24 guests (an increase on the original 20, due to popular demand) are treated to a five course meal, welcome drink, canapes and coffee for only £25 per head.
As we arrived, we were shown into a warm and beautifully decorated sitting room, where we were presented with our welcome drinks – a refreshing but warming cocktail of vodka, elderflower cordial, ginger, lemongrass and a slice of lime. Enjoying canapes of oriental-inspired salmon and cucumber parcels, and Jerusalem artichoke, bacon and walnut pesto bites, we admired our surroundings while waiting for the remaining guests to show up.
At 8pm, we and our fellow diners – of a variety of ages, professions and backgrounds – were shown through to the dining room to take our seats. As the log fire crackled beside us, Louise introduced her glamorous assistants Lizzie and Alice, and ran through the menu on the chalkboard in one corner of the room.
The menu was another secret to us – until the evening of the meal, we had no idea what we would be eating. We had been warned in advance that vegetarians or those with food allergies should make themselves known, but had no indication of the meal we would be treated to…
All I can say is that I’m very glad that I had a late breakfast and no lunch! First course was a rocket, potato and lemon soup with homemade smoked garlic foccaccia – a soup that we’d assumed would be thick and wintery, but turned out to be relatively light and refreshing, the tang of the lemon and peppery rocket waking up our tastebuds for the rest of the meal.
Mopping up the last of the soup with the bread (until realising we should probably keep our stomachs free for the next four courses…) we were presented with a salad of beautiful pink seared duck breast, poached pear slices and watercress salad, before moving on to a main of trout roasted with cherry tomatoes and fennel, served with new potatoes. The sweet aniseed flavour of the fennel (one of my favourite vegetables) was the perfect accompaniment to a main course packed full of flavour. Conversation with our neighbours, who work for the BBC and have some very interesting stories to tell, is free-flowing, but stops abruptly whenever a new course is served, showing how much we’re all enjoying the food…
A cheese course of organic, unpasteurised Double Gloucester, served with grapes, walnuts, biscuits and chutney provides food for thought for the next discussion – whether cheese should be served before or after dessert. The cheese lovers amongst us suggest at the end of the meal, as shared plates provide a conversation piece and dessert is a more “solitary” course. Either way, I need to find out where Louise sourced her cheese from, as the quality was the real conversation piece!
Onto the final course of a chocolate and panetone tiramisu that proved our “conversation piece” point…apart from the occasional “mmmm” from our fellow diners, the course was served to a contented silence and blissful grins. An unconventional tiramisu, maybe, but a successful one, and the perfect end to a fantastic evening.
All in all, a great night. We met some interesting people, shared some fantastic food and had a great time overall. Louise’s love of food – and her success in bringing people together for a novel dining experience – really made the evening. At only £25 a head, this was, in our mind, a ridiculously good value-for-money way of not only finding a unique experience for a Friday night in Bristol, but also of meeting fellow foodies in a relaxed environment. A big thank you to Louise and her team, and we’ll definitely be booking again next time round…