I have a group of friends who are also dads. That, in itself, would be connection enough. But there are other things that connect us, and amongst these is a love of food. It was this love of eating out that led to the creation of the Dads’ Dining Club three years ago.
Every couple of months, we would take it in turns to choose a restaurant where we’d get together, catch up on our (and our children’s) lives, all while chowing down on top quality nosh.
But then something beyond appalling, beyond comprehension, beyond any kind of sadness happened.
One of us died.
Not me, obviously.
Not any of the guys in the photograph at the top of this post. Obviously.
But Dan. Our wonderful, generous, kind, funny friend passed away at the age of 48, leaving his lovely wife and seven-year-old son.
We were, we are, heartbroken. But this is not a post about grief. Some things will always be confined to the private intimacy of what I felt and will always feel about him.
Ditto the other dads, but especially Scott, Dan’s twin brother and our DDC-in-arms.
So Dads’ Dining Club is no more. It can’t be without Dan: his exuberance, his tactility, his warmth, his curiousity. He was our hub; we were spokes on his wheel. We miss him terribly – always, not just on nights like this – and thus the DDC is now Dan’s Dining Club.
Every two months, we will meet, we will eat, we will talk nonsense – just as we always did – and Dan will be with us. Not in spirit (because none of us believe in that guff), but in our heads and hearts.
We miss you, Dan. We will always miss you. And Dan’s Dining Club will ensure we will never, ever stop missing you.
And to that end, here is our first review of the very first…
DAN’S DINING CLUB: Kitchen Table at Bubbledogs&.
There is a tradition, nay protocol, in restaurants whereby the diner – if satisfied with the experience of the culinary odyssey – profusely thanks the person who has served the gustatory delights and asks said waiter or waitress to convey one’s compliments to the creator of said satiates (is that even a word? I must Google it) – formally known as ‘The Chef’.
And according to that tradition/protocol/whatever, the diner never gets to see The Chef. For he, or she, is an unseen god or goddess, hidden from the sight of the diner in the engine room of the restaurant (aka the sweat and steam of the kitchen).
Like elusive wizards, they conjure up plate after plate of glorious gastronomic wonders, taking no credit for their magical wonders.
As a diner, you rarely get to see the person and persons who are the primary reason you decide to spend hard-earned cash in a restaurant in the first place.
Who are these purveyors of pleasure?
What do they look like? Santa’s elves?
What motivates them?
Is it the love of food or the desire to please strangers? Or both?
All these questions and more were answered at our latest DDC outing to the Michelin-starred Kitchen Table in London’s Charlotte Street.
Now this place is something of a hidden gem – literally. It hides behind thick black curtains at the back of the hotdog and champagne restaurant, Bubbledogs& – a buzzing eaterie populated by achingly trendy ad and media folk from the surrounding offices.
Kitchen Table is the ampersand part of the operation. To get to it, you wend your way past the ‘dog and bubbles quaffers before entering a twinkly oasis of controlled creativity.
At the centre of the room, is the kitchen – fizzing with the activity of half a dozen heads-down chefs, chopping and slicing, tweaking and tweezering, brushing and blow-torching.
Around this is the ‘table’ – actually, more of a counter – surrounded by comfy bar stools, at which we plonked our middle-aged backsides and prepared for the feast.
Explaining the Kitchen Table philosophy, Head Chef James Knappett, says on the restaurant’s website: “When people eat with us at Kitchen Table, we want them to feel like we’re cooking for them at home.
“We’ve designed the table so that everyone can be seated around us, watch us cooking, and talk to us about what we’re preparing.
“It means that the chefs making the food get to serve it directly to the guests eating it. Everyone can learn more about what’s gone into their meal, and we get to learn what our guests like.”
Or put another way (by the Guardian’s Marina O’Loughlin): ‘Cheffery as a spectator sport.’
The menu typically comprises 12 – 14 courses at £88, with each course being described in one noun: scallop, lobster, duck, artichoke, caramel etc etc, so if you need to know the specifics of every element of a dish, you need to ask.
Which I did: here’s a sample of some of the dishes we ate:
– Scallop, brown butter, yuzu, dill, fennel pollen
– Lobster – coral, head, brain, brown butter, ginger, wild garlic, sorrel
– Duck neck, spiced fat, foie de brick, orange, carrot
– Balsamic, truffle, artichoke
– Caramel, cocoa, cookie, hazelnut, milk
But to be honest, a noun would be enough – for Kitchen Table is based on trust: the diner’s trust of the chefs’ expertise – and their trust of the suppliers of their ingredients.
James explains: “We work with small farmers, fishmongers, and suppliers that share the same view of high standards and respect. Instead of telling our suppliers what we want, we like to allow our suppliers to advise us on what the best products of the day are.”
And during the day, instead of serving lunch, the chefs are out in the woods and fields around the south-east, foraging for micro-herbs, fungi and berries for the evening’s extravaganza.
Without question, a lot of what goes on behind the counter is purely for the theatre of the experience: James loses his temper a couple of times, bringing a hush to the diners’ gush of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ over the works of art on our plates.
And there’s no way in a million years that ALL of the prep involved in such complex dishes – the butchering, de-boning, scrubbing, scraping, filleting, blending and so on – can be done in such a small, very public space.
No, Kitchen Table is more about being on the final pass, as each component of every complex plate is assembled with astonishing deft by untrembling hands.
I don’t have the descriptive powers to convey the experience of every dish, except to say that each and every one was a 10/10 hit: each a unique combination of flavours and textures.
And when the whole spectacle comes to an end, James (not quite literally) takes a bow and answers our questions, making clear his passion and love for the ingredients, his methods, and most of all, the pleasure he sees in the responses of his guests.
It wasn’t cheap: with wine, we ended up spending £176 a head. But as the inaugural night for Dan’s Dining Club, there could have been no better experience than the one we had at Kitchen Table It’s just a shame that the guy who would have enjoyed it more than most wasn’t there, too.