Supper Clubs: Part 1 [The not so secret one]

Supper clubs are like buses.  You hanker after one for so long, having your hopes dashed in the process, only for 2 to turn up in the same week!

The first of these took place on Thursday at Laguna Kitchen and Bar in the Park Plaza Hotel, Cardiff.  Having reviewed Laguna previously it was nice to be invited back as a guest by Park Plaza sample the first of their new special events under the "Supper Club" name, albeit very different to what I anticipated a supper club to be.

Other clubs I've heard of are of the "underground dining" sort - enthusiastic cooks opening up their home or an undisclosed location to paying punters, with some London-based clubs being hugely successful.  Park Plaza took a slightly different approach and so I was joined by Nikki (founder of Your Last Mouthful) and Hannah (Love to Dine) at the launch night - entitled "A Evening with Cloudy Bay" - a four course meal with wine selected from the New Zealand vineyard and a brief talk from the sommelier.

Welsh Beef Fillet Carpaccio, Aged Parmesan, Micro Rocket, Extra Virgin Olive Oil [Photo: Cardiff Bites]
The starter of beef carpaccio was attractively presented, dressed with large shavings of parmesan, a sprinkle of "micro" rocket (it looked like cress to me but the peppery taste confirmed it) and balsamic.  Sadly, despite the meat being paper thin and soft it lacked flavour and needed a lot of additional seasoning to bring out its full potential  Individually the  rocket, balsamic and parmesan were tasty but somehow the effect was lost when eaten together.  This was paired with the Pelorous Sparkling which had just the right amount of sweetness to satisfy my palate without being sickly.

Free Range Chicken, Fennel & Chickpea Ballontine, Spiced Carrot & Coconut Sauce,
Cauliflower Samosa [Photo: Cardiff Bites]
By contrast the chicken dish was unanimously successful, managing to balance a light touch (the chicken was moist and tender) with some very strong flavours - though the aniseed of the fennel was strangely absent.  The samosa (sat atop yet more micro rocket) was the surprise hit for me as, not being a fan of cauliflower, it was lightly spiced, perfectly crisp and thoroughly delicious.  Continuing a winning theme, the pairing of the Sauvignon Blanc was also a hit.  Crisp, clear and with a refreshing elderflower taste.

Smoked Haddock and Spring Onion Risotto, Soft Boiled Egg, Curry Oil [Photo: Cardiff Bites]
The second great dish of the evening was the risotto.  Hannah had eaten this previously and had been raving about it and I have to say it was a delicious dish.  Her only disappointment was that they used a soft boiled egg instead of the usual poached.  To me this made perfect sense as it's far easier for the kitchen to mass-prepare perfectly soft boiled eggs ready for service than try to cook 30 perfectly cooked poached eggs ready to plate.  That's mass catering for you and if you can make things easier on yourself, why not? This take on kedgeree was again light and bursting with flavour.  My only complaint would be that the texture was overwhelmingly on the soft side - soft egg, soft rice and soft fish. A little bite of al-dente rice would have made this dish sing.  We were also slightly confused as to why this wasn't served before the chicken, as is traditional with a fish course.  Not only would this have worked for the meal itself but also for the wine pairing of a syrupy, oaked chardonnay which could then have been followed by that crisp sauv blanc.

Walnut & Raisin Bruschetta, Red Wine Poached Pear, Gorgonzola Dolce [Photo: Cardiff Bites]
Finally there was pudding. Or rather not.  When reading the advance menu I was a little nervous about how this dish would be executed and when faced with yet more rocket on a plate (yes, they managed to serve it at every opportunity) it seemed those fears were confirmed.  Not quite a pudding (despite the very sweet poached pear), not quite a cheese course (despite the salty gorgonzola) this was an extremely disappointing way to follow two very good courses.  So disappointing in fact that I couldn't finish it.  In my feedback to the restaurant I even suggested ditching the poaching of the pear and serving it as a starter. 

Other thoughts I fed back (all at the request of the management team I might add) was the lack of interaction between the diners.  A supper club to me should have a communal feel and, with diners sat at individual tables, the event lacked the camaraderie I expected.  It also meant I constantly had my back to the sommelier and had to turn my chair around to face him as he introduced the wines.  Sitting diners communally with the speaker at the head of the table would have quickly eliminated this.

Park Plaza admitted this was a work in process and one I'm sure one they'll get right very quickly (having feedback from three local food writers tends to do that!).  The main courses were brilliantly executed given they were made on a large scale and the starter showed promise.  All that is needed is a big chocolatey pudding or some petit fours at the end and it'll be fine!

This was an event sponsored by Park Plaza Hotel and as such our meal was complimentary.  Tickets for this and future events are priced at £45pp (the champagne evening is £65pp) and include the meal and specially selected wines.  You can read Hannah's review of the evening here.


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