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Monday, 2 April 2012

Charthouse Supperclub

Supper Clubs have become the go to event over the last few years and interest shows no signs of abating.

Originally starting as gets together with friends in peoples own houses the domestic slant was later taken over as pop-up restaurants held in houses. So far so good and pop-ups are great fun, James Ramsden’ s Secret Larder being a fine example of a pop-up or Niamh Shields’ occasional foray into dining as opposed to Markets and blogging.

We are lucky to have three very good Supper Clubs in the area, Raspberry Bush, Supperclub Wales and Supperclwb. These take on a venue for an evening and supply twenty or so diners with a meal that shows off the cooking and the ingredients in a friendly, relaxed atmosphere.

Recently though a disturbing trend has developed, existing restaurants and dining establishments running “Supperclub” nights where the meal is merely an extension of the primary purpose and the informality of both home dining and pop-ups is lost.

Luckily in chef Wesley Harris we have an exception!

The Charthouse, near Abergavenny, is a well-respected venue producing good food with an emphasis on local and seasonal ingredients, and is highly rated amongst diners. Recently Wes announced that on Monday evenings he would be running Supper Clubs, having enjoyed meals there in the past I was very interested but, given my comments about existing establishments where the Supperclub concept was merely a continuation of the prime purpose, I needed to find out more.

My phone call gave me all the information needed to ensure a booking – a limited number of guests, emphasis on informality and a chance to talk with Wes about all things food related.

So on a Monday evening we pitched up at the Charthouse.

20 people would be eating, usually the number is limited to 16 or so, and we would do so in a group as opposed to being seated in individual parties as happens in certain establishments.

The group was well mixed, some regulars, a few first timers and some taking the chance to get to know what is involved in cooking good ingredients and serving a seasonal menu.

Initially we mingled in the bar chatting and making new friends before the meal whilst Wes could be seen in the kitchen putting the finishing touches to the meal.

Shortly large heatproof mats were laid on the end of the bar and a pile of warmed plates joined them before the food was brought in. Two large trays of Fish Pie and two of Purple Sprouting Broccoli and an invitation to help yourself! We piled in and went through to a large open square of tables, seating ourselves next to anyone we wanted to talk to.

The pie had a good balance of fish and was topped with very creamy mash, browned under the grill, and the broccoli set it off well the slightly metallic taste balancing the smooth creamy pie. “Help yourself to seconds” was the suggestion and despite having selected good sized portions most did, there was very little remaining afterwards.

Once the tables were cleared we were invited to collect the dessert.

Again a couple of large trays lay on the bar, this time with a take on Queen of Puddings. A crisp base, a rich chocolate sauce and meringue – poached a la “Iles Flotants” rather than baked as in Lemon Meringue Pie.

This clever twist was immensely popular and the trays soon emptied as “seconds” were consumed by nearly all.

Wes joined us for the dessert, kitchen duties over, and happily chatted about his menus, recipes and plans for future events. He firmly supports the informal sharing basis of his Supperclubs and does not want them to be another night of normal service, rather a chance for an informal gathering with good food. So expect more sharing dishes such as pies, a menu that is not just the daily offering and serve yourself rather tahn be served.

Coffee was served to be taken at table or back in the bar and small groups formed discussing the food, the event and when they would return.

Certainly all those attending thought it great and will be back. There is something special about supper clubs which encourage people to talk and enjoy a buzzy atmosphere. The Charthouse Supper Clubs achieve this, running on Monday evenings - traditionally a slow nioght for the restaurant business -  the Supperclubs at the Charthouse offer a chance for good food, good conversation and a chance to “meet the chef”. You can book on 01873 840414.

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