Bored by Bordeaux? Perplexed by Malbec? Always drawing a Sauvignon Blanc? Then we might have found just the thing for you. Down an unassuming Clapham backstreet, hidden behind a turquoise door in a converted church, you’ll find the home of the Michel Roux Jr Cookery School and the setting of the Suppermelier supper club we attended.
Yes ‘Suppermelier’ - an intimate wine and food pairing experience with Roux executive chef Toby Stuart and wine expert Raul Diaz. Together, they are on a mission to help people “uncork the secrets to pairing grape with grub”, so think of them as the culinary Holmes and Watson (minus the deerstalker).
On the night itself, we were warmly welcomed by the Cactus Kitchen team who sat us at a large communal dining table where we were introduced us to our fellow guests and hosts for the evening. But social niceties were almost immediately put to one side as all eyes lasered in on the hot, delicious, cheesy goodness that was placed in front of us.
Grilled cheese and sauerkraut toasties might not be the most obvious pairing with a glass of bubbly but man was it good! The crispness of the Champagne cut perfectly through the fattiness of the toasted cheese; so well in fact, that we ate them (and glugged our drinks) at a quite alarming rate. If anything best exemplifies the ethos of the evening it’s this combination – fuss free, easy to prepare at home (after the event we were sent all the recipes and tasting notes by email) and definitely not pretentious. So unpretentious in fact that (spoiler alert) we found out at the end of the night that all of the alcohol we’d been drinking had come from Lidl. Who knew.
To follow, we had three more starters – gigantic juicy grilled prawns, white bean dip with pita bread, and a Burrata fennel salad. It may all seem a bit simple, but remember that these dishes are all prepared by Toby Stuart – a man who’s worked at Aubergine, Clivedon, Richard Neats, Roux, and is now the executive chef for Chez Roux. So it’s rather a cut above your average prawn skewer or bean dip. The communal setting created a great interaction between the guests, as plates were passed around, fingers licked (our own), and conversation flowed.
The focus though was not on the food but on the wine that accompanied it. In fact the food had been chosen to compliment the wine, rather than the other way around. As we ate, Raul talked to us about the wine that was being served, urging us to taste it before we took our first bite and then notice how its flavour and complexity changed after we sampled the dish. He spoke in a way that completely demystified the wine-tasting experience – none of this “notes of oak, soupcon of asparagus” nonsense – and was completely accessible to everyone. We were encouraged to ask questions, disagree with him, even criticise the wine. Most of all, we were encouraged to drink!
Duly sated, we were taken upstairs, into the cookery school kitchen, to watch Toby prepare our main course. This was a nice touch, because it took away the fear of messing up as Toby showed us how ‘easy’ it was to prepare good, simple food (side note: the kitchens are stunning, and we highly recommend you booking in a cooking lesson). As we watched Toby do his magic, we drank; this time the star of the show, a bold, fruity Barolo.
We headed back down to the dining room, glass in hand, to enjoy our plate of perfectly cooked lamb chop, charred sweet potato, and walnut gremolata. Full to bursting, we finished off the meal with an indulgent chocolate pot topped with crushed amaretti biscuits alongside candied orange slices, all washed down with a ruby red glass of port.
The whole evening was extremely good fun, informal, and informative. Both Toby and Raul were eager to please and have a wealth of knowledge that we mercilessly mined. They were warm, welcoming hosts and very open to feedback (as this was their first night). By the end of the evening, most of you will be following @sstobes and @rauldiaz39 on Instagram or Twitter.
Admittedly, the price of Suppermelier does stretch the wallet a little, but if you fancy splashing out on something different then we would highly recommend it. After all, as the old adage goes – “wine: because no good story ever started with anyone eating a salad!”