When talented cook and baker Paola Davies-Romano thought about hosting a supper club, I jumped at the chance to help make it happen. I coordinated the promotion, bookings and payments whilst Romano’s website was under development… but the culinary brilliance was all Paola. My only involvement with the food was eating it!
Born in Essex to an Italian father and Spanish mother, Paola lived in Italy during her childhood and teenage years. It was only fitting for her very first supper club to have this theme so it was named Romano’s Big Fat Italian Supper Club. In true Paola style, Romano’s went BIG with lots of food, flavours and fun… all celebrated around an inviting communal table in her home. Paola even put together a set list of Italian music which added to the festive ambience.
Places for the supper club were extremely limited and they filled up very quickly. It was great to see that there are adventurous foodies out there who are up for this kind of experience. The exact location was only revealed a week before the event and the menu was kept a surprise until it was placed at the beautifully set table.
Paola drew inspiration from her roots in Italy’s Campania region which includes Naples, a city with one of the most renowned cuisines. Romano’s feast of Italian delights featured a three-course meal and some additional treats. The event was BYOB but bottles of still and sparkling water were provided.
The guests enjoyed an Aperol Spritz whilst they mingled and introduced themselves before being seated. Paola popped out of her busy kitchen to welcome the guests then the Romano’s team (Jerry, Arianne and Joe) sprang into action. Paola made regular appearances to announce and describe the dishes in each course, giving us some insight into the regions in Italy.
Stella Pereira is a true artist in every sense of the word. Her artistry is well known in Cambridge and the media, particularly her stunning Instagram. Stella’s artwork and culinary creations are inspired by the changing of the seasons, perfect timing for her latest À Mesa Supper Club held on 25 March. Titled “A Blossoming Spring”, the supper club (or “gathering”, as Stella prefers to call it) was held in her cosy living room. I had the honour of attending two of Stella’s previous gatherings in her home (An Autumnal Gathering) and at Espresso Library (Twelve at EL), which you can read about here and here.
We were a small group of (lucky) people who snapped up a place at À Mesa (Portuguese for “at the table”). Even though I have been to Stella’s supper clubs before, she still amazed me with her dishes, presentation and setting. It’s more than a supper club or gathering, it’s an EXPERIENCE.
Stella is a firm believer that food brings people together so the biggest part of her supper clubs is the comfortable, intimate environment where guests eat, drink, sing, laugh… and leave as friends. She serves modern Portuguese cuisine inspired by traditional ingredients (featuring staples in Portugal such as pork and salt cod) but she presents her dishes with a contemporary twist and this is where her artistic spirit really shines.
Preparations for A Blossoming Spring started way before the food and this was apparent in the little details, meticulously created to make up a truly unique experience. Stella’s tablescape was dotted with freshly picked blossoms, sliced bread (charmingly stacked in glass jelly moulds) and olives, both symbolising peace. We were intrigued by the variety of items handcrafted by Stella herself or her husband Carlos. All of the pieces on the table came together to tell a story, a reflection of Stella’s skills as a gifted food stylist.
I’ve been following the events of Qué Rico Tapas for quite a while so I was delighted when I got my ticket to the latest tapas and wine tasting at Cambridge Wine Merchants. Estefanía Led Ramos of Qué Rico Tapas is a talented, self-taught cook full of originality and passion. This collaboration of matching regional dishes with Spanish wines from Castilla-León brought out Estefanía’s wonderful creativity.
The event, held in Cambridge Wine Merchants’ cosy wine bar at the back of the Cherry Hinton shop, featured five tapas and five wines. To kick things off, Estefanía addressed the group and ran through the menu. It all sounded so delicious! I couldn’t wait to see what the dishes would actually look like, based on her description of ingredients and flavours.
The wine tasting was led by Cambridge Wine Merchant’s wine expert Alice Archer. She took us through the tasting notes of each wine with a brief explanation of the wine producing areas. She even gave us a map of Spain to show us where Castilla-León is located. The talk was light-hearted and informative. We weren’t bogged down with excessive details and had the opportunity to talk amongst ourselves between tastings.
White Cottage Bakery is located in Mark and Helen Underwood’s home, a charming white cottage in the picturesque village of Kingston, Cambridgeshire. Some of the most amazing bread has come out of that little bakery in Helen’s kitchen. I discovered Helen’s homemade bread last year at my local farm shops and I’ve been a White Cottage Bakery stalker ever since. Getting my hands on a fresh loaf is like winning the lottery! That’s because you can’t just pop into the bakery whenever you feel like it. The bakery isn’t open to the public. You need to follow White Cottage Bakery on social media (Facebook, Twitter or Instagram) to see what Helen will deliver to select farm shops in Cambridgeshire. Helen bakes the amount of bread she can handle; no mass production there! Even so, it’s a testament to Helen’s passion and dedication to baking that she can produce as much as she does.
Helen also runs a series of workshops, which are aimed at groups of 4 to 6 people. I had the privilege of attending one of White Cottage Bakery’s full-day courses: the French Breadmaking Workshop, held in Helen’s lovely farmhouse kitchen.
All of the workshops are taught by Helen, an accomplished (and self-taught!) professional baker with decades of experience. The setting is friendly and cosy, as I was in a home and not a purpose-built cookery school. We were a group of 4 people and we were all made to feel very at home. We were led to the gorgeous dining room for a welcome breakfast featuring tea, coffee, jams and the bakery’s own bread. I especially loved the hazelnut and sour cherry loaf.
Helen ran through the workshop with the group. We would be learning to make a lot of French breads… pain de campagne, baguette, bâtard, pain d’épi, fougasse and pain de mie. C’est magnifique! We received our own folders with the day’s recipes as well as blank sheets and a pencil for making notes.
As tempted as I was to stay in the dining room and admire all of the lovely artwork and curiosities (there’s even a stuffed badger!), it was time to begin the workshop. With my energy replenished with cups of tea and fabulous bread, I was more than ready and put on my White Cottage Bakery apron.
My love for Persian food comes from my “brutha from anutha mutha” Ali, who was born in Iran. You can imagine my delight when I heard My Persian Kitchen were planning to bring their traditional fare to Cambridge through their new pop up and shared dining experience concept. In fact, the duo behind My Persian Kitchen, Sirous V Naderi and Abigail Plet, are no strangers to pop ups. You may remember them as Workshop Kitchen specialising in French and Italian cuisine, in which Sirous trained professionally. However, it is through Sirous’ grandmother and mother that he developed his passion for Persian cooking.
Cambridge was definitely ready for something new and exciting. Their pop up at Espresso Library on Saturday, 22 October completely sold out! Attendees ranged from newbies intrigued by the menu to Persians who were proud to introduce this cuisine to their friends.
Persian cuisine is exquisite and varied so there’s a lot I haven’t explored yet. My Persian Kitchen’s three-course menu included dishes steeped in tradition, made with quality ingredients. The menu wasn’t fussy or complicated but it was a great idea to have a description of the dishes printed in the back of the menu, as well as a brief history of Iran. Reading all about the dishes really helped set the tone for the evening whilst we waited for the food to be served.
The ambience was welcoming and relaxed, with dimmed lights, flickering candles and a lovely jazz soundtrack. Espresso Library have a nice drinks menu so Paulo and I shared a bottle of Belstar Prosecco to go with our meal.
On 24 September 2016, I had the pleasure of attending a “meet and eat” food bloggers tour of Ely Markets, organised by fellow blogger Alex Higgs who is doing some work for the markets. Alex was accompanied by Ely Markets representatives Julia Davis and Lisa Quin and took us on a 3-hour tour, sampling the delights of the food and farmers markets.
Saturdays are real foodie days at Ely Markets, especially every 2nd and 4th Saturday when they hold the Farmers Market in conjunction with the Food, Craft & Collectables Markets. The Market Square has a food aisle every Saturday, which includes excellent street food and other food traders. I was impressed by the quality and variety of food stalls. I will definitely return on a Saturday morning to do some foodie shopping! Paulo drove me to Ely (just over a half hour drive) but the market is also easily accessible by train. Parking was so easy to find, especially in the morning. The short stay car park has free parking for 4 hours, which allows plenty of time to wander the markets. If you want to spend more time in Ely, then the long stay car park is best.
We tasted and nibbled our way through various delicious food and drink stalls and by the end of the tour I was happily stuffed!
On 9 July 2016 Vera, Drink Up!, a collaboration between Vera’s Gin Club and Cambridge Eat Up!, took place at The Plough in Shepreth, near Cambridge. It was presented by “Vera” (gin expert Lyndsey Spellman) who took us through the history and horticulture of three gins. Lyndsey’s presentation was entertaining and interactive and she had everyone laughing and having fun from the very beginning.
Lyndsey leads a monthly Vera’s Gin Club at The Plough (I wrote about it here). As a member of Cambridge Eat Up!, the Facebook group for foodies, I wanted to include Vera in a foodie event so Lyndsey and I organised Vera, Drink Up!, a food and drink extravaganza featuring 3 premium gins + Fever-Tree tonic, Vera’s fun and informative gin presentation and a plateful of exquisite food by Romano’s.
We held Vera, Drink Up! from 5pm to 7pm so we could include a hearty dinner. The monthly Vera’s Gin Club features more gin (5 gins) and less food (The Plough’s nibbles) but for this special occasion we were fortunate to have a tasty menu created by the fabulous Paola Davies-Romano. The Plough were kind enough to lend us the space and have Romano’s as guest kitchen for the event. We also had The Foraging Fox on board, who supplied us with bottles of their delicious beetroot ketchup.
The Early Night Club teamed up with My Little Festival to host a really rather lovely May Ball, which took place on 18 June 2016 at the historic Cambridge Union. The May Ball was a wonderful opportunity to join in on this celebratory time in Cambridge, particularly those of us who like to dance but also need our sleep (the Early Night Club’s entire premise is for events to start early and finish by midnight). Guerrilla Kitchen provided the delicious food for the evening, featuring some very original combination of flavours, particularly the mac ‘n’ cheese.
The Cambridge Union was the ideal location. We started the evening outdoors on their beautiful premises with a welcome cocktail made with Prosecco and Pinkster gin. We enjoyed listening to live music, provided by the immensely talented Tom Korni, and watched in amazement as the fairground performers, namely the hula hoop girl and the juggler on stilts, entertained the revellers. The festive tone was set!
There was a lot of other fun stuff too, such as a photo booth, hair station, glitter face painting, a sweet shop and fairground games (throwing hoops over Pinkster gin bottles and lobbing wooden balls at coconuts on sticks).
The Guerrilla Kitchen team (Jay, Taffeta and Reese) cooked up a storm in their outdoor stand and kept the steady queue of partygoers well fed throughout the evening.
Cambridge’s local food and drink scene was celebrated with another successful Eat Cambridge festival, organised by Heidi White with the help of her team of volunteers. The Main Event kicked off at the Corn Exchange on 7 May 2016, leading the way to a series of fantastic fringe events over a two-week period. Eat Cambridge is a foodie’s dream and I tried to attend as many events as I could.
I started off by volunteering at The Main Event. Heidi put a lot of work into organising Eat Cambridge and I thought the best way I could show my support was to volunteer and help out that day. There were about 40 stallholders, all local independents, showcasing their fabulous food and drink products.
Sunday Best, a fringe event for Eat Cambridge, took place on 22 May, 2016 at Church of St Cyriac and St Julitta, a historic church no longer used for regular worship. When the creative minds of organisers Alex Ruczaj and Vicky Fenton of My Little Festival met with talented chef Jay Scrimshaw of Guerrilla Kitchen, the result was a superbly organised event featuring a sumptuous three-course Sunday Lunch in a stunning, communal setting. Plus, the energetic Taffeta Scrimshaw, a fantastic team of helpers and an impressive selection of drinks from revamped horsebox The Spirited Mare all contributed to making Sunday Best a real feasting extravaganza!
Photo courtesy of Guerrilla Kitchen
While lunch was being prepared for this family friendly event, people were seated on bales of hay or spread out on the lawn outside the church, reading the Sunday papers, playing board games or just chilling out with a drink. The Spirited Mare was on hand with a menu featuring Prosecco on tap (frizzante, to be precise), Gin & Tonic, Bloody Mary (including Kimchi Bloody Mary), Aperol Spritz, Ginger & Lemongrass, Brewdog beers, soft drinks and wine (white, red and rosé).