There was a pile of shoes in the hallway.
I wondered if this was at our host Goz’s request, or a lemming-like response started by someone with good East-Asian manners and thick socks. Either way, I reluctantly kicked off my loafers and, barefoot, followed our waitress (one of Goz’s friends) up into the living room-cum-kitchen. Like most modern flats, it was all wood floor and white walls, but jazzed up in this case with funky framed artwork, including a large bright-red ‘plusixfive’ poster painted on wood.
We were running a bit late, so the two tables (each with around eight seats in total) are full with happily chatting diners. They find us two seats, and thankfully we’re just in time for the first course.
First up are honey-soy chicken wings, which taste like, um, every other honey-soy chicken wing anyone has ever cooked. It’s no criticism; chicken wings are naturally tasty. Then, pork belly satay – seasoning is spot on, excellent stuff. The evening is looking up. We’re being served family-style, but British politeness means the last satay is offered round in pieces as everyone’s too polite to take the whole thing.
Next, a plate of seafood hokkien mee – more-ish in its smokiness, though a bit more seafood amongst the thick noodles wouldn’t have gone amiss. Goz’s helpers bring out and explain each dish. They’re lovely and enthusiastic, and know a fair amount about the ingredients and methods of cooking. They throw in the words ‘hawker stall’ occasionally, but sadly stop short of really conveying the real hawker experience – the crowd, the heat, the drinks sellers going round taking your order for soy milk and coconut juice, the oh-so-Singaporean food-safety gradings displayed prominently on each stall (“Shall we eat at an A, or risk a D today?”). I’m left trying to explain to my table that it’s ‘a sort of food court, with lots of specialised stalls’. Lame, I know.
Then comes the main (course) event: generous portions of steamed white rice, beef rendang, a breaded pork dish with a tomato-y sauce (the name eludes me), and mixed vegetables with beancurd-skin. All are tasty, and the beef melts away in the mouth. It’s been cooking since yesterday, says our waiter. Rendang-seasoning wise: I’m half-Malaysian, and while it tasted good, it wasn’t my idea of the perfect rendang – but hey, it’s a different country so there you go.
Desserts were the highlight of the evening: the gula melaka ice-cream was divine, salty-sweet with gorgeous caramelised notes. Guest-chef desserts were courtesy of Rachel of The Pleasure Monger: gula melaka macarons and lychee chiffon cake. The macarons were so good I could forgive the double-dose of gula melaka, and the chiffon cake was wonderfully airy and fresh. I made a mental note to stock up on lychee essence next time I’m in that part of the world (Rachel said she used a combination of lychee juice and lychee essence – check out her recipe for Rose & Lychee Chiffon cake, which uses lychee liquor instead, much easier to get hold of, and her beautiful photos).
Service was speedy, especially by supperclub standards. I’d been a bit apprehensive about a Sunday night dinner, but we were done and dusted by just after 10pm. I spent the last part of the evening loudly resisting the tantalising freshly-ground coffee wafting from the kitchen.
All in all, if this was food fed to you when you popped round to a Singaporean friend’s home and their mum cooked for you, you’d go home raving about the feast you had. Which is exactly what a supperclub is meant to do.
But I have to end with a few caveats. I’d been secretly a bit excited to meet Goz. He obviously loves food, and his emails drip with buzzing personality, gung-ho and the odd bit of Singlish. I arrived with wide-eyed hopeful expectations of having a nice chat about Singapore (I worked there for a short period, and have visited every one/two years for the last decade), about his cooking, about how it’s all going in the world of supperclubs. Other reviews had gushed about how friendly and chatty he was, coming out of the kitchen to have a good natter, unlike some other supperclub hosts. But on this evening, Goz was a busy man. Rightly so; he had a whole room full of strangers to cook for. But I couldn’t help feeling a bit deflated. The few times he addressed our table, he did it as if we were one big hungry entity — he didn’t ask anything about us, ask what we actually thought of the dishes, ask if we knew much about Singapore and the food he was flying the flag for.
In the end – despite the artwork, despite the tiny home kitchen a stone’s throw away, despite the shampoo and toiletries scattered in the bathroom, despite the shoes in the hallway – I felt like I was in a restaurant. I was a paying customer; no less, no more.
My friend who I came with, who’d never had Singaporean food, said she really enjoyed the evening, enjoyed all the new flavours and dishes. For her, the £35 donation was worth it for the experience.
For me, £35 was a bit too much, especially given the ingredients costs (pork belly, chicken wings, short rib). Of course, I say this as someone flying to Singapore (and KL, woo!) again this coming summer. But even so: £35 is the price of the 3-course set lunch at the two-Michelin-starred Ledbury.
And for a restaurant experience, I know which one I’d rather choose.
+(65)/plusixfive Supper Club
Suggested minimum donation (as at Nov 2011): £35. BYOB.
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