It’s taken me precisely 1 week to break my promise of releasing new blog material regularly on a Monday…
However, to be fair, this weekend wasn't exactly relaxing.
I launched my first So La! supper club on Saturday, a stressful yet rewarding experience. Then had the entire experience eclipsed in stress (and arguably reward) by the glorious England Cricket World Cup win on Sunday! (The match finishing at 2.30am on Monday morning here...)
To honor the occasion, I’m very tempted to structure this entire article around a ham-fisted cricketing analogy. However, I'm weary some may be sick of cricket after a month-long tournament. So, in the interest of not alienating a significant portion of my audience, I’ll try my best to refrain.
Instead, let’s talk about Saturday. My (now) second most stressful evening this weekend/ever…
That said, it didn’t start that way. It was, much like the cricket (sorry), a roller coaster... one leaving you not knowing whether to laugh or cry (and soaked from the waist down).
Let's go through the 6 stages of hosting a Supper Club.
Once the decision was made to host the event, ideas for dishes, drinks and presentation started flowing like runs for England in their semi-final versus Australia (sh*t sorry… last time).
I settled on a theme of a Malaysian feast in the format of a traditional British Sunday lunch.
I will spend some time in the coming week writing up and posting recipes, but you can get the general gist from the picture to the right (the starter is a Malaysian Scotch Egg with Spicy Acar Awak Pickle).
Beyond this it was also nice to spend a bit more time planning the table layout, accompanying menu and music playlists etc. to make it feel a bit more special.
Now we were really sucking diesel. I couldn’t wait to get started.
Cue stage 2…
Once the concept was decided it got to my favourite part. The cooking.
Anyone who’s worked in hospitality, restaurants or even hosted a dinner party knows the importance of prep. An old boss of mine used to refer to it as the 5Ps. Another the 6Ps. Prior preparation prevents (p*ss) poor performance.
I usually design a menu with this at its core. For instance, the meat is slow-roasted (removing any need for specific timings) and every single dessert could be made before the day (some elements days, if not weeks, ahead of time).
A man possessed, I got to work. Buoyed by the excitement of testing some recipes on actual people. Every night bashing out one or two tasks to lighten the load for the final evening.
The only trouble is I got a little too carried away, and in the middle of this (and struggling trying to co-ordinate 12 guests with varying degrees of willingness to engage with my online RSVP) I moved the date of the event forward one week in my head!
This went so far that I was just a couple of hours away from purchasing a whole leg of lamb, before I my friend questioned my fervour. “Are you ok?”. I was checking she was still ok to attend tomorrow, a whole 7 days in advance!
Bar a short-lived existential crisis, there were fortunately no major repercussions as I was caught before any perishable effort or expense was made.
I did have to eat a chocolate mousse that weekend but I’m not sure that constitutes a disaster.
It actually left me in a really good place, well ahead of schedule.
Cue stage 3…
Let’s face it… at some point this was inevitable.
Having a good portion of the menu prepped before the day I awoke on Saturday cocksure, ready to smash it.
I got the shopping done early, pre-cooked everything I could and set about cleaning the house and laying the table.
About 3 hours out I was actually marginally irritated by the lack of jobs I had to do, inconveniently forgetting the potatoes I still had to peel and my lack of un-ironed trousers.
I settled down to a beer and a few episodes of some rubbish on Netflix.
Fortunately, I caught myself an hour out and stopped this silliness before my guests arrive to find me in my pants.
There was still, plenty to do and I was fortunately able to crack out the last few jobs (and dress) for 7.30. The earliest my guests were to arrive.
The most stressful thing about hosting any event is the moment where you’re 100% ready and 0% certain your guests are going to arrive.
Despite the completely over-engineered website event, complete with instructions and RSVP, it’s inevitable someone will text about half an hour out asking for the address… or worst still the time.
Perhaps the company I kept growing up (they know who they are) has led to my overbearing cynicism when it comes to event-based timekeeping. But this feeling is turned up to 11 when you have a 3-course menu to time and (hopefully) deliver to some level of proficiency.
That said my guests on Saturday were an absolute pleasure and all turn up exactly on time… exactly at the same time.
During stage 4 I made 2 minor mis-calculations. One being the breadth of kitchen equipment available at my disposal, the other being my quickness to adapt to pressure having spent the last 3 hours dossing with my mind elsewhere.
My guests arrived in unison, I attempted to welcome, make them at home and serve them a drink whilst synchronising an attempt to prep the starters – the aforementioned Malaysian take on a Scotch Egg.
Now for a ambitious 3-course menu, despite spending a mini-fortune on shipping out my favourite equipment when moving to Malaysia, my solitary trip to Ikea proved somewhat inadequate. Having already utilised every available pot, pan and receptacle I was left with little choice but to deep-fry 3-inch diameter scotch eggs in a 4-inch-deep pan.
As I submerged the eggs it was clear the pan was going to overflow (fortunately on my electric hops not gas). I reacted quickly and siphoned off the excess into a bowl, placing it to one side.
Two minutes later, somewhat rushed, I turned to grab a tea-towel, catching said bowl and sending a pint of just-shy-of-scalding oil all over myself and my kitchen. Just as I was serving starter.
Firstly, I was bloody lucky not to burn myself, but I was even luckier that my guests didn’t seem to notice!
Smelling like a chip-pan I got the starters out, however was then faced with having to pause everything I was doing and mop the oil from every surface of my kitchen.
I now had an oiled ice-rink for a kitchen-floor, zero tea-towels and a suspect stain down my crotch and leg (I figured the food was worth prioritising over my appearance). Unsurprisingly I was just a touch flustered.
The main repercussion was my carefully conceived presentation plans were immediately jettisoned, my fridge is still full of herbs and spring onions that were purchased for this reason. Perhaps it was therefore fortunate that the other thing to be thrown to the wayside was my taking photos of any of my food... (a disaster for my planned recipe write-ups, though my guests may have saved me on that one).
I eventually cleaned up and got my mains on the table. I got to sit down with my guests, emitting heat like my recently shut down hobs, and eat.
It was little wonder the bottle of wine I had opened was drained quite so quickly.
It was probably a combination of this and my guests being seemingly oblivious to my struggles that buoyed me for my final show-stopper.
I’m not much of a dessert man, but I’d been looking forward to serving this course for a fair few weeks since I’d had the idea for it.
One of my favourite things to do in KL is to eat Banana leaf (a future blog piece for sure). This is a Malaysian-Indian establishment where you are given an A3 sized banana leaf which then gets piled high with rice, pickles and 4 or 5 different curries.
I stopped just short of removing all cutlery from the table and getting my guests to eat with their hands (the ONLY way to enjoy banana leaf), however managed to source 2x meter long banana leaves to lay down the middle of the table.
On top of this I dished out my different sweets, daringly lit cinnamon sticks with my criminally under-used blow-torch, before theatrically crushing honeycomb over the entire lot.
I'm happy to say the effort went down well.
I’ve never been someone that is good at receiving compliments but there is very little I find more satisfying that hearing someone has enjoyed my food.
Despite my cynicism, that’s exactly what was reported. Maybe I was being overly critical, or maybe my guest's politeness was satisfying my ego (probably a bit of both) but I was over-the moon with the reception.
I was particularly happy to get compliments for my Sambal Brussel Sprouts, a bold menu choice if there ever was one, but the dessert was undoubtably the show stopper.
All memory of the struggles up until that point were gone.
The mountain of washing-up seemed a million miles away.
I felt like I'd knocked it for 6...
So, I sat down to a hard-earned Pandan Negroni and immediately started looking forward to the next one.
*Thanks to all that attended, I look forward to cooking for you again
*Recipes to follow soon