I fell asleep thinking about saffron rice. That's the end line of this review, because like some kind of re-friend bean and hibiscus molasses-obssesed weirdo I seem to have FAR too much to say about last Saturday to start properly. Okay, now that's out the way, let's try and begin at the beginning...
It might be the George Michael reference, it might be the fact that it's an entirely vegan food stand that even my non-vegan friends can't get enough of telling me about, but I feel like I haven't stopped going on about Club Mexicana this year. I ran all of this through with my boyfriend for what is most likely the tenth time as we approached the final bend in the three and a half mile trek we made to 119 Lower Clapton on Saturday night to reach the reason behind my babbling: Supper Club Mexicana.
Neither of us had ever been to a supper club before, so we had no idea what to expect. Are you supposed to be on time for these things? Do they serve everyone at once? Do you make conversation? The answer to all of these questions: kinda. For the uninitiated, as we were, yes you do need to try and be on time, because they do mostly serve everyone at once, and in between all of that, you'll also end up talking to everyone at your table because you know what, this food tastes so good you won't be able to stop yourself.
We started off timid at first, ("Is this Wagamama-community-table-in-silence rules?" I tried to telepathically ask my boyfriend who looked equally as non-plussed) but by the arrival of glass teapots and jalepeno broth that was so wonderfully sharp and hot any more than a tablespoon went straight to the back of your throat, we were all exchanging the kind of British coughs and too-too-polite sips of beer and wine that finally lead to actual, great conversation.
I was intrigued from the get-go at the idea of a non-vegan chef creating a seven course tasting menu for Club Mexicana. Adam Rawson, the Viajante, White Rabbit and Lucky Chip chef who's teamed up with Club Mexicana for their first supper club run between now and mid-December, warned everyone seated that this would be a "Mexican-inspired" menu, but his reading of this country's vast culinary delights is one of my favourites. There's no filler here, just the most piquant, smokey, rich flavours, coupled with the strange, often disarming textures of toasted wheat curd, enoki mushrooms and soya milk skin.
Although I was convinced the roasted cornbread with pecan mole, smoked soya yoghurt and pickled pear would be my favourite course, I was in fact stopped in my tracks by the arrival of "re-fried beans", hibiscus molasses topped with pomegranate seeds and saffron rice on banana leaves. Served in a way you'd never think was possible - the beans in a glorious puddle of molasses, sweet, savoury and sickly and all soaked up by the stodge of the rice, our whole table fell into silence for what was probably the first time since we'd all sat down.
Despite it being my first supper club, I am guessing the attitude of the hosts and the venue count a lot towards setting the tone for these things, and I have to say 119 Lower Clapton was a perfect place to hold this: small enough to not feel overwhelming and to be able to see Adam and his team plate up the food and explain each course, while it was large and noisy enough for your conversation to fall into the crowd's chatter. I suppose having the shared appeal of veganism meant there were brief chances to exchange notes on almond milk, hotel room service tips and the most vegan-friendly places to visit in the states, but only half of our table of six were vegan, leaving plenty of conversation open to everything else. I hadn't realised how much the company and tone of the night would impact the meal, but it makes eating in restaurants and at a tiny table for two or four seem very enclosed and impersonal.
Yes, the tasting menu is a treat and quite a different price range to the one you'd be dealing with for street food, but when I saw we'd been talking and eating for three hours straight, (and I rarely stay longer than 90 minutes in a restaurant), I realised you are actually paying for an entire experience very different, almost incomparable, to anything you get from a restaurant, especially as a vegan, and especially in London.
We planned to go on a two-person pub crawl after the meal, but after seven courses and now three and a half hours of eating, anything else felt like it would be a let-down. So we meandered back along the road home, and I fell asleep thinking about saffron rice, where on earth I could pick up banana leaves from, and how I could roast cornbread or smoke soya yoghurt in my own kitchen.
Thank you Club Mexicana and Adam Rawson for such a brilliant night full of stunning food, and best of luck for all the others!