London – a city where Chinatown happily butts up against Little Italy; where it’s imperative you possess an opinion on the finest Turkish grill on Green Lanes; where people know their pierogis from their gyozas; where you can eat what you want from where you want, happy in the knowledge it’s all part of the London hotpot.
Post-Brexit, that delicious diversity means all the more to those of us who’ve always relished it; including Asma Khan, founder of Darjeeling Express. The seasoned supperclub host’s idea for a pop-up series celebrating Londoners via their food culture has rapidly snowballed into six weeks’-worth of dinners by gastro-talents from all over – and she told me all about it…
What sparked the idea for the #MyLondonSupperclub series?
On the night after the referendum, I stayed awake watching the count. By Friday morning as the realisation of what had happened sunk in, I felt so desperate. I suddenly felt my ‘home’ of 25 years was a little more distant and unwelcoming – the majority had supported the side whose campaign had been so hostile to immigrants and ‘outsiders’ – and I wanted to do something positive.
Unwilling to drown in darkness, I came up with the idea to host a series of supperclubs which would celebrate the diversity of London food, and highlight what makes our city so amazing – its rich mix of people; the quirky, the exotic and the eccentric!
And what do you hope the events will achieve?
I hope it will give people the chance to try new cuisines, cooked by the people who know them best. All those cooking see London as their home; I want those coming to enjoy breaking bread with other Londoners and recognise that the heart of this city consists of people of all backgrounds and ethnic origins. This is the world’s greatest city.
Confirmed events already include Angus Denoon with his legendary Jhalmuri Express, a group of Nigerian women making classic home comfort dishes, a South Indian chef cooking with his Czech commis, a Burmese evening, an English-Croatian fusion dinner, a regional Indian supperclub, a Scottish pop-up, a Hong Kong and Singapore collaboration, a joint Jewish and Muslim meal commencing with a speech by a female rabbi, and a Nepali night.
How did the whole thing snowball so quickly from mere idea to tangible concept?
I have to admit I was not sure what response I would get to my initial Facebook post. I was delighted when so many people replied offering to cook; look for a venue; volunteer to serve and prep; tagged friends who they thought may be able to help…
People were absolutely amazing – enthusiastic and so generous in offering help. Steve West, resident butcher at The Quality Chop House, has been amazing. Niamh ‘Eat Like a Girl’ Shields tagged her friend Denise, who runs 68 & Boston in Soho, and, to my delight, she offered us two months’ free venue hire to host #MyLondonSupperclubs. It all really makes you realise how big-hearted and giving people are in the London hospitality industry – things like this restore your faith in humanity!
Beyond having eaten well, what do you want guests to take away from a pop-up?
I want this to be a chance for Londoners to reach out to each other, and recognise the fact that, although we may all have got to this city by different routes – some born here; others coming to London from other cities and countries – we are now all Londoners.
I hope guests will leave the meal having made new friends, and that their conversations will be positive and uplifting. We need to bring back the positive vibe that makes London such an amazing city to both live and work in. I want people to celebrate the diversity which the supperclubs’ food reflects.
People who can’t get to an event might well like to get involved – what can they do at home or in their own city?
I hope people reading about the London series will try and do something similar in their own city or town, even if it is on a very small scale. That way, the ‘ripple effect’ will spread the message out. It would be wonderful to have supperclubs in places like Edinburgh and Cardiff, where people voted differently at the referendum. We need to unite and build bridges between communities. I think all British cities can potentially replicate the #MyLondonSupperclubs model.
London is packed with cultural enclaves of all kinds – where are your own favourite places to discover the city’s ‘hidden’ sides?
East Ham is my favourite place for soul-satisfying South Indian and Sri Lankan food. I LOVE the spice shops, and picking up all sorts of snacks. I cannot make dosas, and so I go to Taste of India for my fix. And the Hyderabadi biryani at the eponymous restaurant is a must-try.
And what other venues and dishes are part of your personal London experience?
Apart from Taste of India for the aforementioned dosa, Diwana; a cheap and cheerful vegetarian restaurant in Euston which I’ve been visiting for 25 years, especially for the super-sweet, bright pink falooda! The jungle curry that Guan Leong serves at his Malaysian supperclub is a favourite, and made me realise how Indian spices and flavours travelled to other countries. Ironically, it was only after I moved here that I realised how food is without borders – you can recognise nuances that have come from elsewhere. This has been my greatest discovery as a Londoner.
Which chefs would be your dream #MyLondonSupperclubs supporters and hosts?
I would love to have more French and Italian chefs involved – so Raymond Blanc, Bruno Loubet and Francessco Mazzei, if you’re reading this, come on board!
And finally, what’s the best way to stay up-to-date with the latest #MyLondonSupperclubs news, and book tickets for the various events?
We’ve set up a Facebook page, and you can stay in the loop on Twitter by following the #MyLondonSupperclubs hashtag. Individual events in the series are listed via Edible Experiences, where you can purchase tickets online.
- For a list of #MyLondonSupperclubs events and dates, click here
- To read more about Asma Khan’s cuisine, click here
- To read more about Angus Denoon, aka Jhalmuri Express, click here
- To read about South Indian food in East Ham, click here and here