Chapter 3 - Dreaming Of San Sebastián

Chapter 3 - Dreaming Of San Sebastián

The secret to squeezing in every last delicious drop and devouring every conceivable morsel in San Sebastian is to go friends who will forget what decent consumption is to ensure no gastronomic sensation remains untouched.

We were invited to San Sebastián for our friend Cat's 30th. Although its reputation preceded it (it is one of the cities in the world to hold the highest number of Michelin stars per square meter) we weren't quite prepared for the heavenly, glutinous onslaught that awaited.

As we tried to establish our bearings and plan of consumption we popped into a pintxos bar. The local old men were already on their miniature beers at 11am, whilst we wisely, but with devilish difficulty, rationed ourselves to two pintxos per person. Pickled anchovy and blueberry with a walnut to top it off was a sublime, salty sweet combination - so much so it was recycled as a topping at the crumpet stand at my wedding. We had never intended to visit any Michelin star places as our budget wouldn't allow it, but there's honestly no need to as you can eat like a Queen for a few Euros.

Our air bnb held the San Sebastián crown jewels - a map stating the specialty dishes of each restaurant! Our mission path was clear; we began following the map from place to place, sampling approximately 2 dishes per restaurant. It's fair to say we ate solidly from 9am-9pm both days.

The star of the show was an unassuming restaurant called Bar Zeruko which served creative and theatrical dishes for under 5 Euros. Bob Limon is my death row dessert and worth the air fare alone. The lightest, airiest, holiest, springy sponge tower accompanied by the creamiest yogurt on which lies an egg yolk-esque passion fruit pouch ripe for popping, then watch its nectar ooze into the spongy crevasses. And then, when you think there could be no more surprises from this insanely balanced dessert, you casually toss the electric daisy in your mouth and the next adventure begins. Your mouth fizzes like licking a battery (in a good way - I promise there is a good way!), your mouth goes tingly then numb. It's very nearly unbearable, like pins and needles, but so much fun. I ordered another immediately. And then went back the next day.

Duck Ravioli in La Cuchara De San Telmo

Duck Ravioli in La Cuchara De San Telmo

Every mouthful of every dish was a joy; we delicately stuffed our greedy faces merrily. The pintxos flowed freely: black pudding and fried quails egg on roasted red pepper paste being the most divine. Jude kept sneaking back to La Cuchara De San Telmo for a solitary duck ravioli adorned with sweet sticky soy sesame dressing that slipped past your lips and languished lovingly in your mouth before melting away. Smoked salt cod on hot coals and gauze with a test tube shot of liquid salad was unexpected yet joyful. In keeping with the 'try and move on' ethos, a long thin cafe called La Mejillonera was lined with stainless steel troughs to discard mussel shells into. The brutal efficiency with which they were ejected highlights the high turnover of this place, but fear not the mussels were lavished with love - in tomato or garlic sauce before being abandoned fondly. They couldn't have asked for a more sumptuous life or satisfied resting place. And I haven't even touched upon the cockles, cheesecake and copious amount of rioja all mercilessly devoured.

In the evening we tore ourselves away from San Sebastián's labyrinthine streets and ventured 7km up into the hills to Sidrería Petritegi - a cider farm with banqueting tables, 3 course set menu and all you can drink cider. The main was truck loads of T-bone steaks and baguettes, which wasn't the most vegetarian friendly so I busied myself with catching the refills of cider directly from the massive 1,000 litre barrels.

There's so much fun to be had in San Sebastián I'm already plotting my return - definitely one day for Jude's hen! You can get so much delicious food for your money, especially if you're able to show an ounce of self-restraint, but why would you want to do that.

Chapter 2 - Dr. Hannibal's Dinner

Chapter 2 - Dr. Hannibal's Dinner

With Halloween looming, there was one book that was not just begging, but dripping to be stabbed at...Thomas Harris' Hannibal.

It wasn't a night for our vegetarian friends, and as a veggie, I decided to make myself scarce from service after Jude's offal trip to Smithfield meat market.

The hors d'oeuvres were offally sublime (so I'm told!) - chicken liver parfait,  braised ox tongue, beef heart stewed with blueberries and a particular favourite - brain fritters. Dr. Lecter would have been proud.

Bone marrow on toast with chorizo butter and picked vegetables was a particular highlight, such rich and creamy goodness balanced with the sharpness of the veg. For the main we combined the poor title character with Hannibal's famous tipple to create a ten hour slow roasted dream - Lamb with fava bean salsa and a Chianti reduction.

To end it all, in delectably gruesome style, doughnuts were served with syringes full of blood (or rather orange) for each guest to inject at their leisure.

An extra special shout out has to go to the excellent guest who fully embraced the theme and came dressed as a silenced lamb. Serious kudos and a really welcome reminder about why we do this; seeing our guest having an amazing evening and enjoying all the thought and small details that we've had so much fun thinking up is why we do so thank you all so much for coming!

Chapter 1 - The Marvellous Menus of Roald Dahl

Chapter 1 - The Marvellous Menus of Roald Dahl

And so The Literary Hour began! Inspired by the limitless imagination of the legendary Roald Dahl, The Literary Hour opened its terraced house door, to turn the living room into a pop-up restaurant. For our first ever event we welcomed our friends and family to a soft launch of our Dahl menu (who proved to be our toughest critics yet - but with much needed and appreciated feedback - thanks!) then to the wonderful public.

The stand-out "course" (if you can really call it that because (a) it wasn't on the menu as it was our first, now signature, surprise course and (b) because technically it is 3 courses in one) had to be Willy Wonka's 3 course dinner chewing gum. This was the most memorable Dahl food from our childhood and we quite simply had to go to any lengths necessary to recreate it. It wouldn't have been Roald Dahl without it! The challenge was figuring out how you make your own chewing gum, and then how to make it tomato soup, roast beef and blueberry pie flavoured! Answer: Order pellets from seemingly the only supplier in the world based in America and then create your own juice to add as flavour. The creation of Willy Wonka's vision was uncanny, but having tasted it, his vision was, well, interesting! A real crowd divider. I mean Roast Beef chewing gum anyone? Really?!

Other menu highlights were The Witches Thai green curry soup served with lemongrass scones, lime butter and coconut sambal which heralded the humble beginnings of our tea cup and saucer collection (it's now gathering momentum and tipping the 100 mark!)

Golden tickets wrapped on chocolate bars were posted to all guests. I still get excited thinking about people's reactions and giddy golden smiles as they opened up the envelopes.

And in the early days of hosting supper clubs I think it's fair to say we all went overboard on "staff meals"; I hate to think how much of Willy Wonka's whipple-scrumptious fudgemallow delight served in a brownie bowl I consumed. Minimum 3 portions a night I'd say. 

Prologue

Need Jude baby photo

Once upon a time there was a giddy little girl called Jude, or rather 'fizzy' as her mum would say, who loved to cook. One day, in her fifth year on this planet, Jude's mum woke to find her standing on a chair cooking spaghetti bolognaise from scratch for breakfast.

Twenty-something years of cooking, eating, feasting and entertaining elapsed until Jude decided that she wanted to take her passion for food to the next level and do something on a larger, more formal scale. She considered renting local venues to do a pop-up restaurant, but as well as being costly, none seemed to have the right ambiance. It was then that she realised that the perfect venue was right before her very eyes...she just needed to get me [Helen] and the rest of our housemates on board; to convince us that inviting twenty strangers into our home would be rewarding, fun and most of all exciting. Emilie, Bob, Si and I took no persuading at all! We were all, perhaps surprisingly, incredibly up for the new adventure!

The 'game was afoot!' The first theme - Roald Dahl - materialised quickly as we'd already been discussing themes for a mini summer festival and Dahl's creations were so awe-inspiring that this was one idea discussed but not taken forward. His genius particularly lends itself to food, as we soon realised do so many of our favourite books, and so The Literary Hour was born.

With the support of Grub Club supper club specialist ticketing platform, the first batch of tickets were put on sale and indeed sold out incredibly, and surprisingly, quickly. Who were all these strangers paying to dine in our living room we wondered?! And so it began!