“The best way to explore the world is via your stomach” was the line that the wonderfully in-character Phileas Fogg announced to us at the start of our supper club adventure, and I couldn’t agree more! What better way to discover a country and all it has to offer than through the food it has to offer, from tiny little street food carts to the most luxurious fine-dining restaurants?
Like so many wonderful business success stories, The Literary Hour supper club started out on a small scale just two years ago, with a group of friends running dinner parties from their own home in North London. Inspired by the marvellous minds and ingenious creations of their favourite authors and their combined love of entertaining, they decided to share their passion with adventurous strangers and the rest, as they say, is history. Nine chapters later and they’re hosting a series of incredible evenings at secret London venues, packed full of people, the atmosphere no different to any you’d find at any popular restaurant.
In a nutshell, The Literary Hour supper clubs offer fine dining with a literary twist, choosing a classic novel to base their evening around, and bringing it to life with good food and a wonderful atmosphere. Their attention to detail is second to none, with every inch of the carefully chosen venues decorated to make you feel as if you’re on a real adventure. Jules Verne’s “Around the World in 80 Days” was their book of choice for their ninth ‘chapter’ and I couldn’t wait to take my sister along with me for our first supper club experience! The venue is top secret until the week before, with Helen (one of the founders) sending an email round with the location the week before the adventure begins.
On arrival we received a ticket to board the 19:20 boat to Hong Kong before being given a ‘Reform Club Remedy’ welcome cocktail of Tanqueray gin, cloudy apple juice, honey and rosemary. We had a look around the venue whilst munching on crispy pigs ears, packaged up in little brown paper bags and hidden under a globe in the welcome area. They might look like the most unappetising things but they were incredible – crispy, crunchy BBQ flavour versions of the pork scratchings I used to love as a kid.. without the horrible greasy layer! The group was split into two ‘voyages’ which departed within ten minutes of each other to allow us to taste the delights of Hong Kong without too much of a queue!
When the time came for our journey to begin, Phileas Fogg – a pivotal part of the immersive experience – donned his top hat and guided us into the first room, where there was a short introduction, leaving us with the thought that the best mode of transport to explore the world was in fact your stomach, a premise which I wholeheartedly agree with – in my opinion you haven’t truly visited a place if you haven’t sampled the local cuisine!
He continued to play the role wonderfully throughout the evening, reading relevant extracts from the novel itself (which I’m embarrassed to say neither myself nor my sister had read.. or even known anything about!) before each course and even helping us to solve riddles to hunt for prizes around the venue.
Our first stop was Hong Kong, with a welcome area decorated like a market place. In the centre was a street food cart serving up hot steamed baos stuffed with aubergine, with a little side truck where you could add pickled cucumber and crispy nuts to your liking.
After inhaling our soft buns (and immediately wishing for another!) we looked for our names on the seating plan and found our places on the long wooden benches.
Next to us, scenes of Hong Kong were projected onto the white brick walls as we got chatting to the people around us (all of whom were absolutely lovely!) and read the little passports which gave details of the courses to follow.
The next country on our voyage was India, and after a brief reading from Phileas Fogg we were brought our first sit-down course – beet cheera with coconut sambal, bhel puri and paratha. The dishes were served in little tiffin tins, with the curry beautifully pink from the beetroot and the coconut adding to both the texture and the flavour. Unsurprisingly the bread element was my favourite part of the course, with the parathas flaky and soft – the perfect accompaniment to the sweet curry.
Our next course was the one I was most intrigued about. Having travelled very frequently to France I’ve never once been even slightly tempted by their one of their most popular specialities which I’ve so often seen my friends order – giant chunks of mince with a raw egg cracked on top. Never one to shy away from trying something new though, I couldn’t wait to tuck into The Literary Hour’s take on the dish – venison tartare, which came with a quails egg, tarragon mayo and cherry reduction. Having gotten into a discussion about alcohol and my unfortunate dislike for it, my sister and I ended up being treated to a drinks pairing as part of our supper club experience and I was also excited by the prospect of trying new drinks and cocktails. The pairing for this course was ‘Foggs Old Fashioned’ – whisky, maple syrup, lemon, bitters and egg white. I have to admit that of all the drinks we had on the night, the welcome cocktail was by far my favourite, but this was a strong contender for second place!
Contrary to huge chunks of mince that I’d previously seen in France (which in many ways reminded me of the big blocks I’d buy to make a spaghetti Bolognese!), the venison tartare came as a beautifully delicate thin cylinder of meat, with a quail’s egg sitting in a half-shell balanced perfectly in the centre. On advice from the couple next to us, we gently tipped the tiny egg into the centre of the tartare and mixed it in. Despite finding venison to be quite a strong-flavoured meat once cooked, in its raw form it was by no means overpowering and with the saltiness of crispy capers and the slightly sweet cherry reduction it was surprisingly enjoyable. Both my sister and I ate every bite, and considering neither of us could’ve been coerced into trying even a tiny bite when we’d previously seen it in restaurants we were pretty proud of ourselves!
Our main course took inspiration from Japan in the form of miso baby back ribs with rice, kale and pickles. I’m not usually a big fan of ribs – I find them to be a lot of work for very little meat, but my sister was delighted as she loves them and I couldn’t wait – once again I was being served something that I was eager to try because I knew it would be good, but something I’d never usually order. The ribs came in a beautifully sticky sauce, slightly (but not overpoweringly sweet) with the meat falling off the bone, and more plentiful than expected too! The rice was cooked perfectly – again slightly sticky, with a delicious barbecue sauce (which I wished there was more of!). I love kale anyway so I might be biased, but gently steamed with pickles it was the perfect accompaniment to a great dish. Phileas came round with a giant pot of extra ribs for us all to have seconds too which was a lovely perk.. and when the couple next to us went out for a smoke my sister polished off their plates too (they did say we could.. and she most definitely shares my utter hatred for food waste!!).
Our final course was a classic – New York cheesecake. They’d chosen a cherry flavour with peanut butter ice cream. Sadly for me I had to get my own version without the ice cream, but the cheesecake was absolutely lovely. A beautifully balanced creamy topping sat on top of a thick biscuit base, with the tartness of the cherries offsetting the sweetness of the cheesecake, plenty of whole plump cherries dotted around, and a glass of port to wash it all down!
Overall the evening was perfect. The food was great but it was almost (dare I say it!) secondary as the whole immersive experience and feeling of adventure superseded the food itself. Whilst the courses were delicious, unique and innovative, it was the child-like sense of discovering the unknown, the joy of meeting and connecting with like-minded people and the excitement of the whole experience that made our evening so special. Naturally I can be quite a quiet person but the atmosphere inside made it so easy to chat to everyone around us, though admittedly the drinks probably helped too! Despite both having had early starts, we both had such an incredible time that we didn’t even notice how late it had gotten, but thankfully the dreaded Overground didn’t fail us on our journey home!
I would absolutely love to do another of their supper clubs in the future, and whilst our lack of knowledge of the novel in no way detracted from our evening, we agreed that to add to the fun of it all we’d make an effort to read the book and watch the film (if available!) before attending a future chapter. I can’t wait to see what their next novel of choice is!
Link to their website, where you can book tickets and see both past and upcoming events!