Untrained but instinctive cook MsMarmiteLover (who exclusively uses a pseudonym) has always loved food. In fact, she spent the last few years cooking professionally in unconventional venues such as field kitchens and festivals. However, her journey from line cook to famed rogue restauranteur happened seemingly overnight.
It all started after a trip to Cuba in 2009 where she dined at a privately-ownedpaladar. MsMarmiteLover soon decided to open one of the UK's very first supper clubs, The Underground Restaurant, in her Kilburn home. "I was stunned at the reaction when I announced my intentions on my blog. Readers, foodies, other bloggies and press all wanted to come along!" During the first six months of the restaurant's opening, journalists, photographers, radio producers and TV crews alike were clamoring to report on the story. All the while she continued to document her successes, fears, setbacks and obstacles on the blog. "At the time I used the pseudonym MsMarmiteLover because I wasn't too sure about the legalities of my living room restaurant." She hastens to add: "Yes, I do love Marmite, and I really eat it every day."
The Underground Restaurant in MsMarmiteLover's home. All photography by Kerstin Rodgers.
A thriving UK supper club movement was born in the wake of The Underground Restaurant's success. This was aided by MsMarmiteLover's encouragement and advice to fellow wannabe undercover restauranteurs, often via her Supper Club Fan Group. She's recently had her kitchen inspected, acquired a food hygiene certificate plus public liability insurance, and she makes no secret of her excitement that the restaurant does, in fact, seem to be legal these days, letting out a triumphant "Hooray!".
On a typical week at the restaurant there is one dinner with up to 30 guests. The rest of the week is peppered with brunches, lunches and teas. The dinners are often themed. "We've had vampire night,Harry Potter night, umami night and Elvis night. The Midnight Feast — which commences at, you guessed it: midnight — consists of nothing but black food, and the Patrick O'Brian night's menu is filled with 18th century shipboard delicacies."
Earlier this year she also launched The Underground Farmers and Craft Market. "Yes, that's a market in my flat and garden! The types of crafts I have at the markets are usually in some way associated with food, kitchens or vintage kitchenalia, but I've also had handmade cards and jewellery being sold from the shabby chic shed." The most recent market saw a steady stream of 300 guests march through her front door, who were welcomed and entertained with a whole host of DIY happenings, including live cooking demos in the kitchen and a makeshift ironing-board cocktail bar in the boudoir, accompanied by cupcakes on the bed. John The Poacher sold mushrooms and live crayfish by the bonfire in the garden and live music was provided by the Spanner Jazz Punks. She will host her third event, this time in the style of a German Christmas Market, in early December and any Etsians wishing to run a stall can inquire via email at email@example.com.
Scenes from The Underground Farmers & Craft Market in September
Does she worry about letting such a large number of strangers into her house? "Perhaps I've been lucky, but so far I've had no problems. I don't exactly count my DVDs when my guests leave, but I don't think anything has gone missing. What I'm doing is celebrating work done at home, home cooking and crafting. We're cutting out the middle man and wrestling control of our food back from big business." Expanding on the subject, she adds "Women in particular — and probably more men, if the recession really hits — have to be creative and entrepreneurial in a new way. Starting businesses and working from home is the future, and it's also a good way to combine working with having children. It's not always enormously profitable, but it is enjoyable, and you have control over your hours."
MsMarmiteLover cooks with a timeless classic, the Aga, which she says is perfect in the cooler months for gratins, pies, slow roasts, soups and stews. "Although I will use imported products if that's what takes my mood, I do try to stick with what's fresh and at its best in the shops and markets. Now that it's autumn we've got to think about squashes and pumpkins, nuts, certain cheeses and root vegetables." I finish by asking if she'd be so kind as to to share her personal take on a traditional recipe with us, and she tells me about the huge pear tree in her garden which has started to drop its ripe fruit. "This is the perfect autumn dessert."
Pears Poached in Red Wine Serves 4
Ingredients 1 bottle of red wine 1 star anise 1 cinnamon stick 200g of sugar 4 pears, ripe but not too soft, peeled and kept whole with stem intact
Put all of the ingredients into a small pan – the pears should be covered more or less by the wine. Poach the pears with the lid on, on a medium heat for around 30 minutes.
Carefully remove the pears, set aside and reduce the liquid by half to a rich syrup.
Pour the syrup over the pears, and accompany with a spoonful of creme fraiche.
If you have syrup left over, try it as a cocktail base with cava for a seasonal aperitif!
The Underground Restaurant has some truly inspired events on the horizon, leading all the way up to New Year's Eve: a Mongolian/Tibetan dinner in a yurt, a comedy night (with stand-up comedians, including Josie Long, between each course) and much more. Visit the blog for more info orwegottickets.com to book what will undoubtedly be a most memorable dining experience with the one and only MsMarmitelover herself.
Have you experienced guerrilla dining? Let us know in the comments!