Magazine article The Spectator

Welcome to Fight Club for Foodies

Magazine article The Spectator

Welcome to Fight Club for Foodies

Article excerpt

Hardeep Singh Kohli lifts the veil on the new 'underground kitchens': confidential gatherings of gastronomes in secret locations, meals that are governed by the rules of omerta

So there I am, in a stranger's kitchen on a summer Saturday night, kneedeep in freshly cooked basmati rice, chutneys and pickles a go-go. And I'm ladling spoonfuls of smoked aubergine and pea curry on to the 24th of 25 expectant plates, wondering furiously if:

1) There will be enough to go round.

2) Each portion is roughly equal lest there be a disagreement.

3) The damned curry is still warm enough to taste palatable.

I am a maelstrom of madness, an apoplexy of activity. And I must confess I'm not altogether sure why I have brought this upon myself. I break off from the self-indulgence and recount the plates for the umpteenth time. Then before you know it, the food is a blur as anonymous arms grab and ghost the food to hungry and patient diners in the room next door.

Welcome to London's newest and most sought-after 'underground kitchen'. In a ground-floor flat in the depths of north-west London a woman who (for legal reasons) can only be known as Ms Marmite Lover has been transforming her terraced lounge and kitchen into a Saturday night restaurant for the last six months. Twenty-five strangers, utilising an enigmatic website and latterly Twitter, the social networking site, search out that evening's themed menu and pay a modest sum for a three-course meal. Ms Marmite, a self-confessed food lover, devotes the latter half of her week to devising the menu and preparing the food. And while she may have weeks of experience at this sort of cooking, dining and entertaining, for me it's a big ask.

There are few things I enjoy more than gathering a host of friends around my dinner table. Perhaps my desire to entertain with food is greater than the sum of the parts of my own heritage: the Glaswegians are well known for their hospitality, and the Punjabis throw the best parties in town, incorporating big-style dancing. Generally speaking, those who break bread and drink wine with me are known folk, new friends or old, but all people I have a connection with. Occasionally a friend will bring a friend, but that is the exception rather than the rule. Like many folk, I don't feel very comfortable having my life invaded by those unfamiliar to me. So the notion of opening my kitchen, my flat and my life to two dozen strangers has never really crossed my vodka-addled mind, less so the idea that I would offer them a three-course meal. (The most I have cooked for at home is ten, and that was for friends and family, who can be expected to forgive culinary mishaps: paying guests have different expectations. ) But that is exactly what has started happening across the length and breadth of the country in the last few months. Underground kitchens have sprung up, to be sought out by novelty-seeking gastronomes. Last year, as part of a food festival in the north-east of England, an organised underground restaurant experience was launched, allowing people to try an ethnically diverse range of meals. That, however, was an organised event. What Ms Marmite Lover does is pure guerrilla dining. And it is this guerrilla component that requires her to be given a shawl of anonymity. …

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