Eddie Shepherd’s Walled Gardens Supper Club
Vegetarian chef Eddie Shepherd describes his Walled Gardens Supper Club as “an underground restaurant serving innovative modern vegetarian food in an informal, sociable setting”. Yes, it is. But my description afterwards was simpler: it’s brilliant. Here’s why.
Supper Clubs are where people sit down to eat in the homes of strangers. These are also called pop-up restaurants, secret restaurants, or anti-restaurants. Consequently, it’s an alternative dining experience, where you eat restaurant-quality food at an affordable price, socialising informally with other diners and the host. They are usually BYO too, meaning that you bring along your drinks.
You can find Supper Club events through word-of-mouth or social media. Web sites such as Eat My World and Supperclubfangroup also provide listings. All you have to do is book a ticket, which usually sell-out quickly.
Eddie Shepherd is an award-winning vegetarian chef, cookbook author, and development chef. His Walled Gardens Supper Club is at his home in Manchester. The menu is vegetarian and occasionally vegan, with evenings held three or four times per month. It’s post-modern dining; being a tasting menu featuring fourteen exquisite micro-courses. It’s intellectual, technical and fun with a capital F.
If you doubt the merits of vegetarian dining, then this experience will convince you. Some of the usual prejudices I’ve overheard are: vegetarian food is boring and tasteless (it’s exciting and inspiring); carnivores will miss meat (you won’t notice); vegetarianism is about denial (there’s plenty of hedonism here). And perhaps the biggest criticism is that vegetarian food can’t be haute cuisine. Well, this food betters many a Michelin-starred joint and at a fraction of the price. Just take a look at this short video showing some of the Walled Gardens Supper Club dishes.
Many fine dining menus try to impress with exaggerated peacock words, but the menu here just lists the main components. That does not prepare you for the excellent combinations, flavours and textures you will experience, the precision and artistry of the presentation or indeed the play value involved.
And so to a recent Saturday night where eight lucky diners sat on a square dining table in a strangers’ house. Because the dining area is right next to the kitchen, there is plenty of interaction with Eddie, and you get to understand how he prepares each course. Indeed, this is important to him because most restaurant chefs will have little chance to interact with their guests. You get to watch him assemble each course with meticulous attention to detail. None of the guests would stay strangers for long.
It’s BYO, so bring wine or beer according to taste. Don’t worry about matching drinks to the food given the number of dishes and flavours, just take along something nice. Eddie offers a welcoming glass of Prosecco. Home-Made cordial of apple, lemon and thyme can be added to it, or it can be drunk through the meal if preferred.
Eddie chose the courses from his extensive repertoire, each one a fresh delight. Here they are, briefly described below, with a few photos to whet your appetite.
A glass full of ice with a tea infuser filled with dry ice sits before you, as does a tiny teapot containing a floral juice and a lime segment. Now add the liquid from the teapot, which is a natural purple colour, then squeeze the lime. As the dry ice warms, it sublimates, producing that mist so popular with rock bands everywhere. Great visuals and a refreshing cocktail that would not be out of place at some bar on an alien planet.
Tofu, dandelion and pickled apple
Eddie asked us to collect the perspex containers hung from the ceiling like Christmas baubles. What a great ice-breaker! They contained foraged dandelion, melting tofu and crisp apple pickled in a blueberry vinegar. Great textural contrasts and a mix of sweet and sour flavours.
Chamomile and raspberry
Keeping up the play value, this was a raspberry purée presented in a perspex tube, sucked into the mouth in one or two goes. A taste explosion.
Mushroom, vanilla and beetroot
One of the many highlights of the evening. Cured portobello and field mushrooms had an umami flavour, the vanilla and beetroot adding delicacy.
Cured Egg, truffle and smoked yoghurt
New potatoes roasted and their skins filled with a mix of cured egg and smoked yoghurt, topped with tiny spheres of truffle oil. It smelled fantastic and tasted even better. I still have no idea how you smoke yoghurt.
And more savoury
Tofu, Yazu and burnt plum
My first encounter with Yazu, a Japanese citrus fruit. Beautifully plated with a coriander emulsion and a red grape-glass glaze. Some foraged fennel pollen added an extra aniseed flavour while the tofu had a solid, baked quality. The whole thing reminded me of oriental crispy duck pancakes. Fabulous.
In contrast, Feta baked in orange zest came with a piquant herb salad. The pineapple purée had a complex toasty flavour from being flamed in a wood-burning oven. Its intense sweetness matched the sharp, salty cheese perfectly.
Treacle and walnut bread with homemade butter
This simple course provides a kind of interlude between multiple courses, a chance to catch your breath and reflect on the courses eaten so far. The crusty bread was from 50% sourdough, made in a dutch oven. Want to make this!
Halloumi, Potato and Dill
If you’ve ever imagined how a vegetarian homage to fish and chips would be, then this was it. Battered Halloumi served with potato cubes, a dill sauce and a smidge of pea purée. Delicious textures and flavours. I’d had a similar dish at Terre à Terre, (perhaps the UK’s best veggie restaurant) in Brighton a few years ago. I could have eaten platefuls.
Orange sorbet, verjus and olive oil
The bridge course between savoury and sweet, having elements of both. Sharp and refreshing.
Fennel pollen, blueberry and lemon
Original! A tiny morsel of highly aromatic candyfloss infused with foraged fennel pollen, blueberry and lemon. It melted away in the mouth quickly but left complex lingering flavours. And fennel pollen? You have to collect it stamen by stamen.
Rhubarb, fresh almond milk, oats and parsley
The almond milk and parsley combination seemed made for each other while the oats reminded me of extra special sugar puffs.
Cherry, coconut and chocolate
Superlatives failed me at this point. Resembling a kind of frozen macaroon, Eddie prepared it in front of us on an “antigriddle”. This specialist kit has a griddle plate temperature of -50° C to give an instant freeze to the base while the top remained a softer mousse. Intense!
Bergamot and Juniper chocolate truffle
A silvered chocolate truffle inside a crispy coating served within a rainbow-coloured cellophane wrap made for an excellent finale before coffee
The Walled Gardens Supper Club makes for a great evening, works on so many levels and comes highly recommended. Eddie made it all look effortless but must have taken ages for him to prepare.
Days later I’m still thinking about it and can’t wait to return. Meanwhile, I’ll download Eddie’s books as a reminder of a truly memorable evening.
In the light of all this, £45.00 per head at the Walled Gardens Supper Club is a bargain. I’m sure it would easily cost three figures in a restaurant and be nowhere near as much fun.
Have you tried Supper Clubs? Got any recommendations?