I have a bit of history with Somerstown Coffee House. We were regulars at its previous French brasserie-cum-pub incarnation (where they did a daily special and glass of house wine for £9), and I reviewed it for a couple of magazines back in the day.
So we were a little sceptical when it was taken over by a small chain (Yummy Pubs, which have two other sites in Kent and Surrey), although pleased to see that their refurb works in its own way, the dark panelled interior now opened up to create a sense of space. But its leafy sidestreet NW1 location means it still gets absolutely packed with suits on weekday evenings.
When Somerstown contacted us about their new ‘secret’ supper club, we were naturally intrigued. You push back a bookshelf, go up some stairs, take a seat in one of four rooms…and suddenly you’re in what feels like a country house miles away from King’s Cross…
The best room is the ‘Kitchen’ – with its big table and farmhouse decor – and it was there that we gathered before a recent Farmed & Foraged night. James Fraser heads up their rural Kent pub, The Grove Ferry, and had either ‘farmed’ or ‘foraged’ everything we were about to eat. A gimmick, for sure, but a fascinating challenge too.
A very light watercress soup kick-started proceedings (picked that morning, we were assured). A little too thin, it needed further seasoning, but was pleasant enough, a healthy opener.
A vast grilled rock oyster from Whitstable was next – so big that it was of no interest to commercial oyster farmers and thus perfect for the forager (James goes out on a boat each morning). It may be rather overwhelming visually but it was winningly tender. Even more impressive was a wonderful pigeon breast – rare, juicy – served with wild mushrooms and courgettes (left).
James had shot a few rabbits – we couldn’t help but imagine the poor bunnies lined up against the wall – and served them with lentils and root vegetables. I always struggle with rabbit, and this dish sadly didn’t change my perception, but its rustic wholesomeness worked with the Pinot Noir. Much better was Whitstable Stew, a fragrant bouillabaisse with mussels, sea trout, scampi and lemon sole.
Desserts continued to surprise. Elderflower jelly with panacotta was perfection, ginger ‘lemonoffee’ rich and velvety. The cream and milk used in desserts was not foraged, of course, although maybe James should get milking a cow or two next time? Just kidding: his dedication to the cause was admirable.
Throughout, the atmosphere was convivial, with not a po-faced attitude in sight, as you might experience at supper clubs in the capital’s cooler boudoirs. And even better, for central London, you sit around a shared table and meet people you might otherwise never encounter. Which has to be a good thing, right?