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Shacklewell Nights is a new Supper Club born out of a collaboration of Claire Roberson and Jonathan Woolway. While Claire has had a lot of experience in hosting supper clubs before as the woman behind The Green Onion Supper Club, Jonathan Woolway works as a chef at the distinctly English St. John's in his day job. A marriage made in heaven it seems for a delicious take on British food.
Shacklewell Nights is not one of your conventional supper clubs. Even though they embrace some of their elements such as the secret location, one menu (+one vegetarian option) and the relaxed and personal atmosphere, there are several profound differences placing Shacklewell Nights somewhere half way between restaurant and supper club:
1. the location: as opposed to be held in Claire's or Jonathan's house, they managed to find the most spectacular location at the 4th floor of an old clothing factory somewhere in the dark backstreets of Dalston. Upon arrival you walk up several flights of steps in a rather sinister stairway and you think this can't be right, where have I landed? But you know you will have a good evening when you finally enter the dining room with its high ceilings, vintage furniture, white table cloths and candles and when you immediately have a glass of tasty rose in your hand you feel you have made a good decision spending 40 pounds on this culinary adventure.
2. The size: Shacklewell Nights can host around 60 people which is more than twice the size of even very ambitious normal supper clubs.
3. The waitresses: Even though most conventional supper clubs do have some help, the service at Shacklewell was very restaurant style like. This made the whole evening go very smoothly, but maybe also took a bit of the charm away that I think arises from improvisation and non-professionalism.
After the initial glass of rose we sat down at our tables and were happily awating things to come. The menu was British with a modern/European twist.
The first course was Roast Parsnip Soup with Colton Basset and Walnuts. So this was an interesting dish I thought. The parsnip soup, when I first tasted it, was a little bit on the dull side but developed a beautiful depth when the blue cheese melted in. The occasional roasted walnut perfectly complemented the warm flavours of the soup. This dish was also well chosen considering the sudden arrival of the autumn cold.
The second course was supposed to be Confit Rabbit Leg with Jerusalem Artichoke, Red Onion and Rocket. Claire came to our table to tell us that the Jerusalem Artichokes they had bought were not up to standard and if we were happy to have butter beans instead. I thought the dish worked well with also with the butter beans. I don't eat rabbit very often but I enjoyed the way it was prepared. The rabbit was a little bit dry on the outside but nice and tender further in and the whole dish tasted very fresh and light with the rocket, red onions and butter beans.
We still had plenty of room for the dessert. The Discovery Apple Jelly with a spiced Chantilly Cream was not only very tasty but also so cute, it looked like a tiny pint of beer! With all the cinnamon and lovely fresh apple taste it reminded me of Christmas markets in Vienna sipping apple punch.
The last cheese course was a good end to a well rounded meal. I particularly enjoyed the goat's cheese as well as the Hackney Chutney which matched very nicely with the different the cheese.
(I know this is an awful picture, I am full of shame and I have already started saving for a new camera )
No wait, the dinner was not quite over yet, Shacklewell Nights warmed my heart with a glass of Auchentoshan, a smooth Scottish Lowlands single malt. I nice touch I though! I saw with dismay that about half of the whiskeys were not drunk. Apparently there are many people out there who don't like whiskey and one should probably offer some other choice for them.
In general I thought that despite this relatively restaurant -like approach, Shackelwell Nights did not feel like a restaurant and this is mostly due to the great atmosphere. Time was just flying and even after the food had finished they were not throwing us out immediately but we could comfortably finish our wine and continue our chat with the lovely people who were sitting at our table and even tough we had never seen them before where no strangers anymore at the end of the evening.
This night reinforced my love for this new dining concept. I have met more nice and interesting people during the few supper clubs I went to than on all other night outs in London taken together. I think as long as supper clubs are a niche phenomenon you have a high chance of meeting people you have something in common with which usually is a love for food and a zest for the extraordinary.
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