On the bus journey there, aside from the Croatian-inspired menu emailed to us in advance, we had no idea what to expect. How many other diners would there be? Would our dinner companions be achingly cool and intimidating, know-it-all food snobs, downright weirdos or just fairly nice and normal people? Crossing our fingers frantically for the latter, we took a deep breath and knocked on the door. The friendly waitress for the evening greeted us warmly and ushered us into an inviting, trendily-decorated lounge/dining room leading onto a garden, where the other diners were mingling. Accepting the offer of a glass of wine, we made a half-hearted attempt to join in, wishing we'd arrived more than ten minutes in advance of dinner in order to get more of a chance to chat. A quick glance around the garden revealed that our fellow diners were not a scary bunch of trendy NHS-esque specs and skinny jeans wearers, in fact they seemed (sigh of relief) like normal folk, largely in their twenties and thirties.
At 8pm we sat down to dinner on our table of eight and were served an amuse bouche of mackerel pate in a chicory leaf, accompanied with artisan bread. The smooth homemade pate gave us a taste of things to come: delicious. Our international bunch of table-mates (from England, Italy, America and Norway) agreed, and we eagerly anticipated the arrival of our next dish, black squid risotto. Immaculately presented in a contrasting white dish, the black rice was topped with a dollop of chilli-flecked ali-oli and a baby squid. The flavours mingled beautifully; Simon had created a far more sophisticated dish than the similar Spanish arroz negro I've previously tried. The next stage in our feast was melon with parma ham and 'prawns ceviette' (two king prawns elegantly draped over a shot glass filled with a sublime mint and chive (I think!) dip). Whatever the sauce was, it was so damn tasty I couldn't resist using my fork to scrape the last of it from the glass (sorry Mum, I promise my manners are usually much better, and if you'd tried it you would have understood).
As our BYO wine flowed, the courses kept coming, allowing us to sample a wide range of Croatian-style cooking. Conversation with our fellow diners was a little more challenging as everyone seemed to have come in pairs (well, at least I hope the couple sitting behind us had...), but I gleaned some useful supper club tips from the girl next to me, who rated F&L as the best she had attended so far. The advertised 'fish and chips' turned out to be tuna sashimi with wasabi and slender hand-cut chips - I'm not usually a huge raw fish fan, but I think this plate-lickingly good dish (don't worry dear readers/Mum, I didn't!) might have converted me. Next in the hit parade was octoupus carpaccio with capers: the thin slices were full of flavour and their texture nothing like my last octopus experience, a tough tapa of pulpo a la gallega. The savoury delights were rounded off with pulled lamb for J, and chargrilled aubergines with a hint of chilli for my pescatarian self, both accompanied with a cold new potato and onion salad. Feeling pleasantly full but not stuffed, there was still room for the dessert of panna cotta, given an original taste with a slight orange flavour.
As we lingered over dessert, each group was presented with a personalised envelope to make their donation: a discreet way of collecting payment in-keeping with the intimate experience of dining in an undergroud restaurant. The minimum donation for Fernandez & Leluu's nights is £35 per person, which I had thought on the steep side before arriving, but given the quantity, outstanding quality and impeccable presentation of their dishes, it actually turned out to be great value. If you were served Simon's food in a restaurant, you'd be just as impressed but no doubt have to fork out far more for it.
Feeling rather tired after our Friday feast, we sloped off home, unfortunately not getting chance to chat to our hosts. However, I have no doubt I'll be back - when I can get in again that is. With their September nights sold out already, it seems that F&L's venture is going from strength to strength, and based on our experience I can see why. If you're a fan of great food who wants to try an unpretentious supper club with a welcoming atmosphere and attentive service, you better get yourself on their mailing list quick.
- Our dinner at Fernandez & Leluu cost a £35 minimum donation, including a glass of wine on arrival. Bring your own bottle of wine - there is no corkage charge.