I was invited by Russian Revels to one of their supper evenings, to sample the Ukrainian cooking of up and coming celebrity chef Olia Hercules, and to celebrate the launch of her new book “Mamushka, Mamulya, Mamkin”. Russian Revels run regular supper clubs and speciality dining, with the focus on chic Slavic dining experiences, or as their invite said “Russian feasts with Slavic generosity and British humour”.
There were 25 guests for the supper club (was I the odd one out?) and the ages varied to reflect a good cross section of interested diners. Many of the diners were Russian or Ukrainian and brining their partners with them to share the taste of their traditional food. Many knew Olia Hercules and respected her for authentic cuisine, often complimenting her throughout the evening on delivering such a rich and varied meal. The event encourages diners to bring their own wine, and there was a good mix of red, white and sparkling set out on the table for all to share.
The supper was held at Clementi House, 128 Kensington Church Street, London, W8 4BH. Clementi House was the London home of Muzio Clementi (1752-1832), composer and pianist, now buried in Westminster Abbey, during the second and third decades of the 19th century. The house has been open to public hire since 2014 and offers the perfect opportunity to dine in an incredible historic location, packed full of painting, ornaments and charm.
The star of the event is celebrity chef Olia Hercules. The supper was a chance for her to launch her new book, “Mamushka, Mamulya, Mamkin”, packed full of Ukrainian ans Slavic recipes, based on her childhood , but brought up to date with accessible products and cooking techniques. The foundation for all her recipes if good, fresh food, honestly made as it would have been years ago.
The food was brought to the tables in Zakuski style, meaning no particular order. This allowed us to almost pick at dishes, coming back to them having interspersed mouthfuls of other dishes. It seemed much more civilized that just filling a plate in one go; it led to much more interaction with the food and other diners. As the Russians say “food has never fed the belly alone.”
A large colourful dish of watermelon and feta cheese was a good way to waken the tastebuds. Possibly not the best choice for a cold night, it would have worked amazingly on a hot summer evening.
A plate of fresh ‘proper’ tomatoes, as Russian Revels call them, added more colour. These were straight from the Tomato Stall on the Isle of Wight, and Olia Hercules expressed how pleased she was to be able to get the finest, freshest products to our table.
The bread was cooked locally that day, made with Ukrainian sourdough, and it tasted as good as it looked.
One real surprise was the Brussel Sprout Phali. Cooked, then grilled, hot Brussel Sprouts served with walnuts, beans and pulses looked like a plain vegan salad, but totally surprised with the flavours. The grilled outer leaves of the sprouts tasted like the seaweed in a Chinese restaurant, all crunchy and salty. The warm beans adding a more nutritious body to it, this is definitely one to try at home for Olia’s book.
The delicate biscuit looking treats are Welsh whipped Sala, melted onto thin round toasts, topped with confit garlic and lingonberry powder. They were very light, and worked well as a move between the fruit and tomato dishes to the heavier dishes.
No Ukrainian meal is complete without Borsch, but Olia Hercules’ Borsch in a Pie was a bit different. Sweet aromatic borsch made from locally grown beetroot was packed into a pie with the thinnest pastry I have seen in a long time. Cut into strips, it was both filling and light, the flavours being quite new to a more traditional English diner.
Simple mixes of aubergines with walnuts create a great pate to go with the fresh regional bread. Some took this as a starter dish, others used it to finish with.
The mild peppers and gerkins are a regular sideplate for any Ukrainian table and as well as great to nibble on, they also add that authentic Slavic colour to any meal.
Even simple dishes of sliced peppers, carrots and beetroot added a real colour to the table that is so easy to do that you wonder why you have never done it yourself.
Many of the diners asked Olia Hercules for a signed copy of her new book, and paged through with here to see how she made the great dishes we were eating.
Dessert consisted of a cold plum soup with sourcream in the middle, dressed with damson and cardamom sauce. Very sharp and tart, it was a good palate cleanser, but in true Russian style, adding some Vodka to it (remember people bring their own wine?) made it into a cracking cocktail, its texture that of a thick sipping drink. Naughty? Maybe. Fun? Oh yes.
Alongside the Plum Soup, there were Baddam Buri pastries. Although there is no set way to make these, they are basically a regional almond treat. Baddam stands for Almond, which is soaked and ground to make paste, then combined with flour to obtain the dough. Using the same dough, very thin square buris are rolled corner to corner to make the shape. They can be dipped in sugar syrup to be sticky sweets, or left lighter with just an icing drizzle.
They were light, flaky and thoroughly enjoyed as a delicate touch to the end of the meal.
Lastly, our fine hostess, Katrina Kollegaeva, aided by her colleague Karina Baldry, served specialty Ivan chai tea, its warmth and aroma finishing off a great night and preparing us for the cold outside.
This has to be one of the best evenings I have had in a long time. The food was good, and different, and exciting. The friendly, homelike location was perfect. The social chat with other guests made it so much more than just an evening out. Everyone shared common interest in Slavic cuisine, which acted as an icebreaker, which then opened discussions about their history, background, childhood etc. It was fortunate that all the Russians there spoke English, but when talking amongst themselves you could so easily feel as if you were in Russia itself.
I cannot wait for the next event, and more Russian delights. Look for the dates on their website.