We were hoping for some belly dancers. Or, failing that, a rummage round someone’s underwear drawer. Or, failing that, a conversation with a guy from middle management who somehow’s lost two wives but thinks he’s Mr Gordon Ramsey. But no, sadly (or more accurately happily), Ollie and Dee’s secret dinner party last week (for the launch of a website called, handily, secretdinnerparty.com) harked back to the Come Dine With Me days when food was a priority, as opposed to enforced cultural differences and domestic bitchiness.
To rewind a bit, secretdinnerparty.com is a website where fans of CDWM can host their own evening, to be judged by complete strangers, without appearing on Channel 4’s endless reruns and subjecting themselves to the arch commentary of highly-pitched voiceover bell-end Dave Lamb. You post an event and menu, people apply to come eat, you choose your guests, the night happens, then they log on and rate each course, the overall atmosphere, and the other guests online.
We approached the launch event, in an immaculate maisonette in a Muswell Hill side street, with a little trepidation. What if these people are crushingly boring, or complete maniacs? What if we get cornered by a guy in NHS specs that makes tall ships out of tampons? Or nativity scenes from roadkill? What if it’s a complete dinner for schmucks? What if it turns into a Sex Party? We’ll just stay an hour or so. You go to the loo and phone me, and I’ll pretend my neighbour’s died. Is it too late to pull out? Oh shit, we’re here now. Ring the bell.
As it turns out it was populated with neither swinger or saddo, rather nine foodie types of the immensely likeable variety. We began with remarkably unforced small talk (although my “I blew up an egg this morning” attempt at anecdote embarrassed my fiancée somewhat) and ended up staying six hours. I woke up with a disturbing image courtesy of Face Swap on my phone so we must have been having fun.
The hosts plied us with heroic amounts of booze concealed as aperitifs and palate cleansers, the hidden alcoholism of the middle classes and thoroughly welcome, and brought forth dish after dish from a deceptively compact kitchen.
A starter of fish chowder hung delicately in the balance between creamy and watery, a puddle of rich joy harbouring chunky pieces of fish and several mussels that we mopped up with homemade rye and linseed bread and two types of butter, peppery and herby. The hosts with the mosts had made a vat of it (and three people hadn’t shown up) so we pretty much all took seconds. Main course meant pork three ways (the piggy theme extended to the table, where plastic porcine life roamed free among the cutlery) – pork belly with red cabbage, pigs cheeks, and a pork-stuffed parsnip roll, served with fondant potato, cider and honey jelly and pickled shallots. These took first, second and third place for me respectively – the belly was better than Barbecoa’s, the cheeks on a par with anything Spain has served me thus far. Braised cabbage was sublime but the little jelly bricks didn’t really bring much to the table. We mostly all had seconds. The traditional finale saw a baked apple seated next to a dollop of homemade apple ice cream, a sweet confection that tumbled apart and demanded that most of us order seconds, for the third time.
I could wax more lyrical on the courses, and the surprise additions like homemade mojito shots, but you’ll never get this meal – it was for us. It was a showcase of what’s achievable when people sign up to the site and begin showing off their own moves to people they’ve never met before.
The next day, we all went on and rated each course, marking what we thought we should pay for each, and giving feedback. We’re a polite bunch so it’s all “fantastic”, “inventive”, “melt-in-the-mouth” compliments (although none of us were lying). Hopefully this will occasionally descend into “revolting”, “wtf?”, and “not what I’d do” as more amateurish chefs and sociopathic guests sign up. We’ll see.
If you do join the secret dinner party fraternity bear in mind they’ve set a pretty high bar here, so don’t going microwaving stuff from Whole Foods. We will be rooting through your bins. And Dave Lamb always knows.
Soundtrack: Bossa Nova Stones from an enviably well-organised Spotify playlist. That might sound like your archetypal dinner party tuneage, but you’re not going to get Napalm Death are you?
Clientele: Doctors, bloggers, restaurateurs, PRs, students – a decent mix all united by their propensity to discuss cooking techniques. Three empty chairs marked the spot where that heinous no-show crime took place, but there were thankfully no tampon architects or horny housewives.
Price: You bring a gift to the value of £20 and your own booze.