Barcelona is well-known for its gastronomy and for its secrets. Bring these two ingredients together and you've got yourself a Supper Club.
The Supper Club finds its roots in the United States back in the Jazz days of the 1930s, as a way that people can enjoy dinner whist enjoying live music. Today it is also known as the 'guest restaurant' and is finding great popularity across Europe. Just recently, the Sunday Times printed an article listing London's top ten Supper Clubs; they also named the chefs behind the creations and what the diner could expect to eat.
In the rest of the Europe the trend is on the increase, but still has a way to go. Because restaurants in Spain are generally inexpensive and provide excellent cuisine, Supper Clubs are still relatively new to the city and have taken a while to catch on.
The concept of Supper Club dining is simple. You are 'invited' by the chef to a pre-determined location (usually organized via the Internet) where you dine according to a preset menu that usually includes wine and coffee. The whole arrangement has a more intimate feel, more like a dinner party than restaurant dining. The only difference is that you pay for the service. In London, Supper Club competition is fierce. Many chefs are professionally trained and have experience working in Michelin starred restaurants.
The Mount Lavinia Supper Club began after 12-year Barcelona resident Chef Faraaj (formerly of Barmbo Restaurant became disillusioned with Asian food in the city "The culture of Asian food in Barcelona tends to be modified or diluted to the Spanish palette. I really want to give the city real Asian food as you would eat in anybody's house in Sri Lanka without holding back on taste or on spice," says Faraaj. The very name Mount Lavinia comes from a strip of coastline south of Sri Lanka's capital, Colombo, well-known for its beauty, beaches and seafood.
The spice trade significantly influences Sri Lanka's cooking. Many of Mount Lavinia's spices come from Sri Lanka and Italy whilst some are purchased from specialist shops around Barcelona. Sri Lanka's exotic cuisine is inspired by several different ethnicities, resulting from quite a few periods of colonization-blending indigenous ingredients and cooking techniques with influences from Portuguese, Dutch, Indonesian, Malay, and a host of other world food traditions.
Mount Lavinia's Supper Club (or curry corner, as Faraaj likes to call it) depends on his ability to shop and cook the food personally to ensure quality. "This is something I could never do in a restaurant. Not only do I bring people together at my dinner table, I educate them. I open their eyes and taste buds to a whole new experience; in short I bring Sri Lanka to Barcelona".
The very idea of it brings to mind the separation of food preparation and art. "Cooking, for me, is painting a picture. I could never allow anybody else to pick up my paints and easel and take over". He prides himself on maintaining high standards. Meats and vegetables are sought out and shopped at La Boquieria or El Mercat de San Antoni. Every ingredient is meticulously researched. Preparation and execution from the market to the table are deeply personal things for Faraaj, and crucial for Mount Lavinia.
His Supper Club menu consists of beef or chicken cooked on a slow fire with a mix of ginger, coconut milk and a base of curry with coriander seeds ground and toasted.
Tuna cooked in a mix of tamarind, ginger, vinegar, sugar and black pepper mildly baked in a banana leaf. Chili crab-a Sri Lankan delicacy-cooked in an onion sauce. Red split lentil dhal cooked in coconut milk with turmeric.
Aubergine baked in cubes and stewed with a sour sauce and spices. Yellow rice garnished with cashews and fried onions. Finally, the Sri Lankan favorite, Pol Sambole, a grated coconut mixture with onions, chopped green chilies, and lime with red-hot chili powder.
Mount Lavinia is in no way alone. The Supper Club network is vast. Several Internet pages are dedicated to the underground dining experience such as (supper club fan group.ning.com) probably the most up to date and authentic list of supper clubs worldwide. Barcelona is still yet to find its footing, even though the city stands as a beacon to creativity and innovation; the network is some way behind the U.S or the U.K. The phenomenon is still in its infancy and still needs time to develop. There is no way of knowing the true number of supper clubs in each city, some are born and die all in a single night. Some are such a well-kept secret that only those in the know can take the secret to the dining table.
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