It was by a comedy of errors that I ended up walking into The Jam Tree in Clapham on Monday night on my own. I’d originally booked three tickets for my flatmates and myself as a bit of a bonding session. Flatmate two (the new one) cancelled on Sunday afternoon after it transpired he had double booked himself (him not owning a diary, or using the one in his phone, *might* be the reason for this). I spent Sunday afternoon frantically trying to find someone to take his place with no luck (why is EVERYONE away?). Flatmate 1 then came down with a nasty cold on Monday, but she said she would come if I couldn’t find anyone else. Then Tom, who I had messaged on Sunday got back to me saying he was keen. Great. I told Flatmate 1 to stay put and headed down to Clapham. As I was approaching The Jam Tree I called Tom to see where he was (he is the one who came to this with me, and I wanted to check he’d got the location right this time). He was at home.
‘What? Dude it’s tonight’.
‘I thought it was tomorrow night. Your message said tomorrow!’
‘Yes but I sent it on Sunday’.
‘I was in Malta, I didn’t get it until this morning’.
So I gave myself a wee pep talk, took a deep calming breath, and walked in.
Luckily there was a reticence-diffusing strawberry Bellini waiting for me on arrival. I helped myself to one and took a few photos of the tables, which were beautifully laid, to get through the awkward first 10 minutes.
After that I began eagerly circling the table where plates of Shanghai dumplings (not sure how / why they are different from Beijing ones – anyone?) were laid out, and started chatting to the other greedy guests. One of them was the maker of the dumplings. Or rather he is the owner of the company (FreshAsia) that employs about 50 people to make the dumplings. They were exceptionally good (and no, I am not just saying that as he was the first person to take pity on lonesome me), with a lovely crisp grilled casing, and so juicy inside that I squirted the people next to me with my enthusiastic biting.
It was with slight relief that I sat down. Once you are all seated being at a supper club on your own is actually very easy. The lady sitting opposite me was flying solo too, and we quickly got chatting to those sat around us. It is one of the things that I love most about supper clubs. May, from Malaysian by May and our host for the evening, then explained to us that Moon Festival is the second biggest holiday in China, and that there are lots of different versions of the story as to why it is celebrated. Her version is that that a fairy fell in love with a mortal. This was not allowed so she was banished back to the moon and no longer allowed to communicate with her love. The Moon Festival is a gathering once a year to help pass messages between the fairy and the mortal. We were then introduced to our chef for the evening, Jason Li, and warned that there would be 14 courses, so it was advisable to pace ourselves (err too late, I’d already eaten 13 dumplings).
The starters then began to arrive: shredded mooli with jelly fish; Dream of Shanghai fragrant shell-on prawns; hand-pulled aubergines in a spicy, ginger and garlicky sauce; ‘drunken chicken’; shelled edamame with preserved vegetables in a sesame oil dressing; a mystery plate of noodles (edit: apparently they were shredded tofu) and kaofu with black fungus and shiitake mushrooms.
It didn’t take us long to realise how different Shanghai cuisine is from both the bog standard Cantonese stuff you get in most places, and even the Hunanese food at Ba Shan (my review is here). To the best of my knowledge (and Wikipedia), food from Shanghai is known as Hu cuisine and the use of alcohol is one of its defining characteristics. That explains the drunken chicken then! Jason told us that it included two different types of rice wine – first it was marinated and cooked in ShaoXing, and then, just before serving, he poured over another wine to give it an extra kick. My favourite dish though was the silky smooth aubergines, with their lovely, slightly sharp, slightly sweet, slightly salty sauce. I also loved the meaty, and delightfully chewy, kaofu.
Already stuffed, we steeled ourselves for the mains: Jason’s (as supposed to Chairman Mao’s) red-braised pork belly with marinated eggs; steamed sea bass with ginger and spring onion; Shanghai’s pock-marked old woman’s beancurd; stir-fried seasonal vegetables; and steamed rice with pak choi and wind dried sausage.
Despite its unappetising sounding name, the pock-marked old woman’s bean curd was delicious – soft morsels of curd swimming in a hot broth, as was the rich, fall-apart in your mouth, pork belly, although I think the marinated eggs are an acquired taste! The sea bass was beautifully cooked, and piled high with fresh, zingy, ingredients, and I adored the pak choi and mushrooms. I didn’t think of sausage as being typically Chinese, but apparently this wind dried version makes regular appearances in Shanghai’s cuisine.
Having had to get up ridiculously early to come back down from Norfolk, I left before desserts were served (which was a bit of a wrench, they sounded exceptional). Despite the mishaps in getting there, I genuinely really enjoyed my evening at Shanghai Moon, and would recommend any one of May’s supper clubs, she is a lovely host. It was great to try a different type of Chinese cuisine, and am beginning to understand how each regional cuisine has its own recognisable balance of flavours. I love how Shanghai’s is quite subtle – everything is a mixture of sweet, salty, sour and spice, with one taste never overpowering the others. I can’t wait to try more of China’s cuisines, perhaps even in the country itself!
May sent everyone attending a link to this guide to supper clubs beforehand , which is a great read.
Details of upcoming Malaysian by May supper clubs can be found on her website.