The Wet Fish Cafe: it’s a great name for a cafe. The name comes from the buildings original purpose as a wet fish shop. If like me, you are in the dark as to what a wet fish actually is, The Wet Fish Cafe’s owner, André explained to me that wet fish are fresh fish that have not been frozen. When he discovered the building tucked away in West Hampstead André peeled back the layers of paint to uncover the art deco emerald and green tiled walls from the original fish shop.
The result of all this carefully preserved heritage is a really homely and charming cafe which looks like it has been churning out coffee for years. André invited me to visit The Wet Fish Cafe for their first ever supper club. The café is usually closed on a Monday night, so André decided to use this night to try out a supper club once a month where he would serve a set menu with matching wine in a communal dinner party setting (£35 for three courses with three glasses of matched wine).
I love the concept of a supper club and it was really enjoyable eating at long communal tables and talking to complete strangers. Quite a few were Wet Fish Cafe regulars who told me that they keep on coming back for the excellent coffee and atmosphere. The only problem with the night was that the food did probably suffer a little just from the fact that the kitchen had to prepare 30 odd meals for simultaneous service which I am sure is quite a challenge.
The meal started with a tomato based fish stew that was served with rouille and croutons. The stew was hearty and comforting and dotted with generous chunks of salmon, mussel and prawns, just the sort of food you want at a winters supper. This was paired with a glass of Mara Martin Godello from Spain which cut through the thick stew perfectly.
However the strain of cooking for such a large group showed when it came to our main as the confit duck leg was overcooked to the extent that it was rather dry and parched. I loaded up with the accompanying savoy cabbage and a parsnip mash instead. The duck was matched with an Israeli wine, Petit Castel, Domaine du Castel which was a lovely robust wine almost in the style of a wine from Bordeaux. This wine is typical of those on offer at the West Fish Cafe which features wines from the new world and boutique wineries.
To finish we were served a large glass of trifle with rosé wine jelly, honey custard and raspberry sorbet. I am not that great a fan of trifle and I thought there was a bit too much going on in this one with the flavours all mixing together. This is both the benefit and disadvantage of supper club menus. You are forced to try things you wouldn’t usually order which may or may not be an enjoyable experience. What really worked well here though was the wine matching. The trifle was paired with a fantastic pink fizzy dessert wine, a pink moscato from Innocent Bystander in Australia. The wine almost acted as a sorbet to clean and refresh your palate after the confit in preparation for the trifle.
I loved the idea behind the supper club and was charmed by The Wet Fish cafe itself but I felt it fell down slightly on execution. Once the chefs become more accustomed to serving so many people at the same time I think that the supper club will become a really enjoyable way to spend a Monday evening.
The next Supper Club will be held on Monday 25 January 2010.
Details: 242 West Lane, Hampstead NW6 1LG (Ph 020 7443 9222)
If you liked reading this you might be interested in my review of Jim Haynes supper club in Paris which is held at his atelier in Paris and has been going strong for 30 years.
Gourmet Chick attended as a guest of The Wet Fish Cafe and received a complimentary meal.