I've been following Miss Marmite Lover's blog on hosting an illegal restaurant in her living room for some while, and had wanted to pay a visit for some time. Fate seemed to conspire against me, and although I made it to London a couple of times, other plans always got in the way.
Last weekend the Domestic Sluts were hosting a tea party at the Underground Restaurant. Last weekend I was free in the afternoon. I bought a ticket online, spent an hour on the TFL website trying to work out the best way to Kilburn without using the tube or overland (both of which were shut), put on my best tea dress and headed "underground"...
Like all good parties, as I approached the front door I could hear chatter and the clinking of bottles. I was a little nervous that I might be gatecrashing some random gathering, but it seemed I'd found the right flat after all.
Inside the flat, I settled on the balcony with a glass of kir royale. I got talking with some of the other guests, one of whom wondered why restaurants such as this were illegal. Thinking about it, running a home restaurant seems to be quite a bureaucratic crime - you'll get prosecuted for failure to pay business rates or submit to a hygiene inspection (but as guests are welcome in the kitchen once the food is done, the food hygiene standards are more transparent than most legal restaurants).
After a suitable amount of mingling time, we settled at the tables for tea. We helped ourselves to a plate on sandwiches already on the table. There were Marmite sandwiches, and I'd never tried Marmite, so I went for one of them straight away. I'd been put off by the smell in the past, and was expecting to fall in the "hate it" camp. Surprisingly, I found Marmite completely inoffensive, and was totally ambivalent about it. I must be the exception that proves the rule.
Also on the table already was a big old plate of homemade scones and jam (no cream - this came later by which point I'd eaten all the scones. Oops.) which did not last long. We also had aga meringues which were shatteringly crisp on the outside, but ridiculously chewy on the inside. I used the cream to sandwich bits of meringue together, it was very good.
Full marks to all the waiting crew, who furnished us with almost endless pots of tea. They also brought round sundried tomato and anchovy tartlets, squash and feta parcels, hot buttered crumpets, carrot cupcakes, rum and ginger cupcakes (awesome) and orange biscuits. There were also chocolate macarons, which were absolutely delicious.
All the food was homemade, and I went to the kitchen when things started winding down to have a nose around and meet Miss MarmiteLover herself. The kitchen wasn't overly big (which made the quantity of food that came out of it even more impressive), but it was a cook's kitchen. Here the Madeleine tin gets to sit brazenly on a shelf, while in my kitchen it's languishing at the back of a cupboard. I was seriously coveting this kitchen. I loved it even more as it featured my new favourite kitchen gadget - the Ikea steppy stool to allow short people to reach high cupboards! (Worryingly, it's advertised as a kid's item.)
I wouldn't review the Underground Restaurant in exactly the same way I would a normal restaurant, as it's a completely different concept. I didn't mind not getting a choice of food, and I really liked talking to the random people on my table. Where else do you get to discuss American health care policy, Vivienne Westwood shoes and a dodgy Turkish boyfriend with strangers? It's much closer to a dinner party, and quite a civilised one at that.