The night before Easter my girlfriend and I ventured to the deviant sounding ‘Ms Marmite Lover’s Underground Restaurant’. Emailed instructions guided us to a surprisingly suburban, stained glass front door.
I offered the password (clue: Comandante Che Guevara’s sign-off to Fidel). ‘But you’re early!’ accused the bright-eyed anarcho-restaurateur, extreme caterer, astrologer and blogger. ‘Besides, I haven’t changed!’ The truth was that we were only early because I dared not defy the warning ‘not to be late’.
We were ushered into a comfortable, ivory white drawing room. Cushioned garden furniture met variously shaped tables bound together in a long, lacy cloth. The walls were lined with dramatic, high contrast portraits and streetscapes photographed by the host (mostly for sale). I noted a sofa bed, which occasionally unfolds for the benefit of intoxicated diners, and an upright piano used as a sideboard for glassware. Cosy kitchen aromas filtered throughout.
Picking sweetly marinated olives and sipping a sheer Cava Kir, I pondered the operation. I often heard my Italian relatives reminisce about illicit eateries established during the price inflating conversion from Lira to Euro. Was it a coincidence that Ms Marmite’s affectionately illegal restaurant popped-up during a recession? Actually ‘it is the zeitgeist,’ she explained, ideologically describing it as a ‘small, local celebration of individuality – transparent, classless and available to all.’
The shrill doorbell made me snigger in nervous anticipation as to who might weave past with a password. A gentle, intriguingly motley crew included The Observer’s astrologer, a trio of friends savvy to the underground movement, having eaten at another, The Secret Ingredient, the week before, and two of Ms Marmite’s friends, one displaying very expressive cleavage…
The set menu was vegetarian and Easter-themed. Marmite believes one shouldn’t ‘eat anything you are not prepared to kill yourself.’ An outsize, carefully seasoned, spongy Pretzel ‘represented someone praying with their arms crossed.’
Tender Thai fish cakes came with a bathing dip of sweet and sour coriander and cucumber. I felt sorry for the gent who inadvertently targeted lime into his eyes. The main attraction, butternut risotto, arrived sadly scorched by guest chef, Marghe. It was so easy to forget that we were paying customers rather than guests at a dinner party that I failed to complain, but balked (politely) when a motherly waitress wearing a button necklace threatened seconds. Lambs leaf salad with quail/hens eggs continued the homage to Jesus’ resurrection.
Between the deluxe Simnel cake which wore eleven marzipan spheres (aka the eleven apostles) and mocha pot coffee, my playful goading of the physically asset-rich lady, who it transpired loved belly dancing, reaped rewards. Like a bus, which you wait ages for and then two come at once, I was treated to believe it or not, the second belly dancing spectacular in a week. Starman on vinyl was replaced by a flavour of the Middle East via iPod. Barely dressed, the buxom blonde’s dancing was more breast than belly.
‘No one ever belly dances at my dinner parties!’ said my neighbour wistfully, which summed it up – a sense of anarchy contained within a domestic setting.
With homemade chocolate eggs, topics of conversation veered into one another like dodgems: G20 conspiracies, new wave cinema and the mechanics behind UFO and ghost conventions. I vaguely remember someone proclaiming: ‘aliens are the new religion!’
Marmite wheels most of her produce from Portobello Road where ‘they’re not impersonal cashiers.’ Her favourite stall sells ‘exotic mushrooms’ and ‘is run by a guy with a big white scar’.
Guests described the evening as ‘liberating’, ‘Robin Hood-like’ and ‘a kind of stage’. The dancer even claimed that it provided her ‘best ever meal’.
Incidentally, Ms Marmite associates herself with the iconic yeast extract spread because ‘you love it or hate it’ (and she loves it). She added: ‘people feel the same way about me’. And what do I think? Over the evening, I grew rather fond of Marmite…
Tickets: £25 (wine: £10/£5 corkage) see Ms Marmite’s blogspot