★★★★★ Gouldfingers: Middle Eastern Vegan & Gluten Free Feast
Secret Supper Club Location
Occasional – Check Website for Details | Around £30-35pp
Given To Do List’s fairly recent conversion to vegetarianism, the timing could not have been better for our first experience of Gouldfingers – a Middle Eastern Vegan & Gluten Free Feast to celebrate Veganuary.
The Gouldfingers are Greta & Rosanna Gould – sisters with an exquisite touch for producing fantastic home-cooked meals taking inspiration from their experiences growing up, their travels and their ‘food heritage’. They promise to take guests on a culinary holiday with each supper club happening – it might be an American Thanksgiving (as in November last year), a Venezuelan Christmas, a trip to a Mexican Foodhall in California, summer in France, afternoon tea in the English countryside, or food on the beach in Trinidad.
For Veganuary, Greta & Rosanna drew on Middle Eastern influences to provide a veritable smörgåsbord (yup, we used that word again!) of feasting fare. First up, a Maze of epic quantities: huge bowls of smooth hummus, smoky bar ghanoush and – the star of the first course – a bright and bolshy muhammarah (a Syrian dish of pureed red pepper with walnuts). Served with piles of gluten-free pita bread, sesame & tahini crisp bread, salads and pickles, this is a grazers paradise. Throw in a plate of tasty little falafel and their accompanying coriander chutney and tahini dipping sauce, and you’re in foodie heaven.
The temptation to overeat straight away is great – but the smell of the next course finishing off in the kitchen is enough to encourage some restraint. And what a next course it is: a version of the Persian khoresh torsh, a bowl packed with big bold flavours and hearty chunks of sweet potato, aubergine, dried prunes and apricots. To soak up the sweet and slightly sour juices is a mountain of pilaf, perfectly cooked rice (with an intentionally crunchy, scorched layer) bejewelled – there can be no other word for it – with almonds, pistachios, pine nuts, dates and sour cherries. Words are not enough.
There’s a clichéd line about great veggie food – “you don’t even realise there’s no meat” – which is too generous to meat as an ingredient. In cases like this, it’s not a case of doing without meat – meat is just unnecessary. The Gouldfingers’ khoresh torsh may eschew the ‘usual’ meaty component (lamb), but by no means is any ingredient here merely a substitute. The dish is a star in its own right, and the well-chosen vegetables the perfect vehicles for the perfectly-balanced flavours.
There’s just enough room at the end for a light carrot & pistachio cake, served with a refreshing dairy-free tahini & cardamom ice cream. It’s a well-chosen desert, tempting enough to defy full-to-bursting bellies but light and refreshing enough to leave you feeling well-fed instead of over-full. Washed down with a sweet and spicy Turkish coffee, it’s the ideal end to a fabulous meal.
Gouldfingers are surely on to a winner here – the food is top-notch, the venue and atmosphere warm and relaxed, and the only downside is that you can’t just curl up on the sofa for a happy nap at the end of the meal. You’ll find yourself sat at a table with other guests, some in couples, others on their own – and the convivial hosts encourage a relaxed atmosphere which lends itself to a fun and friendly evening. The Veganuary fest had room for just ten diners, so everyone is well looked-after and there’s no danger of mass-production overtaking the pursuit of culinary excellence. All in all, a faultless experience, and we can’t wait for our next visit!