Monday 30 March 2009

Memories of Africa Flooded back at The Double Club

I often pine for Africa having spent 1/27th of my life breathing in the joys and despairs of the African continent. I’ve got giddy memories of living and working in Ghana. Of riding crocodiles. Exploring cocoa plantations. Walking with lion. I’ve got an enduring fondness for South Africa having taught in a school in Cape Town and in spite of being shot at. I’ve got a fuzzy feeling for Tanzania and Zanzibar having spent a few weeks on a beech there. And if we’re counting, I’ve had a great time in Morocco. But I’ve only scratched Africa’s surface.

Most of my foodie memories from Africa are of endless braies in Cape Town. But my favourite meals were in Ghana. Whilst I detested fufu and kenke I adored the way they cooked tilapia with onions, peppers and chilli. To this day the two-foot long tilapia we shared between 3 of us in a treehouse in Accra ranks as one of my favourite meals ever. Poullet Yasser wasn’t bad either. It’s made with a lemon and mustard sauce that makes you gasp. If you want to find some African recipes visit the Congo Cook Book.

So when Douglas and I were looking for an unusual restaurant to explore and the Double Club was mentioned, I got terribly excited and booked us a table before you could squeeze in a bad gag.

We turned left out of Angel and almost decided to retreat to the safety of Balham. The alleyway was scattered with tramps and strewn with litter. We tried to be anonymous as we walked past a bunch of scary youths handing out little plastic packets to strangers who were giving them money, but failed horrendously as Cowie’sstiletto heel got caught in a cobble! (I now know why cobblers are called cobblers.)

Street to Double Club

In contrast the door to the Double Club is guarded by two of the friendliest bouncers you’re ever likely to come across. (Bouncers, Richard. Bouncers. At a restaurant Richard. A restaurant.) But this isn’t a restaurant. This is a concept restaurant.

The Double Club is the creation of Carsten Holler who has joined forces with Prada to give birth to a restaurant that is half Congolese and half European that only has a 6 month life span. Holler’s love of Congo as a country and for its cooking sees the venture giving 50% of its profits to abused women back in Africa. It’s a remarkable idea. A refreshing change both in terms of its approach and its altruism.

Double club sign

I was determined to eat as much Congolese food as possible. If it meant I landed up like Kurtz then so be it. Luckily, Douglas was of very much the same opinion. Coming with girlfriends as well, meant we could explore as much of the menu as possible. European included.

The first thing that caught our attention was the smell. That languid, dusty smell you get as the sun goes down in Africa. When the guys with the hot coals burning in the middle of a car wheel start charring spiced goat kebabs. I love it. I miss it. It never ceases to amaze me how the sense of smell can transport us. Take that sight. In your face sound.

The restaurant is staffed by Prada clad models who did an exceptional job servicing us. The tables alternate from being authentically-rustic-African to glitzy-posh-European. I hate to pick holes in the styling because I think on the whole it is inspired. I just can’t help thinking that the African areas could have been more acutely African. It’s just a bit sanitised.

We ordered wildly. With wanton disregard for our appetites and wallets. A bewildering array of dishes arrived such as some enormous prawns called kossakossa. Gently spicy and slightly dirty tasting, they couldn’t have been more authentic. We almost had a fight for the last one. But, that could have been because one the other dishes of green African vegetables was depth charged with smoked, hard, grey, dry fish. Having eaten many similar things over in Africa I can vouch for its accuracy. But am also willing to testify against it in a court of law for being one of the most foul things I’ve eaten in a long time. Probably since Ghana in 2003.

Pigs trotters were fun even though you never get much meat on a trotter. The dish was more of a short essay on texture. The gelatinous sauce coated the tongue and the pulses added some body. You’ve just got to watch out for the small trottery bones that lurk in the murky depths. I imagine its one of those dishes that rewards the tactile, manual eater.

Curried goat was irresistible. It jumped around on the menu with its hand in the air yelling, “ORDER ME!” “OVER HERE!” “PICK ME!” So we did. It promised a lot. And whilst perfectly decent, it lacked the searing heat of the African cooking I remember. That said the lack of spice allowed the flavour of the goat to shine through with its sure footed charm.

Having indulged in most of the Congolese food for starter, Cowie and I chose the veal for our main course. It arrived looking resplendent. Almost regal.Without a hair out of place.It was cooked perfectly, but let down by some celeriac chips that were a step too far.

Douglas’s girlfriend wolfed down her beef ribs before the rest of us had been able to extend our telescopic forks. We can only conclude that it was, therefore, exceptionally good. Douglas put us all to shame by ordering the Congolese chicken that had been braised in a brown sauce. Now, I know that the chicken is the closest living animal in genetic terms to the T-Rex, but the size of Douglas’s chicken was absurd. I swear they mistook a Christmas turkey for a chicken. Either that, or Congolese chickens are all built like Big Bird from Sesame Street.

We somehow all had space for dessert. Douglas’s apple tarte tatin was good without being great. What it lacked in buttery pasty and oozing caramel it made up for with appliness. The highlight of all of our puddings was a goats’ milk ice cream that was quite simply brilliant. I can imagine a lot of people hating it. But not us. It managed the considerable feat of upstaging the Valhrona chocolate pudding it was accompanying. Cowie’s rhubarb pudding and my spotted dick showed the kitchen knows how to round a meal off in style.

The bill was large. But why shouldn’t it be? Especially when you consider there were as many staff as guests; the place is only here for 6 moths; they are running two menus; half the profits are going to charity; we had some lovely wine and Prada are involved. I suspect we won’t return, but we are delighted to have paid the Double Club a visit. It brought back so many fond memories and stretched our culinary frames of reference. If I ever go back, it will be to go to the bar for a beer, a goat kebab and some private time to read Cry, the Beloved Country.

For Douglas's review click here.

Double Club on Urbanspoon


Hollow Legs said...

I came here for some drinks after you mentioned you were going. When the bbq started going it did remind me of being in holiday.

At £4 a bottle of beer though, we only stayed for one but I'm glad we went; the decor was quite unique.

Browners said...

I must admit it was quite pricey. But I liked the atmosphere. Would go back for a drink and a kebab.

Douglas Blyde said...

Grand job.

Browners said...

Thanks Douglas. It was a super trip. Looking forward to our next escapade.

Le laquet said...

I have really good memories of goat, cabbage cooked with garam masala and mealie-meal in Botswana ... stuck in the middle of the dessert! And glorious surf (crocodile) and turf (Gemsbok) in Bulawayo - take me back please!

Browners said...

Le laquet - that sounds awesome. I imagine it was even better, given the context.

I've got to say your surf and turf sounds brilliant. I really want it. More David Attenbrough than Michael Cane.


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