It is often wrongly assumed that you need pockets full of gold to enjoy fine wine and gourmet food; Raul Diaz and Toby Stuart are on a mission to challenge that assumption. Both men are better equipped than most, having met at Michel Roux Jr’s restaurant and since going on to run highly successful independent projects; Raul appearing on Sunday Brunch and Toby as an independent caterer and occasional teacher at Cactus Kitchens. Their brainchild, Suppermelier, aims to teach you more about wine, through a led supper club and cooking demonstration.
Taking place in the spot where Saturday Kitchen is filmed, Suppermelier is set in the seriously swish Cactus Kitchens. Hidden inconspicuously between residential houses in Clapham, the building has been converted into a modern and stylish venue. Upon arrival we were led up to a single room in which nine people were seated around a huge wooden table. Rather than four hours of chit chat with random strangers, Suppermelier had a clear direction; Toby and Raul bounced off one another as they explained the process of choosing the dishes and wines for the evening.
The duo have turned the traditional wine dinner on its head, and instead of working from the food, all dishes were matched according to which bottle was being served. As Raul poured glasses of Comte de Senneval Champagne Brut, Toby worked on a station next to the table cooking up decadent cheese and sauerkraut toasties. As I dribbled melted cheese on my chin and munched through chorizo puffs with a red pepper dip, Raul asked us what flavours we could taste and how the drink transformed after eating.
Their time serving in Michelin-starred establishments shows, as the hosts led the evening flawlessly from one course to the next, all with light and casual explanations which provoked discussions among the table. An Albarinio from Spain had fresh fruit flavours which were mellowed by a dish of creamy burrata coated in pumpkin seeds, olive oil and roasted pumpkin. Fat prawns coated in pesto and a dish of butterbean hummus and warm pitta was served with a Syrah Grenache Rose which was full of strawberry flavours. When a member of the party declared she didn’t enjoy the rose, Raul embraced it, instead highlighting the importance of finding out what we did and didn’t like and choosing wine accordingly.
For the main course, we were led up to Cactus Kitchen's cutting-edge kitchen where Toby was whizzing round. As we sipped a deep and powerful Barolo from Italy, Toby seared a lamb chop, blow-torched a sweet potato and whizzed up a walnut gremolata, explaining each step as he went. After watching our tantalising meal being prepared, we were finally allowed to tuck in back in the dining room, as the tasting notes of the red wine were explained and why the bottle had been chosen.
Things ended on a deeply indulgent note with an Armilar Ruby Port that had lots of red berry flavours, and was accompanied by ‘Billionaires Chocolate Pot’, an espresso cup of sinfully rich chocolate and cream ganache. If five courses of delicious food wasn’t enough to put me on the floor, the news that all the wine had come from Lidl, certainly was.
You don’t impress the likes of Michel Roux Jr without knowing your subject matter well, and Raul and Toby have combined their knowledge to create a comprehensive, fascinating and mouth-watering-ly good evening. Part five course dinner, part wine tasting and part cooking lesson, all three elements are combined expertly for an event that left me wanting to find out even more about wine and food. Using produce from a local supermarket also made the evening accessible and proved you don’t need to have extortionately priced ingredients to make scrumptious food; if you need me, I’ll be in the Lidl wine aisle - as per usual.