Saturday, 16 February 2013

Fire & Salt BBQ, North Carolina Supper Club

Mal: a man passionate about everything barbecue
Despite having talked incessantly about supper clubs, and enviously looked on at the multitude of their occurrences in - to quote Stephen Lee - that there London, it was only on the 8th February that Jamie and I eventually got round to dining in a stranger's home for the first time. I say stranger, but I had already heard and knew lots about Mal and his obsession for barbecue, after chowing down on his amazing riblets at IMBC last autumn. Listening to Mal's passionate history lesson on this age-old cooking technique almost left me digging up my own back garden to build a pit. Alas, I'm not yet on the property ladder and didn't fancy being sued by my kind landlords.

The evening began somewhat nervously, as Jamie and I sat down at a table occupied by two others, and several empty seats. I initially worried we'd actually been booked in for some sort of double dating reality T.V. programme (think Wife Swap meets Come Dine With Me). Fortunately, several minutes later a group of five showed up and the quiet calm of the dining room soon turned into a clattering hubub of introductions. We were generously welcomed with a shot of bourbon, infused with cocoa nibs and vanilla, finished with a spring of mint, a delicious chocolate Sazerac-like aperitif, wonderfully created by Mal's girlfriend, Laura**.

The mini jam jar bourbon shot
First up came the opportunity to try a variety of the barbecued pork: naked; with a vinegar style sauce; and with a more BBQ-esque version - with or without tomatoes (apparently barbecue chefs have nearly killed each other over the tomato debate*). Without wanting to reveal too much about my personality, naked turned out to be my preference. The flavours in the meat were pretty incredible, though I did my best to resist eating too much as I already feared the amount of food on offer might have been too much for my newly 5:2 shaped stomach.

To start, came the Brunswick stew, and I'm not sure I can sum it up much better than their very own description - 'this stew is what happens when small mammals carrying ears of corn fall into BBQ pits'. I have to say, that didn't sound particularly appetising but this was a little bowl of comfort. Next time I'm ill, Mal, if you could drop me some of this round, that would be great! I can't remember what exactly was in it, but I'm sure one of the aforementioned small mammals was a rabbit...

Brunswick stew
Up came mains, with the pulled pork taking centre stage, and the sides staggered to ensure our plates kept filling. Barbecue joint black-eyed beans were my favourite of the lot, as apparently there wasn't enough protein in the several million kilos of piggy on my plate, but deep-fried okra came a close second. Okra, that vegetable so feared by small children due to its pseudonym, was beautifully textured with its cornmeal crust. The hush puppies weren't for me, I'm afraid, though not suggesting that's anything to do with Mal's cooking as I've never had them before so I can't possibly compare!

With an event such as this, I fully expected the real showstopper to be the barbecued meat. In no way do I mean this as any discredit to that slow-cooked little piggy, but the winner of the night - and possibly the food that has most made me question my existence (pure sugar delirium, it was) - was the Krispy Kreme Bread Pudding. That's right, goddamn American donuts cooked with eggs and sugar and butter and all things evil. There's a lie on the Fire & Salt BBQ website though: it says it was served with ice cream. It wasn't - this buttery heart attack inducing dessert was served with MORE BUTTER. Bourbon butter to be exact. Nobody on the table could be tempted with 'ice cream'. Why, came the cries, would I want anything less than a fully saturated fat on my dessert which probably already contains my daily allowance of calories?! Oh Mal, you predicted us all so well.


The artery-busting Krispy Kreme pudding
The night was a success, the food left us full, the bourbon cabinet envious, and the concept filled with glee at the prospect of things to come. I couldn't help but think: perhaps if James Hitchen (Southern 11) had an ounce of the passion that Mal has, his one million pound restaurant might be nearly as good as the food served up by this fella, out of his terraced house in Chorlton.

*This might be a slight exaggeration, but I hear it's pretty fierce.
**Special mention also goes to Laura for managing to successfully co-host the supper club, despite requiring a nurse to pop round and bandage up her finger mid-proceedings.