Hometown Tourist: Mind The Gap, Fine Dining on a Victoria Line London Tube

Ask any Londoner and everyone has an opinion about the tube. Increased travel costs, tube strikes, signal failures and closures due to maintenance works, we have a love hate relationship with the world’s oldest underground system. However fine dining on the tube? You have to be joking!

Well, Alex and the team at Basement Galley turned a disused London icon into an amazing pop up restaurant experience.

As we continue to explore our hometown and uncover quirky and different experiences around London, Natalie had booked the Underground Supper Club and had cryptically only told me that ‘we are going out on Saturday night’.

Whilst we walked from the Blackhorse Road tube station on the Victoria Line, I wondered where Natalie was taking me. We arrived, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, but the treasure trove of the (currently) closed Walthamstow Pumphouse Museum awaited. A miss match of semi restored London Routemaster buses, fire trucks, Bedford lorries and old military trucks greeted us, and our restaurant for this evening, a former Victorian Line tube carriage was parked up ready for boarding. This was a playground to be explored!

Not your standard restaurant entrance

Not your standard restaurant entrance

I won’t lie, when we arrived at the barbed wire gates behind which sat the skeletons of these trucks, trains and buses and Natalie proudly announced ‘We’re here!’ I was a little sceptical. I truly wondered where she had brought me. However as soon as the staff greeted us, we could tell we were going to be in for a unique experience and a great night.

It was a beautiful spring / summer evening as we milled around nursing a G&T and explored the yard of old relics. Chatting to a local enthusiast, we loved hearing all about his restoration projects with two Routemasters taking all his spare time. One had been ‘rescued’ and when he found it there was a tree growing off the back platform – he had his work cut out!

One of the Routemaster London buses currently being restored

One of the Routemaster London buses currently being restored

At just gone 7pm,we were invited to ‘mind the gap’ and board our tube carriage. Head Waiter Chi welcomed us to the Underground Supper Club before Head Chef Alex introduced himself and explained some of the history of the Basement Galley and the idea behind their pop up restaurants.

The tube carriage set for dinner

The tube carriage set for dinner

What followed was without doubt one of the most enjoyable dining experiences we have had in London. Five courses of Alex’s finest creations, with each course raising the bar, all set in the unique ambience of the tube.

Dinner is served...

Dinner is served…

The menu for these evenings changes monthly, with refinements made each time they host evenings. It was one of these experiences, much like the Melbourne Tram Car Restaurant, where you sit back and ‘think how did they produce this in that tiny kitchen’! Alex’s small team were busy bustling away in the museum cafeteria. The results of which would not have looked out of place in a Michelin-Starred restaurant. The joys of a supper club mean, generally speaking, you eat a set menu and mingle with other diners. Out of five courses the only thing Natalie and I left on our plates was the duck bone. Alex is a graduate of the Le Cordon Blue School in Paris and trained with some of France’s top chefs. Fuse this French cuisine with some Heston Blumenthal style ways of combining flavours, and the results were magnificent. Whoever knew that Green Pea soup could hold such hidden surprises (I can’t spoil the surprise!), that Kohlrabi made a great substitute for mash and that strawberry and black pepper are a match made in heaven, to name but a few.   The whole package was just brilliant, and we loved Alex’s idea of teaming up with other local specialities and business such as coffee served from local Camden coffee company ‘Black Sheep Coffee’.

Local Camden coffee provided by Black Sheep Coffee

Local Camden coffee provided by Black Sheep Coffee

The one thing that struck us was the incredible passion everyone had for their job. From the drinks and wait staff who mingled, chatted and appeared so proud to be involved, to the amazing food Alex and Christelle (Sous Chef) had created in the primitive museum cafeteria kitchen. That love and passion really shone through.

Head Waiter Chi, Natalie, and Master Chef Alex

Head Waiter Chi, Natalie, and Master Chef Alex

Now I know what you are thinking, how do we experience this for ourselves? Sadly the Underground Supper Club is coming to the end of the line. In two weeks time Alex and the team host their final weekend in the disused carriage. Following this they have some other exciting projects up their sleeve and plan to ‘pop up’ in other new settings around London.  Never has the term, ‘quit while you are ahead’ been so true. We can’t wait for their next restaurant to ‘pop up’! Our advice, if you haven’t done so already, is to sign up to the mailing list. Who knows where we may meet and in what unconventional setting in the future!

–       Dean and Natalie

You all know how much we love trains

You all know how much we love trains

P.S At the time of writing there were still some seats available for the final Friday evening of their last weekend (30th May 2014). You can buy your Travelcard for dinner here.

 

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The Butler did it… Or did he? 

“Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door” – Ralph Waldo Emmerson

Well Ralph was not wrong! When locals and tourists alike discuss the London West End theatre scene, there is one performance that towers above all. Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap.

Murder at The Mousetrap

Murder at The Mousetrap

Now this is not because of its incredible sets or the stunning choreography of an Andrew Lloyd Webber masterpiece, but for the plays sheer longevity.

This year The Mousetrap celebrates 62 years of performing in London.  This makes it the longest running play, not only in the West End but the entire World!

So with this in mind and as we continue to discover our amazing home town we decided it was time to pay our respects to this London institution.

Within minutes of the theatre darkening and the cast of characters being introduced, you could feel the tension and mystery build as if a thick cloud had descended over you. As with any Agatha Christie story The Mousetrap cast consists of an assortment of misfits and shady types, all with a hint of murder in their eye.

A worthy commemoration in the heart of the London theatre district

A worthy commemoration in the heart of the London theatre district

The first half builds up to its intriguing peak, and like any good soap opera or drama series you are left hanging as the curtains fall and the theatre ice cream sellers tempt you with their treats for you to ponder over.  As you see the ‘to be continued’ sign, you hear  your mind start whispering different conspiracy theories.

Unlike the good natured musicals that normally appear in the west end, intermission at The Mousetrap is totally different. Groups huddle together discussing in hushed tones who the likely murderer is and the case for and against each of the characters. As if accomplices to the murder itself, there are uneasy looks around the theatre, suspicious stares and the occasional “it has to xxx” wafting over the audience. The intermission almost adds to the rising intensity with the dark cloud of murder hanging over Monk Manor (the setting).  With ice creams finished, everyone quietly and watchfully takes their seat to see whodunit.

The second set is faster paced and even more tense than the first, with you sitting on the edge of your seat until the murder is revealed. Whodunit? Well we can’t say (and if we could, we wouldn’t as we want you to go and find out for yourself!).  At the conclusion of the performance the audience is sworn to secrecy to ensure the mystery of The Mousetrap lives on, but I can tell you it wasn’t the Butler!

Sure there are better shows out there, larger sets, bigger names and famous songs but there is something mesmerising about The Mousetrap. Others have tried, but no one had succeeded.   In Agatha Christies’s case she ‘built the better mousetrap’ and 62 years and over 25,000 performances proves that!

– Dean

The Mousetrap performs Monday to Saturday at 19:30 in Martins Theatre and afternoon performances on Tuesday (15:00) and Saturday (16:00).  Click here for more details.