Michelin-starred chefs are no stranger to Lichfield, thanks to Sauce Supper Club’s innovative fine dining concept. Amy Norbury went along to discover more
When it comes to great eats, Lichfield is certainly not short of a good restaurant or two. Fantastic independents with the mantra of fresh, local and seasonal vye with cuisine from all around the world, and the bustling nature of Bird Street at the weekend shows that there’s no shortage of diners looking for something to whet their appetites. But sometimes you just want something, well, more. Something truly out of the ordinary, something which take your tastebuds to dizzying new heights.
You may think that Lichfield is just not the place for such exceptional fayre. But the city’s truly fine dining credentials have received a huge boost, thanks to the one Lichfield couple’s passion for all things foodie.
Sauce Supper Club is the brainchild of Beth and Jon Toovey. The duo already run a business supplying bespoke fine food ingredients to Michelin-starred and fine dining establishments across the country, work which brings them face to face with the best chefs and the most exceptional food in the industry. So, wanting to bring this experience home with them to the Midlands, Beth and Jon set on the idea of a supper club, a way to bring together discerning diners without the need to travel too far from home.
To date, chefs including Birmingham Michelin star winners Luke Tipping of Simpsons, Brad Carter of Carters of Moseley, Rob Palmer of Peel’s at Hampton Manor and Richard Turner of Turners at 69 have all catered Sauce Supper Club events at venues including St John’s House and The Wine House in Lichfield’s historic city centre, as well as Moor Hall Hotel in Sutton Coldfield and The Lace Market Hotel in Nottingham.
A showcase event, billed as ‘the ultimate Michelin experience’, brought together six – count them, six – Michelin starred chefs for a six-course extravaganza at Alrewas Hayes, with none other than Tom Kerridge leading the charge.
We were lucky enough to be invited along to experience the Sauce Supper Club for ourselves when Matt Cheal, an Andreas Antona protege and former head chef at Simpsons who now runs his eponymous fine dining restaurant in Henley-in-Arden, brought his creative, seasonal cuisine to The Wine House on a chilly, sutumnal Monday evening.
Like previous events, the evening was a sell-out, with many diners returning for their second or more Sauce Supper Club night. Arriving at The Wine House – itself a sophisticated, contemporary restaurant set in a glorious listed building in the heart of Lichfield – we were greeted by Beth herself and invited to relax with an aperitif in the bar.
The Sauce Supper Club format creates a sense of conviviality – like-minded foodies brought together by their love of exceptional cuisine to enjoy the very best there is to offer. As such, large tables are shared; our party of four was joined by another couple, a pair of Supper Club stalwarts who had been to almost every event and didn’t hesitate to regale us newbies with tales of previous dining delights.
We’d already ordered drinks at the bar, but each Sauce Supper Club event offers a specially selected list of the most exquisite wines if you really want to make the most of the occasion.
To start the evening we were presented with a selection of chef’s snacks; delicious morsels which included, among other things, a shot of pumpkin and passion fruit soup, as well as freshly baked bread with the most heavenly bacon butter. There’s always a danger of filling up on bread, especially when five further courses loom in front of you, but this was just too good to resist.
It was perhaps, then, a good job that the first course was a wonderfully light affair; a green tomato, artichoke and Windrush goats’ cheese tart, dressed with balsamic and borage which was introduced with a flourish by our informative waiter. Now this was almost too pretty to eat, with its vibrant purple flower crowning the most delicate tart. The crisp pastry yielded to reveal a lighter-than-air whipped goats’ cheese, with the slightly sweet, acidic tang from the tomato and artichoke cutting through the rich creaminess of the cheese beautifully.
Presented in dramatic black flying saucer-esque bowl, the next dish had a more comforting air about it. A duck egg yolk, which had been breadcrumbed and deep-fried sat proudly atop a potato espuma – sort of a cross between a foam and a mash – in which was hidden delicious morsels of smoked haddock and avruga caviar. As you dug into the egg, the rich orange yolk oozed invitingly over the potato, occasionally revealing the salty treasure of haddock and avruga to create a tantalising mouthful.
Moving onto the main event, we were treated to a real autumnal celebration with Barbary duck breast accompanied by a duck ‘bon-bon’, toasted pearl barley and fermented blackberries. The duck was served perfectly pink, a beautifully tender, melt-in-the-mouth affair, while the crisp bon-bon showed an altogether richer side to the meat. The pearl barley was a bit of a revelation, a humble ingredient elevated to something much more majestic in the context of a superb dish.
With both wine and conversation flowing and more diners joining the fray as tables began to fill up around the restaurant, the sense of occasion really began to set in. And that’s what Sauce Supper Club is about; elevating dining out to something worth talking about.
We had just a few moments to digest before the arrival of the cheese course – a posh take on cheese on toast, with vintage Lincolnshire Poacher on a soft brioche with pickled walnuts adding a dash of sharpness.
The final course was the one my sweet-toothed dining companions we waiting for; a caramelised pecan and milk chocolate tart with salted goats’ milk ice cream. Again it was beautifully presented, scattered with a shimmer of glitter which added a playful touch. The tart was a chocoholic’s dream, although not so rich that we couldn’t polish it off, while the ice cream wasn’t too sweet and added a nice sense of balance.
Sauce Supper Club is somewhat of a game-changer for the local foodie scene, and only looks to go from strength to strength with the calibre of exciting, innovative chefs being brought to town. So if you want Michelin-starred food right here in Lichfield, it’s time to join the club.