Underground restaurants are definitely the latest big thing, although the trend actually hit British shores over 9 months ago when the mysterious MsMarmiteLover started her supper club in Kilburn. The scene seems to have really captured the media's imagination recently. Whether it be incompetent restauranteurs making a meal of it in their own homes or in front of Raymond Blanc, duff amateur cooking seems to be too good a TV opportunity to pass up. But what would be the reality of underground dining - great food at bargain prices in a relaxed environment or incompetent fame-seekers jumping on the latest bandwagon?
Deciding we had gone long enough without trying this new craze, and with some trepidation after watching last week's The Restaurant, we set off on the journey from rural Surrey to trendy Hackney.
Fernandez & Leluu is run by Uyen and Simon from a secret location about a mile from Bethnal Green tube. As we arrived at 7.30, our coats were taken by the smiley Uyen, we were plied with wine and shown to our table. There were twenty of us in the room, which was decked out beautifully with twinkly little tealights, charmingly mismatched crockery and flowers.
At 8pm we started our 6 courses with a hot and sour soup of catfish, tomato and pineapple. Uyen warned us to watch the bones, which was certainly good advice. The soup was fragrant and light, with lashings of coriander. We settled in, feeling relieved that Simon obviously could cook.
Terriyaki frogs legs came with a shot of basil seed in sugar water (frog spawn). The meat was perfectly tender and lightly marinaded in a sticky umami-rich coating. The frog spawn was all looks and no flavour, but we appreciated the halloweeny touch.
It was now 9.30, and we were served with beautifully presented spring rolls, which were quite simply the best I have ever had. Apparently the virtuous Simon and Uyen had been up til 1.30am the previous night making them, and their efforts had clearly paid off. The wrappings were crisp and the interior was absolutely stuffed with sweet prawns, pork, black fungus and glass noodles.
Next was tuna sashimi, served with chips in a witty take on the British classic. The fish was fantastic quality, served in juicy cubes with a light soy marinade. The chips were Hind's Head worthy, well seasoned and perfectly crispy.
Sashimi swallowed, and we were served with some delicious seared beef and sugarsnap peas. The meat was top quality and melted in the mouth.
By 11pm we were tucking into red chicken & squash curry with rice - this was less spectacular but still very tasty. So tasty in fact, that I forgot to take a photo until I had almost finished!
We finally finished course number six, green tea ice cream with a crunchy ginger shortbread, at 12.20am, 5 hours after we had arrived. Fernandez & Leluu is by no means fast food, so be prepared to take your time (and plan your transport accordingly). The quality of cooking is fantastic though, and as they say, good things come to those who wait.
As it was we hailed a cab to Victoria, ran for the 1am train and were safely back to the 'burbs and tucked up in bed by 2am. Fernandez & Leluu has certainly won me over to underground dining, and if only I lived a little closer I would definitely be a regular.
Fernandez & Leluu
Somewhere in Hackney
Suggested donation £30