I finally took the opportunity, a couple of weeks ago, to sit on the other side of the table.
Donatina's kitchen were holding their first supper club in a venue in Maida Vale. Along with my friends Lucinda and James and a couple of bottles of red wine I headed to West London.
We had not seen the menu in advance but with Ana's grandmothers recipes and Jen's creative flare for presentation i was confident we were in for a treat.
I was one of the first people to arrive at the venue, it was surprisingly modern and brightly lit, i think i had imagined somewhere with a more homely, rustic, feel.
The other guests soon started arriving and welcome cocktails of limocello and prosecco were passed around.
The dinner began with bowls of Taralli, little ring shaped bread sticks which were delicious with a rich olive oil taste, not dry and disappointing as they can sometimes be if bought in a packet.
I had to restrain myself from eating too many as i could see from the very detailed menu that there was plenty more to come.
Next up was a trio of Mortadella ham, artichokes and sweet roasted peppers, simple but effective elements that would have been prepared well in advance. I thought throughout the meal that they used wonderful ingredients and can't have scrimped on cost at all.
We were then brought dishes of melanzane parmigiana - layers of aubergine, tomato sauce and cheese. This is something that i have made several times myself, but this was a truly excellent version, tastier than when I've made it, and i finished the huge portion i helped myself to!
The tables of guests were packed in and with the wine flowing it made for a cosy atmosphere.
Packs of cards were brought round and instructions of how to play the game Scopa. Initially it was pretty confusing but after a couple of games we got our heads round it, and it provided a welcome break in the dinner. It had just dawned on me that the parmigiana was not the main course and so it was good to have a pause before embarking on the next dish.
After we had (sort of) mastered Scopa i took the pack over to the next table and did my best to explain the rules to them, i am not sure how successful this was but it was nice to speak to some of the other guests, it is interesting to find out peoples reasons for coming along, something you would never do in a restaurant.
The next course involved ascuitta (a tomato based sauce with chunks of pork and sausage in), broccoli with garlic and chilli and a large slab of pizza chi cicole (homemade bread with layers of pork fat and meat inside). The bread was really good and definitely lived up to the hype.
Finally dessert was a simple dish of baked fruit and ice cream. Figs are one of my favourite things to eat but I was so full by this point i couldn't finish my bowl.
Before departing we were all given a welcome effervescent digestif.
I am confident that they will have had a lot of very satisfied customers at the end of the evening. I would definitely be keen to go to another of their events or a different supper club. Unlike going to a restaurant, you don't have a choice as to what is going to be presented to you, but that somehow just means you know the person producing the food is only going to be giving you dishes that they love and are passionate about.
I have a lot of admiration for Ana and Jen, cooking for 47 people for your first event is a big undertaking and although hiring a venue (rather than doing it in your own home) means you have all the equipment needed and don't have to go scrounging round neighbours for extra chairs - cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen brings it own set of challenges i am sure.
Lucinda, James and I really enjoyed the dinner. Personally i would have preferred plated dishes, but that is mainly because left to my own devices i ran our of space when it came to the later courses.
My favourite thing about the evening was the little additional touches, from the card game and Italian films that were projected on the wall to prosecco prize draw and the basket of rosemary sprigs as you left.
I am sure they've learned a lot from their first endeavour. Not daunted by new challenges their next outing is a bit different and is taking place at a distillery! I think these ladies could go far.