It’s been over 17 years since our head chef Lee Milne last cooked in London – his career trajectory saw him traverse the wider UK, and ultimately end up in Ibiza rather than work in the capital – but come Saturday November 16, 2019, he’s going to be sharpening his knives in preparation for a guest chef appearance at iconic London private members club Blacks Club. If ever there was a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire, this is it – Room 39 will have only been closed for a couple of weeks, and yet we’re jetting our talented kitchen team across the pond to represent Pikes at our very first pop-up supper club ever. No rest for the wicked…
We’ve also been told this may be the first time an Ibiza restaurant has ever hosted a pop-up dinner off the island – clubs and party promoters have been doing it for years, but chefs and restaurateurs have always stayed out of the spotlight. Ever a pioneer, creative director Dawn Hindle suggested the idea of a kitchen swap to Blacks Club owner, television chef and author Luke Thomas when she visited the restaurant earlier this year. She felt an instant connection with the space and could envision holding a Pikes soiree there in the winter months. Coincidentally, both chefs hail from Wales – Lee from the south and Luke from the north – and despite the generalisation that southerners and northerners don’t get along, the two instantly hit it off. And so, it was agreed: Luke Thomas and Blacks Club would host a dinner in Room 39 during our Literary Festival, and Pikes and Lee Milne would return the favour in London once the season was over.
It’s the perfect fit really – set in an ancient four-storey Georgian townhouse in Soho, Blacks Club has long been known as the dark horse of private members clubs, thanks to its history of bohemian leanings, a slightly anti-establishment ethos and an incredible melting pot of fascinating and creative members (sound familiar?). For those who may not know the back story, Blacks Club was founded in 1992, inspired by ‘The Club’ – the first ever salon style members club formed in 1764, by artists Samuel Johnson, David Garrick and Joshua Reynolds. The men and their elected cohorts would get together weekly to discuss the goings on in their worlds over fine food and drink. Members – who at the time were expected to be male, liberal and literary – could only join if they were unanimously voted in. In the centuries that followed, The Club expanded and came to be known as one of the most highly sought after inner circles in the country.
Naturally, the act of being excluded from something like The Club led others to create their own versions of the society over the years, each with their own strict membership rules and regulations. In 1992, Blacks Club was so named in opposition to London’s oldest gentlemen’s club, White’s Club. If you’d been black-balled from White’s, you were welcome at Blacks, and so a select group of bohemian black sheep came together. In 2014, the elegant and sophisticated building where Blacks is housed was restored with the aim of celebrating the club’s 18th century supper club roots. Membership is via application, with the sole criteria being that one must be ‘extraordinarily interesting and interested’ and the explicit instruction that Blacks Club is ‘for socialising and not social media’ – we like the sound of that!
“It’s quite a proud moment for me,” says Lee, when asked how he feels about stepping up to the (hot) plate at Blacks Club next month. “And more importantly, it’s great for the young guys on our team to be working with Luke, who is famous for being the UK’s youngest ever head chef. Ibiza is a hard slog, six days a week, hot weather, really busy shifts – to go to London and do this will give them fresh energy and inspiration.” The Blacks Club kitchen is rumoured to be quite small compared to Room 39 (“I hear it’s about the same size as our disco loos!” laughs Lee with a little trepidation), which means logistics are a challenge, but it’s nothing our fearless chef isn’t already prepared for. “I’ve hosted a lot of pop-ups,” he says. “Normally I don’t really like having other people in my kitchen, or working with other people’s recipe calculations – but that’s all been a learning curve. With Blacks Club at Pikes this summer we smashed it, and now for this event, I know how just precise I need to be. I’ll also be there a few days before for preparation.”
Quite surprisingly (or maybe not, given his apprehension about sharing kitchens with strangers), this will be Lee’s first ever guest chef slot – and he’s looking forward to rising to the occasion. He’s designed an impressive five-course tasting menu that showcases not only the taste of Pikes, but also the flavours of Spain. Starting with our signature pull-apart sourdough bread, served alongside olives and creamy aioli, the menu reads like the greatest hits of Room 39, drawing on popular dishes from previous years in addition to this season’s menu. No Pikes dinner is complete without Lee’s signature starter – the White Onion Veloute served with a Torta de Casa cheese toastie on the side and sprinkled with fresh truffle – and so there was no question it had to be the first course, even if Lee has to smuggle the Spanish cheese in his suitcase and bulk-buy Brevilles for the occasion.
For the second course, Lee cast his mind back to 2015 – his first season with Pikes – and the dish that was considered his signature back then: seared Isle of Skye Scottish scallops served with Iberico ham, pea, mint and sherry caramel. It’s a dish that requires a lot of love and precision to create, and one Lee felt was worthy of a revival in such an esteemed location. Round three is a return to 2018, when the team would smoke succulent octopus tentacles over embers, before serving it atop a fluffy pillow of potato risotto and caramelised garlic foam, complemented by the bitterness of homemade chermoula. Inspired by the flavours of typical Galician octopus dishes, Lee’s twist on the tradition has come a long way from its roots, but retains the original elements.
The fifth course could almost be considered Lee’s pièce de résistance, described by our chef as: “Jackson Pollock on a plate – an explosion in looks and taste.” Bringing together the best of British and classic Spanish flavours, glazed Iberico pork cheek – a huge hit with Room 39 diners – is served alongside a rustic, somewhat deconstructed version of bubble and squeak: charred savoy cabbage, parsnip puree, roasted sweet and sour onions, carrots both pickled and pureed. Essentially, all the tastes you know and love, served in an unconventional way. And it wouldn’t be a Room 39 pork dish without lashings of crackling, perfectly offset with pickled Granny Smith apples.
Our pastry chef Will Miles steps in for the fifth and final course, recreating Lee’s personal favourite Room 39 dessert, Apple Tart Tatin served with rosemary tuille and clotted cream ice cream. “It takes quite a lot of skill to make,” says Lee, clearly proud of his young protégé’s progression in recent years. He’s also really keen to show his kitchen team the culinary delights of London while they’re in the big city, a big believer in supporting his young talent and encouraging them to learn as much as they can from other experienced chefs in the winter months so they can return to Pikes with an understanding of what it takes to be the best. Lee cites Luke Thomas as a great example for his young team. “He’s someone who experienced success so quickly, at such a young age, but he’s done very very well,” he explains. “He’s in this business for all the right reasons and is a really nice, talented guy – to work with him will be really inspirational for our young guys.”
With very limited seating available at Blacks Club, reservations are essential to ensure you don’t miss out on this history-making pop-up, and given that a huge amount of our regular clientele are based in London, we expect it to sell out quite quickly. “The feedback from our customers has been amazing so far,” says Lee. “I’ve made so many great friends through Pikes over the past few years, many who live in London, and I think to get all those people together in a room outside of Pikes will be amazing. They’ll all click – it sounds like Blacks Club is the Pikes of London – and I think whatever happens, whoever books a table, whether they’ve been to Pikes before or if it’s a room full of Blacks Club members who we’ve never met, they’ll all have a fantastic night.”
Tables now SOLD OUT.
Words & Photography by: White Ibiza