Mike breaks the first rule of Mushroom Club.
My wife spots an ‘A’ board sign brazenly blocking the wet east London sidewalk. It says: “Mushroom Club” with a big arrow. As we enter I’m thinking: the Café From Crisis (an award winning joint helping the homeless get into work) as headquarters of the “Mushroom Club” ? It’s all outta whack right? It should be in Portobello Road. No - way too obvious.. I’m not thinking straight, I need a drink.
Inside, the dimly lit ground floor space is utilitarian with tables set for dining. A gang of club members (or ‘spores’ – my guess that’s what they call themselves) are celebrating publication of The Mushroom Cookbook, by food writer Liz O’Keefeand New Covent Garden Market’s “Mr Mushroom”
I knew it was the number one go to fruit, vegetable and flower wholesale market around, supplying all the fancy eating joints and celebrity chefs - but this 'Fung-guy' operates out of there? I needed to find him.
It’s £45 a pop for a seven course mushroom tasting menu with profits going to the charity. An elaborate cover is my guess. We move among them as they talk openly about mushrooms.
Then it hits me, the joint isn’t even a basement – no more moist dark spaces for them. My guess is they’re way smarter than that. They’re coming out. I need that drink.
Then I see her behind the bar, Liz, our smiling host, she hands us a William's GB Gin and Tonic with samphire flowers, a dulse powder seaweed encrusted rim and a small white Shumanji mushroom floating in it.
The way she promotes this fungi cocktail gives me the feeling she’s a woman of loose Morels. Is this a test? An initiation? Some mushrooms can kill a man or drive him clear insane. Still it’s booze so it’s worth the risk. I take a slug.
The Gin kicks in as we play it cool with the nearest couple to get the juice on this secret cult. Kasia is the kind of blonde who feeds a man’s obsession, so she’s bought her partner Jamie for his birthday after noticing his growing fungi addiction.
Jamie’s a recent convert to Veganism. I’d heard this was the mushrooming lifestyle choice of the local Shoreditch gangs. The guy looks hungry. I guess for him ‘shrooms are prime steak and tonight is like gorging at Bigguns Ribs. My mind races - I need to find out more.
We sit. An amuse bouche of beetroot, fermentation and truffle is presented – Now, I’m no Mycologist but I’m pretty sure the truffle is a fungi - right? Another test?
I consider Googling it but I figure being caught not knowing details of a subterranean edible in this kinda underground club would get us thrown out in a heartbeat. So we keep our heads down and act natural. I sink a flute of Castlebrook sparkling wine and it hits the spot, but how are they mixed up in all this?
No time to think as a broth of Black + White Shumanji, Oyster, Straw, Enoki, Seaweed, Dulse and Microherbs is served. Now, I ’d season it more, but I use more salt than a leaky dishwasher.
As I shoot the last gulp I can’t help thinking; if Liz is here, where’s her mysterious wholesaler Mr Mushroom? On some mushroom mission ? Fighting evil villains like The Toadstool, with his trade mark red polka dot cape maybe? That’s my guess.
Cerviche with Seabass, Oyster mushroom and Chilli hits me in the tastebuds like a tasty left hook. It’s real nice - too good. I decide to come right out and quiz Liz about where the hell shady Mr Fungi is.
She spins me some yarn that he’s in a bar across town - a likely story, he’s got to be here somewhere, watching.
No, says Liz sticking to her story like a teriyaki Shitake to a plastic chopstick. There’s no secret she says with that smile, his name is Michael Hyams and he is at his friends birthday party tonight. I figure Hyams is his secret identity, but why would she blow his cover?
All this fungi is getting washed down with Brightwell Vineyard Oxford Regatta - a red wine from Oxford? It wasn’t built like the new world wines I usually hung out with, but it tasted good and went down the hatch just as easy.
I notice the Vegetarians have a lot on their plate besides the usual angst. Their main course King Oyster mushroom is bigger than a babies arm. Us meat eaters get chicken and mushroom, at last something I understand.
Or do I? Chicken breast with Pied de Mouton? Now, I’m no cheese eating surrender monkey, but that means sheeps foot right? Things are turning strange around here.
Liz pours mushroom coloured Feeney Irish whiskey liqueurs as the clan meet wraps up with tangy fermented mushrooms, chestnut mushroom oat biscuits and hunks of Dorset Blue Vinny cheese. Blue Vinny? His name’s familiar but not in my deli. My head is swimming, is it the booze? Or is it psychoactive magic mushrooms? Has Liz doped me up to stop me getting to the truth?
No, it is the booze.
Right on the button as ever, my doll suggests we split and I barely have time to grab some Golden Enoki Toffees before we hit the autumn chill. I pop my collar against the cold and we blend in with the late night hipsters and streetwalkers.
I didn’t know if I’d see Liz again or figure out what really happened to Mr Mushroom but in a way it didn’t matter as we could pick up their cookbook from any good book store and try out the recipes back at my joint.
Was I hooked on mushrooms? Hard to tell, but hell, maybe we just might show up at the next Mushroom Supper Club. That’s my guess.