Above: Backdoor Kitchen's Chef Roberto. When fame comes for him, don't say I never told you!
There is an incredibly heady (sometimes dizzying to the point of nausea) sense of romance that goes along with that time of your life when you're chasing your dream on a wing and a prayer... and a lot of blood sweat and tears.
Even more so when you meet kindred spirits who are chasing similar dreams, who immediately understand your rollercoaster spikes of joy and anxiety.
Even more so still, when you find said kindred spirits in your own neighbourhood.
The rain may have been brutal outside, that afternoon when I had coffee with Roberto and Fabio of Backdoor Kitchen supperclub, but under one's sodden clothes and skin I was feeling plenty of warm fuzzy community spirit I thought I might never feel again once I grew out of my 20s.
Roberto and Fabio are both natives of Rome, who came to London to follow their dreams. Roberto works in an Italian deli but dreams of being a chef in his own restaurant. Fabio works in film distribution but dreams of making documentaries.
They decided to start Backdoor Kitchen supperclub (practically in our backyard in Bermondsey) as a challenge to themselves. To see where it would go.
"Maybe I have no name now to open a restaurant," said Roberto, "But if we do this, if we work hard, maybe we'll make a name for ourselves a few years from now."
Fabio is working on documenting their adventures, simply with his video camera on his iPhone.
How can you not love the shoestring pluck of it all?
Ok, it helps massively that Roberto can actually cook like a fiend. Not my head or heart, I go with my gut, after all!
By the time we had coffee I was already a fan, as this was soon after I had dined at their Sicilian night supper. I had heard much about Sicilian food, about how it was markedly different from what we recognise as stereotypical Italian food. Their menu certainly sounded different. I wanted to see how it would taste.
The evening opened with polpette di sardines - a Sicilian classic of "meatballs" made with fish.
Crisp at the crust, moist on the inside, absolutely delicious with Roberto's homemade aioli.
A dish I could keep on eating, if not for the other diners(!): Cous cous alla Trapanese. Packed densely with seafood, in homage to Trapani, a fishing port on the west coast of Sicily. Beans and lentils were mixed in with the cous cous, making it very hearty indeed. The lovely anchovy sauce kept the potentially stodgy dish moreish.
Handmade Gnocchi alla Norma. Definitely started to feel like a cement truck after this course! To be fair the food was served family style, so I could have stopped at any sensible point. But we all know that just wasn't going to happen.
Love the hand-written menu and fairly realistic cartoon of Roberto, by the way.
And now to the meat courses. Here's Caponata al Cacao. Caponata is in essence a sweet and sour eggplant-based stew with endless regional variations. Roberto's twist on this was to serve it with grilled tuna strips and a touch of cocoa powder. The hint of cocoa definitely added a caramelly depth to the balanced sweet and sour of the dish. Personally I would have preferred my tuna to be much pinker on the inside. In spite of that, this unusual dish was my favourite of the evening.
The last main: Bocconani di Maiale su Verdure Arrumminate - diced pork cooked in a saffron sauce, on a bed of chard sauteed with garlic, chilli pepper, sultanas and pinenuts. The inclusion of the last 2 ingredients is telltale Sicilian.
Desserts are always a surprise at Backdoor Kitchen. This time it was a duo. In the back, a very traditional Sicilian cassata with pistachio glaze. Too heavy and marzipan-y for my personal taste, though Italians at the table gave a nod to its authenticity. In front, a lovely light canoli.
The boys may not have a proper restaurant yet, but I definitely feel like I've found a gem of an Italian local - where the food is full of heart, the crew and ambience of the room full of warmth, and the £25 "damage" at the end of the evening full of value. La Dolce Vita. The Sweet Life. Of course I'll be back for more. And soon.
Click on the logo below to view Backdoor Kitchen's upcoming events. If you're too far west for Bermondsey, consider trying Backdoor Kitchen at the Supperclub Summit at the Goethe Institut in Kensington this August.