Cats, homely mugs and family photos on the wall, but with restaurant quality food on the table. Grace Darlington visits Sonia Williams’ front room, aka, The Blue Room.
While a pop up restaurant in a private home isn’t a new concept for London, it certainly is for the suburbs of Crofton Park. In a three-bedroom house on Manwood Road, every weekend Sonia Williams, 48, transforms her dining room into The Blue Room, an 18-seat pop up restaurant.
Assisted by her daughter, Shannon, the restaurant’s pastry chef, Williams creates six ambitious dishes every Friday and Saturday night, emailing her visitors the three-course menu in advance. All guests are asked to do is turn up on her door step at 7pm, with a bottle of whatever they fancy (Williams does not currently have an alcohol license).
Greeted at the door by Williams’ son, Alex, who is also a manager at Covent Garden’s Dirty Martini cocktail bar, we were seated at a shared table with two other couples. There is something incredibly nerve racking about turning up at a strangers home, by all accounts, it isn’t the social-norm. Venturing into an unknown home however, does bring a sense of adventure. And if you’re nosy, it is incredibly satisfying.
The dining room looked, as expected, like a dining room. With four tables in total, one of which placed in the adjoining living room, the restaurant was cosy. Predictably, the decor, was blue. Blue placemats, blue pebbles and dim blue lighting. Music played in the background as Alex took our coats, asked if we wanted some water and poured us (our own) wine.
Unlike Wagamama, where you can comfortably sit next too other customers without necessarily having to speak with them, at The Blue Room you are expected to interact with other guests. For those who are shy, this could well be a nightmare. However, William’s home creates a relaxed environment where it really isn’t all that terrifying.
Advertised as “great company and a great way to meet new friends”, The Blue Room forces you to let go of your inhibitions. Once the polite introductions were out of the way, the conversation around the table started to flow and it began to feel less like an awkward food play-date, and more like a dinner party.
For Williams, who has lived in Crofton Park since 1998, the restaurant has been a long time coming. Only a month ago, she had quit her job as a head chef at an international law firm in central London. Within seven days of handing in her resignation, Williams had set up The Blue Room. “I was fed up of the rat race and had always wanted to do my own thing” she explained, “I’ve been doing a catering service for weddings and dinner parties, and The Blue Room was a concept that I added on to it.”
To start was pumpkin ravioli with crispy sage, toasted pistachio nuts, sun-dried tomatoes and brown butter sauce. Despite premonitions that the ravioli may be too filling for a starter, the homemade pasta was light, satisfying and delicious. The combination of sage, sun-dried tomatoes and pistachio nuts ensured the sauce was not overly indulgent, perfectly preparing the taste buds for the next two courses.
For the main: pan seared tuna steak miso with rice noodles, sautéed bok choy and shiitake mushrooms. With a clear view into her kitchen from my seat, it was impressive watching how calm Williams remained. With rib eye of beef as the other main option for The Blue Room’s guests, both meals required completely different ingredients, utensils and methods. In a kitchen not particularly big, Williams and her daughter worked quietly and quickly, delivering two main dishes that were loudly praised by everyone.
By far, the highlight of the evening was the dessert prepared by Shannon: Nutella and chocolate profiteroles with charred marshmallow, fresh strawberries and white chocolate fudge. Not for the faint hearted, the dessert was a sweet-tooth’s dream. The other option, a limoncello and vanilla-pod cheesecake, looked equally delicious.
After the puddings, everyone was offered coffee or tea. Served in a small cafetiere and homely, rather large mugs, the drinks were a reminder that you were not in a fancy restaurant, but in a stranger’s dining room in Crofton Park. With such a high standard of homemade food, it was easy to forget your surroundings.
Of course, there were moments that wouldn’t occur in a restaurant, probably only reserved for a more domesticated setting, such as when Williams cat made a bid for freedom across the dining room having been shut outside all night (unfortunately the pet’s escape was quickly halted by Alex). The family pictures on the wall of Williams, Shannon and Alex, served as a welcome reminder that the three were in fact family, not colleagues.
Despite the obvious sitting-in-a-dining-room scenario, with a slight lack of room to manoeuvre, The Blue Room felt like an upmarket eatery. One day, Williams explains, she hopes to open a restaurant on the high street, that is the future goal. With such a talent for food, this dream seems attainable, and may not be far off. If you want to experience Williams cooking from her very own home, book in quick, before it’s too late.