Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar was published in 1963; a month later the poet committed suicide. Though half a century has passed, last night, in the newly renovated Bush Theatre, both Plath and her only novel were resurrected. Ted Hughes’ wife and her book were brought to life by supper club sensation, The Novel Diner.
Mina Holland, Co-Founder of The Novel Diner.
Set up by Claire Coutinho and Mina Holland, The Novel Diner is a pop-up restaurant which brings works of fiction to life. You are literally nourished by novels. Past menus have featured Turkey Bewitched to a Dark Gold for The Great Gatsby,Whipple Scrumptious Fudge Mallow Delight for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and, very impressively, Sea Urchin Cevichefor American Pyscho.
Last night’s voyage took us into both the era and the culinary world of Plath’s protagonist Esther Greenwood. Entering the theatre, you forgot that you were an arm’s reach from a bustling pub bar. As soon as you stepped through the threshold and were handed a chicken, caviar and lemon thyme canapé and a Gin & Elderflower Collins, there was no doubt that you were in 1953.
Beautifully dressed women, working 50s glamour to perfection, surrounded delicately laid tables, peppered, alongside candles and flowers, with Esther’s worrisome ripened figs: “I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”
This was beautifully quoted by The Novel Diner’s very own Esther Greenwood, Bess Roche, after a deliciously cool starter of Fresh Crab and Avocado Pear Salad dressed with Poet’s Leaves.
Soft, self-conscious and questioning, Roche captured the internal angst of Plath’s heroine wonderfully. She absorbed diners with her monologues, effortlessly keeping them in the 1953 time warp.
Roche was not the only guest speaker: after the diners had finished a hearty portion of Grandma’s Meat Loaf with Pancetta, Fondant Potatoes, Sautéed French Beans and Butter Beans in White Wine (served in individual Le Creuset pots), Professor Richard Brown took to the floor and delivered a fascinating mini lecture on Plath, The Bell Jar and – somewhat surprisingly – Bob Dylan. Brown’s enthusiasm was infectious and his pithy dialogue both informative and entertaining.
Pudding was A Ladies’ Day dessert dish of Brandy Ice Cream, Meringue & Fig Molasses. The rich brandy fused delightfully with the sweet meringue and both were topped off fantastically by the fig molasses. It was a punchy pudding, and as with the rest of the evening, The Novel Diner team executed it perfectly.
A supper club where you eat, drink, dress up, read and learn, The Novel Diner has found a niche in an overcrowded market, and it delivers time and time again.