Elnecot and Alive Wine are collaborating on their second supper club. This one takes influence from the fresh, smokey and fermented flavours of the Balkan region, inspired by the dishes of Alive Wine founder Tami Doncic’s Serbian childhood.
Elnecot’s owner and Head Chef Michael Clay – one of Manchester’s most creative chefs – has developed his own unique interpretations of dishes from Tami’s family recipes. The dishes use British ingredients and modern techniques to create a truly special Balkan-inspired menu. The seven-course menu will be accompanied by a selection of orange wines from Serbia. We got to try the dishes as Michael did a practise run in advance of the event.
Tami tells us there is quite a lot of crossover with British and Serbian ingredients with a lot of meat, cheese, cabbage and hardy vegetables. “I don’t think our cuisine has had its time yet,” she says. At the moment, Balkan cuisine is not really represented in any mainstream British restaurants so this is a great opportunity to try something different. The Balkan region includes Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Kosovo, Montenegro, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, and Slovenia. The food also takes inspiration from surrounding countries like Greece, Turkey and Italy to create a unique cuisine with lots to love about it.
First on the menu at the Elnecot supper club are pinwheel buns with Graceburn feta and spring onion, served with a bright and spicy ajvar. This red pepper relish can be found all over the Balkans with some adding aubergine as Michael has, and others adding tomato or sticking solely to peppers. We agree that we could eat this sweet and spicy dip with a spoon and would probably get obsessed with it, adding it to everything we ate if we had a jar at home.
Next up, a knedle dumpling, kinda like an arancini but made from all of the best bits of a mezze. Tami tells us that meals in Serbia are long, drawn out affairs that go on for about four hours and always start with a huge plate of mezze. Michael has condensed a plate of mezze into one dish, stuffing a crisp dumpling with smokey Curing Rebels salami and topping it with finely grated Sheep Rustler, a British sheep’s cheese kinda like pecorino or Manchego. It sits atop a pile of piccalilli the colour of a pair of 70s curtains. This may be a very British condiment but also represents the pickle element that accompanies many Balkan meals. Alongside is a creamy hollandaise sauce topped with smoked sausage powder – an ingredient we’d all love to have in our kitchen cupboards.
The third course: Kačamak looks like a surreal artist’s rendition of a lily pond. It’s a pool of lemon-yellow, smooth polenta flavoured with a Scottish cheese called Connage, topped with ricotta curds, marinated trout roe and emerald green chive oil. Polenta is so versatile but not seen all that much on UK menus. We love the comforting mildness of this dish.
Turning the flavour wheel back up to 11, a simple but effective fillet of grilled mackerel is next. It’s served with an ingenious sauce inspired by riblja čorba, a chunky fish soup found in Serbia. Michael makes the soup as close to the traditional recipe as possible then blitzes it into a smooth bisque-like sauce. It’s fish squared and we are here for it.
The main course is lamb sarma, fermented hispi cabbage stuffed with lamb and rice and baked, served alongside a little filo pastry tart of gulaš with sour cream and a quenelle of mashed baked beans. Baked beans are huge in Serbia – Tami says they traditionally eat them on Christmas Eve – and Elnecot make their own for their famous breakfasts. There is also a pureed version of the gulaš as a sauce to bring the whole thing together like that rug in The Big Lebowski. Fermented cabbage is a key feature of Serbian cuisine, Tami tells us that stuffed cabbage is their national dish and cabbages for it are fermented in barrels of salt water which is changed several times before being left to ferment for months until winter. Michael has fermented his cabbage for a slightly shorter time.
Michael’s interpretation of Serbian salad resets our palates for dessert. This innovative tomato jelly is topped with smoked almonds, little bursts of fresh basil and cucumber relish. There’s also a sweet and crispy red onion slice that serves almost like a crunchy chutney. It’s a total revelation and one of our favourite dishes on the menu.
Tami tells us that desserts in the Balkans take influence from the French, and our dessert certainly has a French accent. A fluffy baked apple stuffed with magenta rhubarb sits like a sailboat on a sea of wobbly sour cream and bay pannacotta. It’s topped with walnut meringue and sprinkled with crunchy toasted walnuts.
The seven-course menu will be served with several matched orange wines, all from Serbia.
Tami and business partner Jamie are both filmmakers by profession. They had always wanted to open a wine shop alongside their day job due to their passion for biodynamic food and wine. During lockdown when the film industry had a bit of a lull, It’s Alive was born, an online shop selling wines they had come across on their travels. “Wine lists, I think, are very indicative of a personality of a city or a place,” says Tami. Many of the wines they sell are created by winemakers who design their wines with food in mind.
“At the time, in Manchester there wasn’t anywhere to buy the wine that we liked,” she adds, “We went around to every single wine shop in Manchester in around 2017 [asking if they had] any natural wine and – with a few exceptions – they’d look at us like we were from Mars. The ones that were doing it were all getting it from the one big importer at the time… There were so many other wine makers that were either too small or too niche [for a big importer]. So we thought, why don’t we buy it and sell it ourselves?”
As we know, the industry has since exploded in Manchester like a boisterous bottle of pet nat but Alive Wine continues to focus on importing wine from small, passionate winemakers. “My ethos as a business is to bring as much interesting wine to Manchester as possible, rather than [the same stuff] everyone else has,” says Tami.
Wines from South Eastern Europe are very much under-represented, even though it’s one of the oldest wine regions in the world and Tami is hugely passionate about championing these incredible wines. She believes the mountainous Fruška Gora in Serbia is one of the best winemaking regions in the world because of its unique microclimate facilitated by its proximity to the Danube river. You might think orange wine is a new trend but it has been made in this part of the world for centuries. The wines for the Elnecot supper club will all be orange ones from Serbian winemakers Bojan Baša and Djordje Bikicki. It’s a great opportunity to try a few different glasses that will marry beautifully with the food.
We can’t recommend this event enough and it is likely to sell out fast so don’t snooze on booking your ticket.
Elnecot x Alive Wine Balkan supper club
Date: Tuesday 28 March
Price: £65pp (including wine)