London’s appetite for innovative and eccentric dining experiences is insatiable. Restaurants of every description: pop-ups, cereal cafés and even dining in the dark are available. Trends move so fast that the next ‘new thing’ has its heyday before you’ve managed to score tickets. Despite the transient nature of the food scene, some trends stick and evolve well past their fifteen minutes into something quite interesting. The supper club is just one of those things – but one I’d never tried.
It’s difficult to say exactly where or how the original supper club came about, but they were common in Midwestern states like Wisconsin during the prohibition era. These traditional supper clubs would have been the place to relax in a family-run setting where you would be served hearty comfort food like ribs or prime cuts of beef, washed down with what you really came for – a stiff drink.
Out of this notion of escapism came the supper club of today, where you can get away from the restaurant construct with its formal settings, hierarchies and menus and eat somewhere novel: in a person’s home, in the back of a warehouse or in a field, and sample somebody’s idea of something special. Although they vary in setting and cuisine, they all share the same premise: to break free from convention (and high prices). It’s no surprise then to see that their surge in popularity coincided with the recession.
The cost of eating out in a supper club varies today though. Many remain happily affordable but some offer a very unique and fine dining experience and therefore charge accordingly. UNA is one that comes to mind. It is maybe a disservice to call this ‘culinary project’ a supper club, as it is a far cry from casual home dining. Housed in the clock tower of St Pancras, chef Martín Milesi dishes out Latin American haute cuisine to twelve diners. The magical setting, paired with six delectable courses make for a supper club in a league of its own.
Having not been to a supper club before, I decided to ease myself in without fully committing to the UNA experience, so I chose a more casual option. The E5 Bakehouse is a wonderful bakery located just off London Fields in Hackney which often collaborates with The Refugee Council on events and training. Eager to get a glimpse at some of the magic things that happen here, I booked a place on their Iranian Supper Club which featured a delightful menu created by Nasrine RooghaniOchdakan, Zohreh Shahrabi and Ruth Quinlan.
I arrived alone as my friend was running late and, having no idea of what to expect from my first supper club, felt a little nervous. I soon relaxed as I was met with the warmest of atmospheres: candlelight, laughter, long tables and the glow of the wood fired oven. I settled myself on one of the communal tables and immediately made friends. The whole evening continued on this relaxed note with each of us dipping in and out of our private conversations to chat as a group, all the time tucking greedily into the fantastic dishes.
The first wave of food was a vibrant display of pickles, dill and gorgeous flat bread which we lathered with cool mast musir (yoghurt with wild garlic). Our appetites were fully whetted and ready for the larger dishes of ghormeh sabzi (slow cooked lamb) and kuku sibzamino (an onion, potato and garlic omelette). We finished the evening with rose petal halva and tea before retiring outside to the open fire, full to the brim and wondering how we hadn’t done this before.
Just when you think you can’t be surprised by London’s food scene any more, a whole knew level presents itself. I really enjoyed the whole experience: from the food to the opportunity to socialise. With that I have signed up for the next one: The Borough Market Cookbook Club. This time the diners are the cooks and bring along a dish from the set book that month. The most recent event featured Anna Jones’ A Modern Way to Eat, and saw guests bring along their efforts to enjoy with the group in the cook house overlooking the market – a near perfect setting. After that? Maybe I’ll venture into a home supper club like White Room, a stylish affair that offers seasonal dishes over four courses.
The supper club might not be a new idea, but the way that it continues to evolve suggests it is one trend that is here to stay. I think I’m hooked.
Sarah is among many Irish people living in London, where she delights in exploring its exciting food scene. She is passionate about food markets, spending her weekends trawling around Borough market grazing, chatting and stocking up on all things edible.
She dedicates a blog to her adventures in the markets, from her local farmers market to those she happens upon on her travels. Writing for TheTaste allows her to share tales from the food front line with fellow eager eaters.