Supper clubs or pop up restaurants encompass a whole range of setups from dinner parties with strangers at some eager cook’s home to creative evenings with a famous chef spreading his wings in an odd setting. Often based on invitation and membership, people are drawn in by the surprise and secrecy (It is actually illegal in most countries to sell food and alcohol without a license so the organizers have to keep things hushhush). Dining at a supper club is a social experience. Far from the typical restaurant behavior of avoiding seeing or hearing other people, part of the fun is having random conversations with strangers. Supper clubs also clearly belong to this great global trend of making things small, local, cuddly and anti-corporate. There are tens if not hundreds of these in major cities like New York and London (see coverage in the Guardian and in the New York Times over the last couple of years) and they have finally made it to this southern most tip of Africa.
Full of anticipation, The Chimp* and I went to our first supper club on Thursday. The one we visited was the last in a series of supper clubs called Chop leading up to the Toffie Food Festival. The supper club was located in a secret venue downtown. I arrived at the address and was greeted by a picture of a knife and a bleeding finger at the door. Hmm.. I knew I was at the right place. Three flights of stairs took me to a room decorated with brown paper. Brown paper as a video screen, brown paper as a wall, brown paper as a table cloth and brown paper as chair covers. Lots of brown paper. Even the cutlery was served in a brown cardboard box. The food was nothing short of spectacular. Snacks of salty popcorn, biltong and pickled quail egg, perfectly cooked veal brain raviolis with sage butter, angus beef steaks with smoked potatoes (and a photo of a salad!), vodka tonic jelly, flambeed chocolate pancakes and coffee and witblits (local spirit). (Our) creativity hit the roof when we were served the vodka tonic jellies. The lights were switched off and we here handed glow in the dark pens. Suffice to say that our hands and faces were beautifully decorated by the end of the evening.
The supper clubs, I have come across on other local foodblogs and the media have all been from the professional end of the spectrum. Very innovative and well organized. Taste magazine covered one where the décor changed seven (for each course) times during the evening. I do hope the more amateur end of the supper club movement becomes popular here in the Cape as well. In my dear native country, Finland, they have even gone so far as to organize a national supper club day. Anyone who loves to cook and fancies opening a restaurant can do so for the day. It has been so well received that the third one (in six months) is coming up in November. The funniest one I have read about was a sandwich bar on the third floor of an apartment building that delivered its orders with ropes and baskets. Genius.
*My husband, Cameron, is upset about not having a pseudonym like the other foodbloggers plusones. The chimp is actually what his mum calls him ; )