In June this year, the humble supper club hit the big time when The Clove Club, a London restaurant that had started out as weekly dinner in the East London flat of three friends, had broken ranks and been named one of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. The accolade inspired many to kick their dinner parties up a gear. Websites such as Eat With and Grub Club have sprung up to accommodate this new wave of entrepreneurial home cooks, and have taken a collective approach to allow users to host diners in their homes with straightforward booking systems and added security.
Private supper club purveyors across the globe have their own opinions about why the movement has taken off. We speak to five such individuals to get their take on the private supper club’s allure, as well as the story behind their own establishments.
“People are obsessed with good food in Hong Kong and go out of their way to find the hidden gems – this is the home dining that you don’t get on the street,” says Boni Lin, the Hong Kong manager of Plate Culture, a Southeast Asian “foodie Airbnb” that currently has almost 50 hosts in Hong Kong. “You get to meet open-minded and interesting people who are foodies in a relaxed environment, taste different food and see other people’s lifestyles.”
Dining at Home
For Puja Rajwani, who runs Dining at Home, a private kitchen specialising in home-cooked Indian food, the idea of establishing a restaurant was daunting due to Hong Kong’s high rents. “After looking at suitable alternatives, a private kitchen seemed like a sensible choice,” she says. “Supper clubs allow proud home cooks to really show off their skill sets in unique environments. It’s all about going back to basics.”
Yin Yang Coastal
Supper clubs aren’t limited to people’s sitting rooms. Margaret Xu has been utilising unusual spaces across Hong Kong with Yin Yang Coastal for the past 10 years. “I started my private kitchen in a Hakka village in Yuen Long with just eight seats,” she says. “We moved to a heritage building in Wan Chai before finding the location we’re in now, in Ting Kau Village.” She finds her customers are interested in the experience of eating in a less commercial space.
For many, the idea of opening their home’s doors or taking over an informal space to host a dinner is an easier way to dip a toe into cooking for a living without diving straight into a career as a chef. “I was working as a civil engineer in San Francisco when I met some guys at an art party who were throwing secret dinners out of their house,” recalls chef Efrain Cuevas. “Since I had lived in the [US] Midwest my whole life, I was truly inspired by the huge variety of amazing food. The whole thing really changed me.” Efrain volunteered his services as dishwasher for a year, learned about good food and went on to found Clandestino, a Chicago-based supper club that combines great art, fantastic food and unusual locations, and has appeared in best-of lists in media around the world.
For those who are interested in trying their hand at hosting, the predominant suggestion is to keep numbers small and dinners infrequent. Irish chef Kevin Powell felt his dinners lost a part of their charm when he grew them from sporadic eight-person gatherings to weekly ones with 14 seats. “People just thought of it as a restaurant that they could cancel on and come back another time, because they thought it was so regular,” says Kevin, who now announces his dinners at short notice via social media. “Part of the magic was really not knowing when the next might happen.”
Lead image courtesy of Eat With.