Supper Clubs: The Ultimate Alternative Dining Experience?
Vegan empanadas. Yes, vegan. How can you make a traditional Argentinian empanada completely meatless? How can you make the seemingly meat-reliant Brazilian feijoada meatless?
Well, for husband-and-wife duo Hernan Pablo de Majo and Renata Brenha Ribeiro, developing the traditional recipes of their respective Argentinian and Brazilian cultures to be vegan-friendly is not only part of their vegan lifestyle, it’s part of the preparation process for their monthly supper club, the aptly named Cocina Shoreditch.
Hernan, a marketing manager by day, has formulated the vegan empanada recipe over many years, and says he is “very happy with the result”. Rather than using meat, he uses seitan, a wheat protein which “doesn’t compromise the taste”.
Brazilian wife Renata, who is studying for an MA degree in Fashion Design, has employed her creativity in the kitchen to reinvent the traditionally meat-heavy dish feijoada. She substitutes the meat for butternut squash to achieve a thick consistency and full flavour. Gushing over her husband’s Blumenthal-like ingenuity, Renata admits Hernan is the one who “spends weeks developing the recipes”. Though many enjoy experimenting in the kitchen, few would let a group of strangers into their home. But for Hernan and Renata, hosting a supper club is more than just that.
“In Latin America there is something special about the soul of the kitchen and the cuisine, and I want this to be kept.” (Hernan Pablo de Majo)
With food being their focus, Hernan insists Cocina Shoreditch is “intimate, not pretentious”. For £30, eight guests can eat reinvented Latin American cuisine in the heart of trendy Shoreditch. Having held just three supper clubs since July this year, Hernan and Renata are newcomers to the supper club scene compared to veteran hosts Rani and Saira Baker of Joginder’s Supper Club.
The pungent smells wafting from the kitchen of the Baker household are more akin to an Indian spice market than a terraced family home in Islington. But for mother-daughter team Rani and Saira, over a six year period their modest kitchen has been transformed into the hub of a full-time business, an enterprise which started from them hosting their monthly Joginder’s Supper Club.
Named after Rani’s mother Joginder, family is clearly at the core of the company. From the traditional Punjabi recipes which have been passed down through the generations to the photos which line the walls of the dining room, guests feel welcomed and as if they are part of the family.
“You’re more likely to walk away having made a new friend than you would in somewhere that you sit at separate tables. People like the idea of it being a very informal, relaxed, cosy evening.” (Saira Baker)
Part of the appeal of supper clubs – the epitomes of social dining – is the unknown. From the perspective of the hosts, anyone can walk through the door, and guests do not know who they’ll be seated alongside.
For Saira, some of her more memorable guests include a man who was part of the team making the famous McVitie’s chocolate biscuit cake for the royal wedding, and an American lady who was about to become one of President Obama’s speechwriters.
“We host it because we love it, the whole atmosphere,” says Saira. “We take pride in the fact that people enjoy our food,”
The pair also have a stall at the Tufnell Park Tavern food market, supply their home-made samosas to businesses in North London, and offer catering services, as shown in the video below:
Saira, however, is keen on keeping the supper club separate from the growing business, and is adamant that supper clubs should not be “a money making thing”.
“I think if you want to do that you shouldn’t be doing a supper club, because you shouldn’t charge people anymore than they would pay in a restaurant,” says Saira.
But why would someone host a supper club?
Olivia Sibony is the co-founder of GrubClub, a website launched in January 2013 as a platform for hosts to showcase their upcoming events, and for guests to purchase tickets.
When the site started, the average number of events showcased was 3 per week in London. It currently stands at 40.
Ms. Sibony says that supper clubs provide a new opportunity to develop a restaurant or food business over time.
“There are incredibly talented home cooks and chefs who are dying to have their own restaurants. We wanted to enable those passionate people to host supper clubs,” says Olivia. She also reveals that as well as being a good opportunity for hosts to showcase their culinary skills, supper clubs can be “fun and interesting” for “diners who are bored of tradition”.
Yet why are there so many supper clubs and pop-up food events in the local area?
East London may be known as a trendy hipster haven, and indeed has been mocked for its concept cafés, but Olivia says people in East London are more willing to “try out different things to the usual”, and that spaces in the area lend themselves to the logistics of supper clubs.
Claudia Stacelhaus, a former banker, has hosted the White Room Supper Club from her stylish apartment in Islington since 2010. Guests are greeted with drinks and canapés in Claudia’s smart and luxurious open plan living space, overlooking the rooftops of London through floor-to-ceiling windows.
Claudia’s supper club (pictured left) caters for a maximum of 18 guests. She says she likes the moment when the clock is approaching 7:30pm, “because you don’t know who’s coming”.
Another part of what distinguishes supper clubs from restaurant dining is the social element. Of this, Claudia says: “It’s interesting to see how all these different people come together.”
Despite individual differences between each supper club, whether it be the location, cuisine, or guests, one thing is for certain: supper clubs are popular because they offer an alternative dining experience from the usual restaurant fare. What makes supper clubs unique and exciting is the unknown, and that is exactly what restaurants seek to avoid.
To find your nearest supper club, hover over the highlighted areas on the map below for details of what is available near you:
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