Pop up supper clubs – a cult dining experience in New York and London – are springing up all over the West Country.
Given the intensely foodie nature of these climes perhaps it is no surprise that the concept – lavish cooking in a stranger’s home - has taken off.
According to Kerstin Rodgers, aka food blogger Msmarmitelover and architect of the hugely successful Underground Restaurant in North London, the supper club movement is spreading fastest in Bristol where there are now seven pop up ‘restaurants’.
There’s also a brand new Friday night club at Middlewick Holiday Cottages just near the Glastonbury Tor, Tansy’s Kitchen in Poole,The Old Bakery Supper Club in Frome and an Asian Fusion night in Maiden Newton.
Rodgers even brought her pop up restaurant to Dorset last month for a three day stint at Camp Bestival in Lulworth Castle.
She believes the popularity of supper clubs is partly due to the recession – offering a chance for home cooks to make a little money on the side and punters to eat well for less.
Mostly, however, this unique form of eating and socialising is a direct result of the internet for supper clubs were born in the blogosphere.
When Rodgers decided to begin a dining club at home in Kilburn, one morning she simply wrote ‘by the way I’m setting up a restaurant in my living room’ on her food blog –msmarmitelover.
She says: “I honestly thought I was talking to myself but I was overwhelmed with the response in the very first week.’
Part restaurant, part random dinner party, the supper club offers an entirely new form of socialising. People can come alone or in a group but they will be mixed up once they get there; wallflowers are best advised to stay at home.
Rodgers says: ‘I like to mix it up, so I put Keith Allen next to the bin man. And it just works.’
Dan and Elly, two food bloggers who met online and fell in love, recently began the hugely successful Montpelier Basement supper club in Bristol.
Dan says: ‘We try to match people by gleaning as much about them as we can through Facebook or Twitter. We work hard to try and ensure people will get on with each other and have a good time.’
Ultimately, though, it is all about the food. Dan and Elly serve a seven course menu of locally sourced food, shopping and prepping for three days before a dinner.
Last week’s menu included chilled tomato soup with summer vegetables, treacle cured salmon, beetroot mouse with horseradish crème fraiche and pea shoots, Gloucester old spot pork belly, black pudding and gooseberry chutney.
Dan says: ‘Of course it’s a labour of love. If you added up the hours we put in then we’d be earning about £1.50 an hour but it’s not about that.’
The supper club movement has given people like Dan and Elly, talented cooks with alternative daytime careers, the chance to show off their skills. And essentially that is what this new style of eating is all about.
Kerstin Rodgers says: “What we have is a new food movement which celebrates great home cooks who might not otherwise get the chance to show off their wonderful cooking. Women, mothers and grandmothers, people who are not able to work long restaurant hours and yet have enormous talent. ‘
To this end Rodgers recently set upsupperclubfangroup – a site which provides details on supper clubs throughout the UK. She already had 3000 members, including those based in the West Country.
Part of the appeal of pop up supper clubs is their secretive, mysterious feel. Details are announced on Facebook and Twitter – if you’re not part of the cyber world you’re unlikely to hear about them. And this is another reason why the movement goes from strength to strength – for at last, the virtual world has been given a physical presence. Foodies who have been chatting for years online, now find themselves face to face at supper clubs.
Chez Isa Supper Club in Bristol – which bills itself as ‘French bistro food in a Clifton living room’ – holds its next event on 20 August, celebrating summer with a Provencal menu which includes goats cheese cake on roasted pepper coulis, bouillabaisse with rouille and lemon tartlet.
All the supper clubs mentioned and many others can be found on supperclubfangroup
Kerstin Rodger’s new book Supper Club is available at Amazon.