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The stories behind Britain's most intriguing supper clubs

The stories behind Britain's most intriguing supper clubs

by Karyn Noble 07 August 2019

Karyn Noble profiles five of her favourite supper clubs found throughout the UK, proving that the format of inviting people into your home for an informal meal is here to stay.

The supper club movement in Britain remains red hot, though the concept has evolved somewhat from the traditional experience of paying to dine in a stranger’s home. Now you can find them held in hired event spaces, and the term ‘supper club’ is also used to describe pop-ups or collaborations in restaurants. It’s become so much more than budding chefs experimenting from their home kitchens; the Clove Club, which started life as a Shoreditch supper club in 2010, is still the UK’s highest entry in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards and proves how successful a simple supper club can become.

Whether you’re a regular supper club attendee or considering hosting your own, I’ve rounded up some of Britain’s more intriguing ones in their various guises. Read on for delicious inspiration, duelling chefs and even the occasional disaster.

Malaysian Nonya Supper Club, London

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‘It was accidental television that led to the supper club.’ You may recognise Guan Chua from The Taste, a TV gameshow that aired on Channel 4 in 2014 where Guan was mentored by the late Anthony Bourdain. Born in Kuala Lumpur, Guan moved to London to attend university, then worked in the banking industry for six years before taking a sabbatical to attend Le Cordon Bleu. ‘I got this random email from one of the producers of the show who had been following my blog where I’d been writing about culinary school,’ he says. When Guan saw Bourdain on the list of the show’s judges, he knew he had to audition. ‘I did all this research on what his favourite dishes of Southeast Asia were. [When I cooked for him], straight away his palate is so sharp – he said, ‘I think this dish has Peranakan roots in it’.’

On the back of his TV show fame, Guan decided to launch his supper club specialising in the food from his homeland. ‘Malaysian food in London tends to be street food. The Penang style of Nonya/Peranakan food is quite differen; it has a lot of Thai influences, because of the geography. The best supper clubs tend to do a brand of cuisine that’s very unique and not often one you can find in a restaurant.’

Guan’s home fits ten people around one large table (‘the majority of supper clubs are residencies nowadays, but I still love the house supper clubs the most’), so the downside for diners who love his authentic-Nonya-meets-Cordon-Bleu style is that his dinners sell out within hours of being advertised. ‘Occasionally I do larger events just to meet some of them. It’s also nice to get people to connect and reconnect with this food and give them inspiration to travel.’

theboywhoatetheworld.com; usually held on Friday evenings each month

Scratch Secret Suppers, London

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‘Sorry for the shouty capital letters,’ begins the urgent email from Michelle Francis rescheduling her supper club. ‘I dropped my Le Creuset pot on the open glass oven door, which shattered.’ This is the first real disaster that’s occurred in Michelle’s seven years of hosting Scratch Secret Suppers: not a bad track record.

Prior to moving to London, Australian-born Michelle had a restaurant in Warrnambool for eight years. ‘When I sold that I was really burnt out but at the time it was quite cutting edge. We were doing stuff like quinoa and couscous and polenta, and sort of Mediterranean things that weren’t well known in the area, along with Southeast Asian influences like Vietnamese mint and lemongrass.’ Michelle launched what she dubs ‘Aussie Fusion’ cuisine in her home in Marylebone in 2012, where she seats sixteen guests at two tables.

‘When I moved to London I hadn’t cooked for yonks but I heard about the supper club movement and I’d really missed cooking commercially. I’m not pretending to be a Michelin chef or anything but I like the beauty and creativity of plating. I love being able to cook for as many or as few people as you want on as many nights as you want without all the huge commitments of a restaurant. And there’s lots less wastage than when I had a restaurant.’

londonfromscratch.co.uk/supperclub; usually held on Fridays/Saturdays each month

&Ginger, London

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What do you get when two adventurous ginger-tressed lasses take on the world’s cuisines in a supper club inspired by their recent travels? The answer is &Ginger, with each dinner focused on a different food region (Sicily & Ginger, Basque & Ginger…). Expect the research to be meticulous given that the duo – journalist Josephine Price and designer Lauren Gamp – both work at National Geographic Traveller by day. They began by secretly testing out the concept on their colleagues. ‘We threw a dinner party at my house in May 2017,’ says Jo. ‘After the dinner and many drinks afterwards we kind of cornered a few people and said ‘do you think we’re quite good at this?’’

Their first two &Ginger supper clubs were held at Jo’s house in Bow and seated twenty people. The California-themed first attempt was a huge learning curve in terms of time management. ‘Obviously, you can buy tacos but we wanted to make them ourselves so we bought a taco press,’ says Jo. ‘There was lots of testing of texture and durability but just the sheer quantity… we started making eighty tacos and the doorbell rang. People were early and we thought ‘crap!’’ A time sheet is now something they ‘live or die by’.

The next three supper clubs were held at Benk + Bo in London’s Spitalfields, where they jumped to catering for forty. ‘The first time I was shaking,’ Lauren says. ‘You just don’t know what to expect. We’d had a tour and saw what they had but we hadn’t cooked in the kitchen.’ Despite brands such as Sous Chef lining up to collaborate with them, Jo and Lauren aren’t tempted to make the events more than a quarterly occurrence. ‘We have very full-on day jobs and also travel a lot, so this is enough for us at the moment.’

andginger.wixsite.com; usually held every 3 months, check their Instagram @andgingersupperclub for theme clues

William Sitwell's Weston Supper Club, Northamptonshire

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‘I had no idea what I was doing with the first one,’ says food critic William Sitwell of lending both his home in Northamptonshire and his name to a series of supper clubs that has seen some of the UK’s best chefs cook for his guests since 2017. ‘I had a knackered old range that didn’t work, I was trying to rent tables and chairs, figure out who could do service, get wine, etc. I’ve got it down to a fine art now.’

He has indeed. With José Pizarro, Valentine Warner, Dhruv Baker and Atul Kochhar on his monthly chef line-up and all manner of brands and PRs scrambling to collaborate with him, William’s succeeding in his mission to maintain the upkeep of his seventeenth-century manor home (‘it’s a big old place’) and to bring famous chefs to the locals in an accessible way. ‘We have some brilliant regulars and we usually sell out in two days. I’m there the whole night, starting with introducing the chef, then I have dinner there and chat with the guests.’ And what about diners wanting selfies with him? ‘People enjoy that aspect and yes, it’s fine to have my picture taken with them. That’s just what happens after being on Masterchef.’

williamsitwell.com; held monthly

Versus Supper Club, Staffordshire

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Over in Staffordshire, Liam Dillon at The Boat Inn restaurant in Lichfield has brought a competitive element into the ever-expanding definition of ‘supper club’. In July 2019 he launched Versus Supper Club where a renowned chef from another restaurant is invited into his kitchen to ‘do battle’: each chef produces an alternate course in a set menu and diners give it a mark out of ten on a scorecard. ‘I don’t really have a home ground advantage,’ smirks Liam. ‘It’s all anonymous, so people don’t know whether they’re trying my dishes or the other chef’s until the end.’ With a donation made to each visiting chef’s chosen charity and the ‘battle’ being somewhat light-hearted, this event might be held in a traditional restaurant, but it retains a supper club’s feel-good atmosphere and diner camaraderie.

theboatinnlichfield.com/liamvs; usually held each month

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