I’m waiting for the email. Tonight we’re venturing into the unknown, not even sure of the address where we will meet for dinner with people we don’t know. All we have seen is the menu, posted on a Facebook page and some emails from our host.
We’re talking ‘popup’ – our first night at a ‘destination to be disclosed’ dining club, the Goldtoast Supper Club. Sure, we’ve enjoyed this concept before with friends, but total strangers? What were we thinking?
Adventure, mystique, a clandestine food and wine experience, new and possibly exciting company! There’s something really cool about not knowing everything, a bit like the thrill of seduction…
However, the concept of ‘underground restaurants’ is not new. Begun in the 1920s prohibition era, resurrected thirty years ago in Latin America as ‘puertas cerradas’ (locked door restaurants) and now an ‘on trend’ experience, we’re joining a worldwide grassroots movement of hosted private dinners made possible by social networking.
Bree Denman, our host, and I have been ‘stalking’ each other on Twitter and Facebook for months. We share an obsession for food, comment on each others’ posts, but this is the first time we’ve actually met. Bree tells me how she began the dining club at the beginning of 2012 as a way to pursue her culinary passion through an alternative route. Each month she holds a small popup function based around a theme. It may be a picnic, a Mexican cantina dinner, a slow-cooked feast, a Brunch of Flowers, Burgers beer & Bingo, a Parisian brunch or even My Giddy Valentine! The event is open to all comers, with a price set on each lunch or dinner to offset the costs, and close to the event the venue is disclosed via email to the guests.
It’s fitting that our first event involves travel, to a farmhouse high up in a valley above the Gold Coast. It’s verdant and picturesque, a ‘getting back to nature’ venue suitable for our ‘slow’ four course dinner experience.
We begin on the verandah, with a cocktail and appetisers, our mingling beginning with commonalities: ‘How did you come to be here?’ or ‘How do you know our host?’ Guests move about, pop into the kitchen to talk to Bree as she prepares food, share drinks before moving off to talk to other people. There’s a fairly even mix: some single women, some couples of varied ages and occupations.
This is an ‘anti-restaurant! I’m surprised how easy it is to talk to people over food when you’ve taken the leap of faith together, and when we move to the communal tables for the next few courses, there’s a very different feel to our so-called ‘communal’ dining at a posh restaurant in Melbourne, where no one spoke to each other and backs were turned! It’s warmer, more quirky, and far less formal. It’s BYO, there are no food choices to be made, no decisions hemmed in by cost or bill-splitting, no uncomfortable food envy moments, just a convivial intimate dinner party with Bree as chef and her sister Lily our smiling ever-present waitress.
So what is the food like? It’s the sort of food you’d love to be able to cook but probably don’t – the time-consuming dishes that you would cook as a one-off surrounded by quicker, simpler accompaniments; except that Bree has produced these dishes in every course: a sensational Duck Rillette served with crostini, a delicately layered Granny Smith Apple Jelly, French Onion Soup with a deliciously short pastry lid, rich Daube de Boeuf Provencal served with silky creamed potato and almond crusted lemon broccoli, White chocolate Cheesecake with poached strawberries.
The description sells the food short. It’s posh nosh served by a great rustic cook, far more generous servings than in many restaurants, but most of all, this exceptional meal is a labour of love! It shines with Bree’s passion for food as well as her generosity of spirit.
“You can’t really call this a popup restaurant,” Bree tells me, “because I’m not a chef,” but I’m reminded that many great chefs (Raymond Blanc and Heston Blumenthal included) were not formally trained, pursuing their passion along unconventional paths such as this.
Sharing food is the oldest communal activity in the world. Gathering for a meal marks the milestones of our life, the travels we’ve made and the great celebrations.
It’s ironic that in an electronically networked world we can feel more separated by geographic distance from our families, more isolated by long working hours, by fractured families and relocation than ever before. It’s often hard to get to know people in a city, especially if you’re new to town, single or too busy at work. Social circles can become stale and sometimes close friends move away, leaving gaps in our hearts.
We thoroughly enjoyed our first supper club event. It was a way to try new food, meet new friends and embark on an adventure, all rolled up into one.
Is it for everyone? Maybe not if you have food allergies or distinct food preferences. But if you see food as an ‘omnivorous’ experience, a cultural adventure, whether you are travelling overseas and within our own country, then this is a journey worth embarking on. Be brave! Cast off, and wait for the email…