The supper club craze has transformed our dining scene. To the scourge of restaurateurs all over, amateur cooks – forever hungry for culinary innovation – have been secretly opening up their homes and feeding strangers.
With blatant disregard to traditional British reserve, this borrowing from foreign cultures and bygone eras has given way to a sort of speakeasy meets Asian back street café fusion. Armed with pointed cabbages, bellies of pork and Nigel Slater’s Real Cooking, supper club hosts have formed a movement and changed Saturday nights forever.
At the heart of this alternative dining experience is James Ramsden’s Secret Larder. Despite being a relative latecomer (Secret Larder was born in March 2010), his Thursday night club quickly climbed the ranks and has fast become a terribly bad secret. So bad in fact that one journalist described booking a table at Secret Larder as harder than getting into the Ivy.
Once a fortnight James transforms the North London flat he shares with his sister. Together they serve about twenty people – “a mix of friends and strangers, but mostly strangers” – a three course set menu with drinks on arrival, coffee and chocolates. And depending on James’s mood, “if there’s some brandy floating around they might get too.”
For their effort they ask guests to leave a £30 donation in a tin by the door. (Most do, occasionally one doesn’t.)
Each supper club is themed, although if a theme doesn’t come naturally James doesn’t force it for fear of it “becoming gimmicky”. The next supper club is “Egg Night” and is already fully booked – so is the one after that for that matter. On taking bookings James is strict yet considerate. “If it’s a tourist and they really want to get in I’ll usually make allowances”, he says casually, oblivious to how exceptional this sounds.
For those of you who’ve not been to a secret supper club before, they’re tricky to describe. In essence they’re a cross between a dinner party (where the food is a damn sight better than usual) and eating out. Each one varies massively just as a person’s home does. I’ve been to several and I’m always surprised at how the atmosphere and diners differ. Some are gloriously flamboyant, over-the-top affairs (“99” run by Whethem Allpress) while others provide gentle, intimate and heart-warming evenings (Salad Club, run by Ellie Grace and Rosie French).
As for the Secret Larder, well you can find out for yourself as James will be bringing his supper club to the festival. Hosted by the country retreat company, Dewsall, visitors to the festival will get a chance to sample James’s cooking in the company of other secret diners in a sumptuous, magical yurt. But you best book quick – just like the Ivy, the Secret Larder waits for no one.
Bex Hobson is Blogger-at-large for the Abergavenny Food Festival