Dining with a difference

Dining with a difference

Fed up with traditional restaurants? Don’t feel like the usual table for two? You’re not alone. A new type of dining has sprung up in response to the dissatisfaction of diners. Restaurants are popping up in unexpected places, from people’s front rooms to unoccupied spaces. And they’re getting booked up fast by customers looking for an unconventional culinary experience. the love of it looks into this new trend and speaks to some of the masterminds behind it.

Photo by Thomas PouslomPhoto by Thomas Pouslom

Photo by Thomas Pouslom12-Mar-2010 21:46, Canon Canon EOS 50D, 1.8, 50.0mm, 0.01 sec, ISO 3200

Taking a giant leap from the conventional is the Bristol outfit, Cloak and Dinner, with its take on guerilla dining. Inspired by food and disappointed by the price tag that local dining comes with, the group set about creating a restaurant run by their own rules. Popping up for just four days at the end of January in an unoccupied space in the centre of Bristol, and staffed by amateur and professional chefs, waiters, artists and creatives, who all volunteered their time. Each night came with its own chef team and culinary style, and a limited capacity of just 50 people.

As one of the lucky people who managed to book a table (the event sold out before the fliers were even distributed), myself and 13 friends dressed up in dresses, top hats and pocket watches and followed the directions to the secret location that had only been revealed that morning. The door was opened by a staff member, clad in a tuxedo and moheican, and we were invited in and presented with a gin and tonic – the first, but definitely not the last drink of the night.

Photo by The Underground RestaurantPhoto by The Underground Restaurant

Photo by The Underground Restaurant01-Sep-2009 16:33, Canon Canon EOS 500D, 3.5, 18.0mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 160

Moving upstairs for the meal itself, the wood panelled room was lit with fairy lights and candles, the furniture mismatched and quirky. The service was friendly, funny and prompt, and the food itself was stunning, and presented to high restaurant standard on mismatched crockery. The wine, served in unlabelled bottles, flowed freely, and the meal was finished with coffee and home made chocolates. At the end of the night, we were presented with an envelope and asked to pay what we thought the food was worth. Never have I felt so happy to pay for a meal, and having spoken to others in the group about this afterwards, there was a definite feeling that it’s easier to be generous when you’re given an option.

Montpelier Basement menu

Montpelier Basement menu11-Feb-2011 21:49, Canon Canon EOS 500D, 4.0, 25.0mm, 0.25 sec, ISO 3200

Recently, a few members of team love of it were lucky enough to visit a Bristol based supperclub. The Montpelier Basement is run by the delightful Dan and Elly who open their home three times a month to 17 strangers, serving up an incredible seven course meal. And what a meal. From melt in the mouth cheese biscuits to slow roasted pork belly, refreshing apple ice to delicate custard tart. The meal was finished with their trademark rarebit, made from cheese, beer and bread that is all sourced from their friends. It is amazing that such high quality food (and so much of it) comes from a simple domestic kitchen, and the pair agree that the logistics of this (especially only having a single oven) is one of the hardest things. What makes it an even bigger achievement is that they often cook dishes for the supperclub that they’ve never tried before, or at least not on such a large scale.

Montpelier Basement

Montpelier Basement11-Feb-2011 22:48, Canon Canon EOS 500D, 4.0, 25.0mm, 0.25 sec, ISO 3200

The pair had been to other supperclubs in London, and when they moved into their current flat, were struck by how perfect it was for such an occasion. And so the Montpelier Basement was born. One of the best things about the evening for me was being sat at a table with people we’d never met before, with the shared unique dining experience providing a great basis for conversation. Dan describes their guests as generally quite outgoing, often finding chefs, food producers or just general foodies sat around their tables. Browsing through the guest book, the praise from previous diners comes thick and fast. The quote that best summed up the experience from me was the comment left by one guest, “The food of a restaurant, the atmosphere of a dinner party…”

But this is not the only restaurant of its kind. One of the first home based restaurants in the UK, The Underground Restaurant, was inspired by a trip to a paladar restaurant in Cuba. Hostess and chef, Ms Marmite Lover, spends four days planning and preparing before serving 30 complete strangers a meal prepared on an Aga in her kitchen. Despite the long hours involved, she describes the response as, “Absolutely brilliant. At first I was nervous as I wasn’t sure anybody would come. But now I’ve spawned a whole movement…”.

Photo by http://eatpictures.com<br />
(c) All Rights Reserved 2010Photo by http://eatpictures.com
(c) All Rights Reserved 2010

Photo by http://eatpictures.com
(c) All Rights Reserved 201005-Mar-2010 22:22, Canon Canon EOS DIGITAL REBEL XT, 1.8, 50.0mm, 0.04 sec, ISO 1600

Green Onions is a secret supper club run in Hackney serving seasonal and local food, occasionally expanding to outdoor events such as picnics and afternoon teas. “We had both worked together in kitchens years ago and started cooking for friends once a month and then at the end of the meal put a pot in the middle of the table and everyone put in money to cover the costs of food and drinks”, reports Elizabeth, when describing how the idea came about. Experiencing an overwhelmingly positive response to the dinners they run, their events frequently sell out in less than twenty minutes.

The Secret Service Supper Club runs on a monthly basis in and around Bristol, inspired by experiencing the restaurants run from private homes in Hong Kong. A five course set menu is served, from local and seasonal high quality ingredients, giving people a chance to try things they may not normall choose. There is an element of surprise to the evening as, “the guests aren’t informed of the exact location until the night before the dinner.” The communal seating also allows people to mingle and meet new people.

Have you been to a pop up restaurant or experienced guerilla dining? If you have, tell us about it.

(Thanks to Hidden Table for the banner image)

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