Supper clubs come of age
The phenomenum of supper clubs, dinner cooked in private homes for strangers, is a sign of the times. A time when more people are able to cook well than ever before, when the post–club generation are more culturally adventurous and looking for something new to stimulate the senses and when individual enthusiasm is beginning to weigh in heavier than celebrity status.
The grand master of the supper club, Jim Haynes, co-founder of the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh and associate of some of the most notable literary players of the late 20th century, has hosted Sunday dinners in his Paris atelier for more than 30 years (you may have seen him in a recent After Eight TV commercial). You call up and if you’re lucky enough to be among the first 50 people, you’ll be mingling with a smorgasbord of the most fascinating people in the world; a Portuguese consul, a Bosnian sculptor, Brazilian dancers, Scottish philosopher, people from every corner of the globe brought together to eat and talk and share ideas.
As the number of supper clubs has grown in London (and now, in fact, all over the world), more and more brilliant, enthusiastic foodies have built followings of fans who trek across the city, armed with wine to find often humble homes and enjoy intriguing menus at great value.
Last month we paid a visit to one of the most popular London supper clubs, Fernandez & Leluu, a Spanish and Vietnamese partnership, who have themselves recently hosted Jim Haynes. You book in weeks ahead and nearer the day they will send you their address and the menu. So we duly navigated through some dark streets in search of an improbable Hackney address to be welcomed enthusiastically into a small living room crammed with a few tables and then ushered into the garden, where the other guests were gabbling excitedly.
The food was a delight. Just my thing; immaculately sourced ingredients, simple flavours and ingenuity. But in some ways the real highlight was the drinks in the garden. It was like a wedding, where you are compelled to talk with new people excitedly and engage in stimulating conversation about new things, joined by an uninhibited and common affection – for food. And so for me, the most disappointing part of the evening was when we were sent to our tables and the new friendships were brought to order – except for the smokers who popped out to the garden. But this momentary shadow was surpassed by the perfect food that followed.
Fernandez and Leluu are a delicious couple who seem to work unruffled in their kitchen as they serve 7 courses of beguiling dishes. A deep green pea soup with ham hock, slices of octopus carpaccio and capers, a tortilla with sweet potato and oyster mushrooms, rice pancakes (bahn cuon) with pork, a fried vine leaf stuffed with beef and peanuts. And triumph above all, tuna sashimi and chips. Brilliant and rounded off with fruit trifle.
Supper clubs are a sign of the times not because of cheap eats but because conversation costs nothing. How often do we spend time talking to new people about the affairs of the world or the commonplaces of life? Eating is a great leveller. When we break bread together there is a communion of spirit. As Jim Haynes writes: ‘I have long believed that it is unnecessary to understand others, individuals or nationalities; one must, at the very least, simply tolerate others. Tolerance can lead to respect and, finally, to love. No one can ever really understand anyone else, but you can love them or at least accept them.’
One of the easiest ways to accept people, is to eat with them.
If you are interested in finding a supper club near you, the best way is to look at the Supper Club Fan Group where you will find them listed by area and theme. If you are a fan of my cooking and you would like to join the first PipsDinners supper club in London on 2 September. Please book in to Pips Dinners.
We’ll be hosting these regular salon suppers at different venues across London, when we hope to stimulate good conversation and great ideas, accompanied by some wonderful food.
If you are in Paris and want to meet Jim Haynes, at one of his Sunday dinners, you might be lucky.Dining, Eating Fernandez & Leluu, Jim Haynes, PipsDinners, supper clubs