Once the domain of food bloggers, critics in the know and them-what-wear-hats at jaunty angles, the appeal of London’s supper clubs seems to be widening.
While they used to float around in the “Cool Stuff Other People Do In Unknown Locations” bit of my social Venn diagram, recently I’ve had a chance to visit a couple and see what they’re all about.
Not being a foodie myself (I mean, I eat food, I love food, but I’m just as happy in Pizza Express as I would be at Dabbous. Ok, perhaps not. But until I get a table, that’s my line), my first supper club was an education in a cuisine I’d seldom eaten before, and I absolutely loved the concept from the word go.
The appeal is easy to understand: the secret squirrel location, a cosy yet sociable atmosphere, and – of course – lovely food. Plus, on an “I’m not very rich” level, there’s also the nice non-restauranty thing of being able to BYO booze and pay for the food up front or, as at Leluu’s, pop the suggested amount into an envelope at the end of the night.
In doing so, that familiar (but, if we’re honest, never comfortable) process of receiving, splitting and / or paying the bill is negated. There’s no picking by price on the menu. As one article in the FT said, a supper club “divorces the dining experience from the less pleasant experience of handing over money”. And in the world of restaurants employing unexpected service charges, sold-in extras and menu psychology, that can only be a good thing for the average Londoner’s bank balance.
Which brings me nicely to the latest notch on my table, Sshhh – a supper club that’s well hidden in more ways than one. Not only will you never be able to remember how many S’s and H’s to put in the name when you Google it, but you’ll probably miss the bookcase it’s hidden behind at the Somerstown Coffee House, too. Nor is it listed anywhere on the pub’s website. But that’s the whole point.
The supper club is upstairs in the pub – fresh paint smell still intact – and it’s a new project being spread slowly by word of mouth (and blog). Anthony, one of the owners, dropped me a line a while back asking if I fancied having a look, so I said “yes please” and went along with my friend R last Thursday.
After a little tour around the four individually designed rooms, we made our way to the kitchen where our table was laid for the night, and we were soon joined by two other couples.
Although one of our dining companions was particularly taken aback by the intimate set up – a solitary table filled with five complete strangers – after gentle persuasion (read: wine) any small talk – if it ever existed – was soon demolished, along with three courses of food.
The evening ended three and a half hours later, when we all left stuffed, a bit pissed and with a couple of extra Twitter followers apiece. As far as the food, company and service goes, I have no complaints.
It should be mentioned – disclaimer wise – that myself and R were eating for free. Had we not been, the price per head would be £30, not unreasonable for a three course meal in such intimate surroundings – and drinks (flowing freely throughout the night) were not included.
And therein lies the slight wobble with this particular supper club – with it being in a pub, there is no BYO option. So at the end of the night, a sobering trip to the credit card machine beckoned, and all those smoothly sold G&Ts, bottles of wine and whiskeys suddenly had a price.
My point being that if you embarked on the full communal dining experience – sharing bottles etc with the others on your table – well, you can see how it could potentially put an awkward “who drank what, calculators out” spin on the evening.
Happily, when I gave this feedback to Anthony afterwards, he agreed – and it’s something they’re trying to figure out in the long run.
So, still things to work on, but in taking a long haul approach to getting the place up and running, I’ve no doubt the team behind Sshhh (Shh? Shhh. Ssssh) have left enough room in the schedule to get it right.
As for me, I’m on a supper club learning curve too, so bring on the next one.