Where did you go for your last meal out; a stylist new restaurant, a favourite old haunt, or perhaps a cosy local gastro-pub? How about an unused office space, the top of a multi-story car park, or a complete stranger’s living room?
These are just a few examples of the type of sites housing pop-up restaurants and supper clubs, part of an underground movement that has captured the zeitgeist of the food scene in recent years, and that’s gaining momentum fast. Powered by social media, through blogs, Twitter and Facebook, the world of underground eateries has expanded rapidly. Nationwide, unusual or unused spaces are being reclaiming and repurposed to create a unique dining experience and give home cooks and non-chefs the chance to show off their kitchen prowess.
A few weeks ago I volunteered at one such pop-up. Run by food waste charity FoodCycle and held on the floor of an empty office building provided by 3Space, the pop-up was part of A Good Week, a week long celebration of all things “good”. Using surplus food collected from local supermarkets and decked out in reclaimed or recycled furniture, FoodCycle converted the vast space into a temporary restaurant with an ethical message, highlighting the twin issues they tackle; food waste and food poverty.
Elsewhere in London, this week sees the re-opening of Frank’s Café and Campari bar, a summer pop-up on the roof of a disused a multi-storey car park. Now in it’s third year the temporary structure, designed by Practice Architecture, is part of the annual Bold Tendencies Sculpture Project, an installation dedicated to showcasing new work by international artists that occupies the top four floors of the car park.
On a more intimate scale, the past year has seen a dramatic rise in the number of living room restaurants, or supper clubs as they are known. One of the first supper clubs to open in the UK, and one of the most talked about, is The Underground Restaurant founded by Kerstin Rogers (aka Ms Marmitelover) in early 2009. Inspired by her experiences in the paladares of Cuba, Kerstin sought to create a cosier, more communal environment than the traditional restaurant setting, by putting food and cooking back into the hands of ordinary people. She hosts The Underground Restaurant in the living room of her Kilburn flat, where she also now holds The Underground Market a series of farmers’ and craft markets for small, local producers. Others are finding alternative home or nearby spaces to repurpose as a supper club venue; the back garden, a roof space, a local theatre, I’ve even attended a restaurant in a shed!
Kerstin has recently collected her experiences of this underground restaurant scene into a recipe book-cum-how to guide: Supper Club: Recipes and notes from the underground restaurant, in the hopes of encouraging more people to follow her lead and is spearheading a campaign in partnership with Maille to start a supper club revolution. Of course there’s also a financial aspect involved. For the many who’ve found they no longer have the disposable income to eat out in traditional restaurants a supper club can offer an affordable alternative, whilst for those hosting it can sometimes provide an additional source of income (although this is in no way guaranteed). Supper clubs are also a great way to meet new people and make new friends, and from my experience the food served is far from that of amateur.
Let us know what you think in the comments. Would you attend a supper club held in a stranger’s home or host one yourself, or would you be more interested in a pop-up restaurant in an unusual but public space?
If you’re 16-25 and looking for somewhereto_ host a pop-up restaurant or supper club go to somewhereto.com to find the space you need.