Dinner in a cowshed? The wonderful world of Suffolk supper clubs

Joey O’Hare and Katy Taylor, Cowshed Suppers

Beef and Guinness pie on the supper menu from Joey O’Hare and Katy Taylor, Cowshed Suppers. - Credit: Joey O’Hare and Katy Taylor,

These Suffolk supper clubs might not be the most conventional but they could just be the best you ever eat at. Tessa Allingham meets seven women chefs doing things a bit differently 

You won’t find these women in any conventional restaurant kitchen. These women are not calling service from a stainless steel pass, or running brigades with military precision.

These women host supper clubs, because they love to feed and to cook. They love to connect with guests and share experiences, and talk about ingredients and what’s going on in the world, and what they had for dinner yesterday. They’re talented and knowledgeable and they’re cooking up delicious food in their own style and on their own terms in Suffolk.

In the beginning there was something subversive about supper clubs. They’d be prefixed with ‘secret’ or ‘underground’ as if they were a clique closed to anyone not in the know. The best are still intimate, unhurried affairs – but they’re open to everyone, obviously. It being International Women’s Day on March 8, let’s celebrate these seven women and the pleasure cooked up at these six very different supper clubs.

'I like the community feel'
Hannah Gregory, WanderSups

Food is fun, it’s social, it’s adventurous, it’s delicious… Hannah Gregory’s enthusiasm for cooking and especially supper club-hosting brims over. 

“Supper clubs are about being fun and relaxed. I like the community feel of them. I hope we can get back to making new friends round a table again and – without wanting to sound cliché – breaking bread together.”

Hannah Gregory appeared on the 2020 edition of Masterchef and is now running pop-up supper clubs in

Hannah Gregory appeared on the 2020 edition of Masterchef and is now running pop-up supper clubs in Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. - Credit: Wandersups

The food of Mexico is close to Hannah Gregory's heart

The food of Mexico is close to Hannah Gregory's heart - Credit: Wandersups

Hannah’s time on MasterChef in 2020 (she reached the quarter-finals) was a springboard for WanderSups, her supper club business that melds the excitement of travel with the joy of sharing something of the cultures she experiences. Flavours of the southern US states – chicken sliders, skillet cornbread and the rest – tempted guests to Cambridge Cookery School in October, and she sold out the tipi at The Northgate in Bury St Edmunds last summer with a feast of Mexican tacos.

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Look out for more suppers at Martha’s Barn café at Otley Hall where a Mexican supper in February kicked off the 2022 WanderSups calendar. “And I’m hoping Greig [Young, head chef] will have me back at The Northgate!”

Hannah will pop up as a guest judge on MasterChef 2022 this spring. Find Sups details on  Instagram @wandersups and at www.wandersups.com (£65 including a welcome drink).

READ: Meet the women rebuilding the Sutton Hoo Anglo-Saxon burial ship

'It's candlelit and cosy'
Nicola Hordern, Field Kitchen at Fellows Farm
By day – from April – you’ll find Nicola Hordern feeding the people of Southwold as head chef of The Canteen. The café at the town’s new community-focused enterprise, The Old Hospital, opens next month. By night, you may find her cooking in a field, running the occasional supper club she hosts with baker and farmer, Ben McKinnon.

Nicola paints an idyllic picture of suppers at Fellows Farm, Ben’s off-grid, organic farm at Gosbeck with its micro-bakery, weaving studio and newly planted vines. Cooking is done entirely on an outdoor wood oven, with dishes inspired by what’s harvested on the farm. “There are tomatoes in season, aubergine, greens, sprouting broccoli, rainbow chard, beautiful lettuces, lots of squash, tons of strawberries. We’ll use game in season, or lamb from the guys up the road.” April’s meal – a middle eastern-inspired lunch of sharing plates – is in the planning.

Chef Nicola Horden runs occasional supper clubs, hosted with baker and farmer Ben McKinnon at his organic farm at Gosbeck.

Chef Nicola Horden runs occasional supper clubs, hosted with baker and farmer Ben McKinnon at his organic farm at Gosbeck. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Guests gather around long tables in a barn. “It’s candlelit and cosy, very much a community vibe. People sit round the firepit on hay bales after the meal… Ben brings out coffee and hot toddies. It’s a very special place.”

Bring a tent, or stay in the farm’s yurt. Details of Field Kitchen suppers – costs vary – are at www.fellowsfarm.co.uk. Follow Nicola’s Instagram @nicolahordern.

'We love rambling on about wine'
Joey O’Hare and Katy Taylor, Cowshed Suppers

Dinner in a cowshed? Come May, a light-filled converted outbuilding at Walnut Tree Farm, Thorington, will be home to Cowshed Suppers. The farm is home to Joey O’Hare and Katy Taylor whose cooking is a creative burst of colour and seasonality (and wine).

Joey O'Hare and Katy Taylor at Walnut Tree Farm, where they host Cowshed Suppers. 

Joey O'Hare and Katy Taylor at Walnut Tree Farm, where they host Cowshed Suppers. - Credit: Richard Allenby-Pratt

Sixteen guests will sit round a stunning wavey-edged table crafted by Joey’s brother from a single piece of wood. Onto it will be delivered four generous courses. “We’ll start with a hot croquette with a homemade dip – maybe rabbit with a tarragon aioli – because you can’t beat something crisp and deep-fried to kick off a meal,” says Joey. You might then scoop homemade bread through a smoked haddock brandade, or try Katy’s venison bresaola. Main courses may be shared or plated – it’s not decided yet – before a simple dessert. “Maybe local cheese with our damson membrillo, or something like the Wensleydale and Eccles cake dish at St John [Fergus Henderson’s legendary London restaurant].” Paired wines will lean towards natural, organic and biodynamic wines. 

Roasted squash tart from Cowshed Suppers

Roasted squash tart from Cowshed Suppers - Credit: Cowshed Suppers

Sage gnudi from Cowshed Suppers

Sage gnudi from Cowshed Suppers - Credit: Cowshed Suppers

“We love hosting,” says Katy. “We love rambling on about wine, but supper clubs are also about slowing down for a bit.” Joey adds: “It’s about making food an event. There’s a simplicity about eating together that’s becoming so relevant.”

Two B&B rooms will soon be available at Walnut Tree Farm. Cowshed Suppers will cost £60-70 for four courses and four paired wines. Details on Instagram @joeyandkatycook or at www.joeyandkatycook.co.uk.

'Homely - not sushi master'
Kaori Suzuki, Suzuki Supper Club

Under a small gazebo on Bury St Edmunds Saturday market you’ll find Kaori Suzuki. She’ll be grilling skewers of chicken and pork over a table-top shichirin charcoal grill, brushing them with her homemade yakitori sauce, turning them till ready. They fly out on a chill January morning, served in paper dishes with a puck of steamed rice and more sauce. People take them to go, or grab a seat, invariably ordering more skewers, or hot, savoury miso soup, maybe a glass of sake. 

Kaora Suzuki launched her supper club in 2015, building up a local fanbase for her sushi and non-sushi menus.

Kaora Suzuki launched her supper club in 2015, building up a local fanbase for her sushi and non-sushi menus. - Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND

Kaori grew up in Kanazawa on Japan’s Honshu island. A love of food was probably inevitable – the city’s seafood is renowned, and her family would regularly eat at its sushi bars. Having moved to Suffolk, she launched her supper club in 2015, building up a local fanbase for her sushi and non-sushi menus, though she’s quick to call her sushi “homely, not sushi-master”. She uses salmon, scallop, tuna or prawns bought from Bury market (sushi supper clubs must be on market days) for classic nigiri and nori-wrapped hosomaki sushi. And she is meticulous about the rice quality: “There mustn’t be any husk, the grains must be whole.” A menu might finish with matcha pudding, similar to crème caramel, or an airy Japanese cheesecake. 

For now Kaori brings supper to you (up to 15 miles from Bury) serving six-twelve guests (£35 a head plus travel). Email suzukisupperclub@gmail.com or find Kaori @suzukisupperclub.

'All the warmth of Mediterranean hospitality'
Maria Elia’s Smashing Plates

Maria Elia could probably work in any restaurant she chose. The chef’s cv is stellar, counting Stephen Terry, Ferran Adrià, and Elena Arzak among former employers – and that’s without mentioning her TV work, cookbooks, and journalism, or her Greek-Cypriot heritage and the inspiration of her family’s London restaurant.

But you won’t find her in any such kitchen now. You’ll find her in a beautifully renovated Scandi-style barn next to her home in Clopton preparing to host her first Smashing Plates supper club of the year. “All the warmth of Mediterranean hospitality in a relaxed environment!” she promises.

Chef and author Maria Ela, who has recently moved to Suffolk. Picture: Sarah Lucy Brown

Chef and author Maria Ela hosts her Smashing Plates supper club in a renovated Scandi-style barn next to her home in Clopton. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

An old inspection pit – the barn was housed farm vehicle repairs – is now a wine cellar, and there’s gentle lighting, an open kitchen, and the original sliding metal doors. The March menu will meld flavours of her heritage with those of Suffolk, even if it is too early to harvest produce from the kitchen garden she planted after moving to Suffolk in August 2020. She reels off the bounty: rainbow chard, carrots, fennel, broad beans, peas, sweetcorn, strawberries, pumpkins, butternut squash, flowers, tomatoes, cucumbers. “And that was without trying too hard!”

Savoury baklavas are a favourite – look out for a tomato one with onions, cinnamon, dill, layers of dates and feta, and Greek honey. Come autumn, she obsesses about figs. A trifle – “no, it’s not very Greek but it’s absolutely delicious!” – has sponge, custard and jelly infused with homemade fig leaf wine, and dried figs soaked in the liquor. 

Maria’s first Smashing Plates Supper Club is Saturday March 19th (£45 for four courses including a welcome drink). Email hello@thisismariaelia.com to book. Follow Maria on Instagram @mariaelia9.

'Food is the talking point'
Jess Noy, The Gamekeeper’s Daughter

“I’m not interested in mass numbers,” says Jess Noy whose intimate supper clubs (16 guests max) are held at Shotley Vineyard on the last Friday of every month. “It’s about making a personal connection with guests and ensuring they all have an enjoyable evening. I can speak with everyone, hear which dish and wine they particularly enjoyed.”

Jess Noy builds her menu from the landscape around her

Jess Noy builds her menu from the landscape around her - here foraging along the foreshore at Holbrook, rich with sea beet. - Credit: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Jess builds her menu starting from what the immediate landscape can provide. Pull up a seat at the March 25th event and you’ll likely taste wild garlic and young spring greens such as nettle and alexanders. Scallops with gutweed (an umami-rich seaweed she picks on the shore), lime butter and samphire is a favourite, and it won’t be long before the season leads her to local marsh lamb to cook with samphire and sea aster. 

She keeps her menu under wraps. “That attracts people who are looking for an experience where food is the talking-point. I include at least one dish that will surprise guests a little, or add a flavour they may not have tried.”

See shotleyvineyard.co.uk to book a four-course Seasonal Supper Club (£65 including paired wines). Follow Jess @gamekeepersdaughter. 

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