Supper clubs to enjoy in Sussex

Cantina Brighton

Cantina Brighton - Credit: Archant

Supper clubs are the latest dining craze, and there are plenty to enjoy right here in Sussex

In France they are known as table d’hote, in Cuba, paladares. Here in the UK we go for the more prosaic “supper club” or “pop-up”– an informal temporary “restaurant”, often in a private home. If you’ve not yet experienced one, they offer a novel and exciting night out, a chance to try new dishes, meet new people and have a snoop around someone else’s home to boot.

Supper clubs have been steadily gaining popularity for years, especially in Brighton, where new online hub Tabl currently lists up to 20 a month. According to Tabl co-founder Andrew Fisher, Brighton has one of the most lively supper club scenes outside London, with an average week offering anything from a seven-course feast to an experimental tasting menu anywhere from a Regency flat to an open-plan eco-home.

Like the phenomenally popular Air B’n’B, which links travellers and local hosts, Tabl represents another addition to the “collaborative consumption” movement or “the sharing economy”, which values connections and shared experience. Through Tabl, people can sign up as hosts, or browse and book events, as well as view feedback from previous diners. Although supper clubs involve stepping out of one’s comfort zone in a way that eating at a restaurant doesn’t, the site aims to make it a more calculated risk, even offering a guide to “Tabl manners” when attending a supper club for the first time.

“My top tip is don’t be shy to engage with the other guests,” says Fisher, “Whether you go on your own, in a couple or with friends, you’ll have the best time if you get stuck in. I think of supper clubs as dinner parties with friends you haven’t met yet.”

Tina Horvath doesn’t need convincing of their merits. After nearly four years running the CanTina supper club in her home and various Brighton venues, she is one of the city’s longest-standing hosts. An experienced caterer and committed bon viveur, she prides herself on the convivial atmosphere of her twice-monthly supper clubs which seat 18 “friendly, jovial people for a fun evening.”

Horvath started out running stalls at local farmers’ markets and food festivals and continues to champion seasonal, local produce in her five-course set menus, devised from what’s being picked in Sussex farms that week. For £40, diners can expect a soup starter, mezze platter and a fish course, as well as a pudding, dessert wine and complementary cocktail. Recent menus have included Sussex asparagus, manchego croquette and Serrano ham, home-cured Scottish sea trout, spiced, slow-cooked lamb bastilla, strawberries and peaches, and hazelnut shortbread and praline.

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After years of working in restaurants, running her own catering company has provided her with the flexibility she craved, while sharing her love of food and socialising with fellow supper-clubbers is nothing short of a dream job, she says.

For other hosts, supper clubs offer an opportunity to experiment with new formats. The Bookish Supper Society, run by writer Laura Lockington and literary producer Sarah Hutchings, combines the founders’ love of reading and cooking. In the picturesque location of Hove’s Farm Mews, with a courtyard for summer dining and a woodburner for the winter, diners can enjoy “irreverent, informative and revealing” interviews with authors over a glass of wine and a homely supper.

Lockington and Hutchings work together to knock up dinner – think asparagus tartlets, sweet-and-sour aubergines, walnut bread and homemade chocolates – before the authors take centre stage. Previous speakers have included playwright Tim Crouch, whose latest play was showing at The Royal Court that month, Cosmopolitan’s agony aunt Irma Kurtz, journalist Julie Burchill and novelist and “book royalty” Paul Bailey.

The club attracts a suitably eclectic bunch of people and the hosts actively encourage new friendships. “The one thing Sarah and I wanted above all else was to create an event people would be happy attending by themselves,” says Lockington. “If you arrive alone you will be made to feel very welcome and will definitely have made new friends by the end of the evening. We even have a romance that started at Bookish!”

For Lizzie Bett, starting the No 5 Supper Club was a way of capitalising on her years of experience as a private chef and caterer, when she worked for clients including Michael Schumacher, John Cleese, Bryan Ferry and even the Queen. The travelling involved in her work – including a world tour with the British Formula One team - had given her a knack for making new friends, not to mention an impressive bank of stories. Then she moved into an eco-house on Dyke Road Avenue: “It seemed the perfect opportunity to open up my kitchen and share my love of food, travel and people.” Bett chats to her guests – usually a mix of “foodies, creatives and design enthusiasts” - as she cooks in the open-plan kitchen or outside on the barbecue. Last month saw her produce an Italian feast including chargrilled squid, crab crostini, monkfish and rosemary spiedini, stuffed artichokes and roast lamb with cannellini beans. No event is the same but diners can usually bank on a menu packed with global flavours inspired by Bett’s travels and a fun, relaxed atmosphere. “I want people to feel like they’re eating a really exciting dinner at a new friend’s house because that’s what it’s all about really – great food, great company and new experiences”.

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