Scots going underground for a taste of fine dining
8 Apr 2011
IT is the latest dining craze in Scotland but we’re not supposed to know about it.
Underground restaurants – where people invite strangers to dinner in their living rooms for a fraction of the cost of a restaurant but don’t advertise it – have arrived and they are a talking point among the country’s chattering classes.
Dates for the fine-dining nights are posted online and no telephone numbers or addresses are given out. All communication is done via Facebook, email or the blogosphere. There are three such supper clubs in Edinburgh and a whole network of them in London, but the newest one, Honey Wild, is creating waves in the Scottish Borders.
Honey Wild’s recent first five-course dinner attracted 33 people and sold out within days of going online. It was so successful hostess Karen Kennedy, of Innerleithen, a practice manager for a local GP and a mother of two, is already planning seven more.
Many of her guests on the first night were people she did not know but by end of the evening – midnight – everybody was networking nicely.
I had great fun with the other people at my table. I wouldn’t go to a restaurant alone on a Saturday evening, but I didn’t think twice about this
“People like the idea of it being ever so slightly illegal and a little bit edgy,” said the amateur cook, who with her husband Alan had to move the TV, sofa, coffee table and lamps out of the family living room to make space for dining tables and chairs, all borrowed from neighbours and friends.
“But they also like the fact they are eating dinner somewhere that is not a restaurant with people they may not know, but who they can socialise with. Restaurants can be quite restricted, not to say expensive.
“It’s about making social connections. Most people on the first night were strangers to me but it turned out they were somehow connected either through other guests or because they are local.
“In a restaurant it’s very rare people speak to people at other tables. But a supper club is like an underground party. For my part, I enjoy the theatre and event management side of it all – despite the hard work.”
One guest, Rachel Mays, 28, attended alone and didn’t know anybody else in the room. She said: “I read about it and booked on Facebook. I had no idea who I’d be sitting with but it was an amazing evening. I had great fun with the other people at my table. I wouldn’t go to a restaurant alone on a Saturday evening, but I didn’t think twice about this.”
There are certain unwritten rules to be followed in order to stay on the good side or the law. Mrs Kennedy explained: “I have been advised I shouldn’t sell alcohol in my own home, and people should be invited to bring their own bottle. Although I charge £20 a head, and will charge £25 for the next meal, this price is not printed on the menu and so it is a donation towards my expenses. It’s a bit of a grey area.”
Her kitchen, however, had to run like clockwork.
Luckily, Mrs Kennedy is practised in the art of entertaining. With a background in art and design, she has catered for private parties, both at the former 369 Gallery in Edinburgh and at Traquair House near her home, and already has a food hygiene certificate.
She also drafted in family and a waiter from the local cafe to help things run smoothly for her first underground dinner. Mr Kennedy washed dishes in between courses.
And there were no problems getting people to go home. She said: “The good thing about bring your own bottle is that as soon as people run out of their own booze they leave.”