[HOW TO] A Diner's Guide (and Open Love Letter) to London's Supper Clubs


New Year's Eve at Fernandez & Leluu
…the social implications of just being there and meeting other diners creates a bonhomie that no typical restaurant experience can match

It’s been a short but delightful relationship so far. Having only heard of supper clubs whispered discreetly among those more in-the-know than I, it was October’s visit to Fernandez & Leluu that started it all off.

Tucked away on a secret Hackney side-street was their makeshift dining room. It was full of tables, plates, cutlery and character. We, being the first to arrive, scampered into the garden for some wine. As others turned up, exchanged knowing glances, we settled into a six hour gastronomic experience that was far superior to many of the more official eateries in recent memory. Since then we’ve attended F&L two more times and witnessed the founding of the excellent Trail of Our Bread (also in Hackney).

So after not really knowing what to expect, here’s a few tips if you’ve been thinking about signing up to the supper club experience:

1. It’s not a restaurant.

So don’t treat it like one. It’s someone’s house. Try not to break things, don’t expect fresh cutlery for each course, don’t expect each course to arrive with rapid fire precision. It’s highly unlikely anyone’s actually worked in a proper restaurant.

2. It’s really not a restaurant.

You’re not paying for a service from a business. You’re donating time and money to be part of a fun experiment. You’re the subject of someone’s passion. A supper club attendee has been chosen. Pre-selected. Almost vetted, really. So the social implications of just being there and meeting other diners creates a bonhomie that no typical restaurant experience can match.

3. Pay fair.

We’re British. Therefore we’re useless at dealing with, and asking for, money. On the off-chance you didn’t like the food, and even if you’re the sort of person who refuses to pay for things in restaurants, don’t dick the club out of its donation. Pay at least 10-20% over the suggested donation. Take plenty of cash with you, because if it’s really exceptional, then it’s still going to have cost you less than going to a restaurant.

4. Don’t be picky. Or flaky.

Well, to be more specific, if you’re the picky type, then supper clubs aren’t for you. We’ve had everything from frog’s legs to sashimi. Things that might make you go bleurgh. I’m one of those people that’ll try anything once, and my favourite menus are those that are just presented to me. I don’t know what’s best, I’ve not cooked it. If you can’t handle that as a concept, then you won’t enjoy yourself. But if you love the surprise of each dish arriving, you’ll have a brilliant time.

And for goodness sake, don’t cancel. Cancelling a reservation at a supper club is the baddest of bad form. Only cancel if you’ve lost a limb, or died. It hurts everyone else involved with the endeavour. Seating plans and portion sizes are the main victims, and they’re very carefully planned. If you’re taking a large group to a supper club then make sure none of your flaky mates are invited. It will reflect badly on you otherwise, and you’ll struggle to get another table.

5. Be nice.

Nicer than default restaurant mode. You can make friends at supper clubs. As previously mentioned, most of these folks haven’t had professional training. So compliment loudly and often. More than you’re used to doing. Ask for recipes, be specific about what you liked. Be honest about what could have been better.

But even more importantly than all that, remember that the geographic locations of these clubs is a secret. I’m no expert, but the legality of these clubs is dubious. So don’t add them to FourSquare.

6. Take plenty of booze.

It’s a long night. Don’t plan on having anywhere else to be. If you get out of there before midnight, you’re doing it wrong.

And pace yourself.

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