Stealth dining

Jerusalem artichokes and scallops replace placards and protests in a new type of political activism

A complicit, smiling stranger opened the door in a blue and white stripy apron. She ushered us downstairs to a room that looked like a baby restaurant: three tables laid for 16 diners, a screen in front of the loo and a wood burner. This was a restaurant but not a public dining space; a living room with no sofas in sight; someone’s house with total strangers walking through the door.

A few times a month, in three locations across Bristol, a new (ish) food phenomenon is taking place. It’s more pop-up than Come Dine With Me. This is a dining experience in the intimacy of someone else’s home that you pay for, advertised by word-of-mouth, twitter or facebook. Address and menu details are emailed a few days later.

It was like walking into a party when you don’t know anyone: all panicky smiles and hasty introductions. I had soon forgotten all names. Our places were neatly marked out, we chatted to our two new dining ‘friends’ and waited for the room to fill so that we could 1) stare at new guests as they entered and 2) eat.

We opened with nibbles and sherry, recently reclaimed from the grannies as an acceptable aperitif for those under 40. Alcohol, as always, proved the great leveller. Middle-aged ladies, a single man, a group of 20-somethings and two single ladies d’un certain âge, soon eased into the sounds of laughter, chat and the occasional squeal common to all dining spaces whilst the chefs moved invisibly between us with water refills and new courses. The BYO policy for booze meant that each party or couple catered for themselves, with a list of recommendations for each of the five courses posted on twitter for the dedicated.

Portions were small but exquisite tasting, prepared with a care to presentation and taste you would expect at a friend’s dinner party rather than in an establishment catering to paying clients. It was seasonal and ambitious British fare that had the Italian confidence to rely on simple, delicious flavor combinations. It all felt a bit naughty and tasted better for it. Was it illegal? Probably, but I’d say it was more a polite fingers up to the establishment from a generation whose only experience of political activism is choosing between Sainsbury’s or Waitrose, locally-sourced or organic, Hugh or Jamie. Long live the revolution I say.

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2 thoughts on “Stealth dining

  1. ao

    A friend took me to a pop up dinner in Harlesden that was organised by some vegan ‘freegans’ – same principle but everything we ate had been foraged. Which in London means pulled out of bins near supermarkets.. Drink was also byo and contributions were invited, which I suppose could make the enterprise vaguely profitable to the dedicated freecycler. I wasn’t told where we were going for dinner and my heart sank on arrival (as a determined meat eater).. The assembled crowd turned out to be great fun (byo booze definitely works) but the food was revolting. And not (at all) because it didn’t contain meat, it was just appallingly badly cooked. A real shame because the idea is smart and it’s good fun. I will be keeping an ear to the ground for more such happenings but studiously avoiding the offerings of a certain street in North West London.. Who knows, I might even do one myself, although you won’t find me going near any bins for the ingredients.. Morrisons is ok isn’t it?!


    • saffronbunny

      I don’t want to be food-ist but the mistake was in the ‘vegan’ bit (shame you didn’t know that already) – I learnt the hard way that food ‘extremism’ ruins the communal eating experience. Don’t give up on it though! Get in the bins outside some of the sushi bars, apparently they have some of the worst records of dumping perfickly good, top quality sushi. Remeber to invite the saffonbunny when you have your first ‘freegan’ dinner! x


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