Lay the Table

On Monday I had the pleasure of hosting a panel evening with three leading ladies in the London pop-up events scene: photographer, curator and founder of Rye London, Holly Wulff; founder of Kino Vino, Alissa Timoshkina; and author and supper-club cook Mira Manek. Mira had kindly made some delicious chai tea and tahini fudge, and our talk took place in a beautiful drawing room in Soho House. Together we discussed the rise of the supper-club, and explored all the thought and work that goes into planning and hosting one, from dreaming up the initial concept to the final bells and whistles.

Every supper club is unique, and the ladies all expressed how they relish the opportunity to curate each dinning experience in a different creative manner. Holly is inspired by the seasons, and by the style of the chef with whom she is collaborating. Rye is open, bright and softly minimalist, enabling her to transform the space each and every time into a magical, bespoke setting that is perfectly suited to the food in question. She mentioned making booklets on foraging to serve as place settings for a menu laced with wild food, and dressing the table with wild leaves and branches. Guests at Kino Vino first watch a film, and then sit down to supper. The film in question directly inspires the chef’s menu, and influences Alissa’s styling of the room and the tables. I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with Alissa myself and I can honestly say that no one sets a more beautiful scene! And finally, Meera's supper clubs are inspired by family feasts and gatherings, it’s this sense of coming together in celebration that she strives to recreate with her communal, colourful and generous food. For Mira, the sharing element is key, as this helps to create the intimate feel, setting her events apart from a delicious restaurant experience.

As for me, menus at Hare on the Hill are directly inspired by weekly trips to Herne Hill Farmers’ market. I will have a few ideas bouncing around, but otherwise menu plan on the spot depending on what seasonal produce is looking at its best. My creative attention is primarily focused on the food alone, and for me ‘setting the scene’, regrettably, is a rather a lack-luster smattering of tea lights and simple flowers… I admitted to using paper napkins and Holly’s wince said it all - I need to up my game here!

With regards to the marketing of an event or supper club we touched on the role of social media, and Instagram in particular. For small creative businesses and freelance chefs it’s your one-stop-shop for networking and marketing, and acts as a portfolio for potential clients. It can be invaluable and it’s certainly worth investing time in. There is of course a danger of taking it too seriously, and spend forever faffing with filters and hashtags… it’s a balance, and one that we all agreed we don’t get right all of the time. The girls mentioned that deciding on a personal style and sticking to it was key, as well as posting with certain regularity.

Finally, the pop-up scene is a friendly place with a hugely collaborative spirit. A resounding bit of advice was simply to reach out to others for help, on anything from venue hire or pricing structures, to borrowing props and equipment. Or indeed to offer to lend a hand; in my experience fellow chefs and hosts have been so receptive to extra company and help, and it’s a great way to exchange ideas and make new friends. I would certainly say that collaborations are the way forward; friendly support and combined effort make the stresses, worries, and physical struggles of events a breeze… needless to say a lot of hard work goes into each event and company and camaraderie are invaluable.

On the subject of advice, Holly shared her love of Hackney fabric shop, Woolcrest Textiles in Hackney for inexpensive, beautiful linens that can be cut down into napkins, adding beautiful texture to the table. And my secret source for all manner of supper club paraphernalia is Sunbury Antiques Market; it’s absolutely enormous and has everything you could wish for, from vintage cutlery to reclaimed trestle tables; it takes place at Kempton Racecourse on the second and last Tuesday of every month, you won’t regret it!