In case you’re not familiar with the supper club, a group of people come together, usually at a host’s home, for dinner. A set menu is provided, and the guests come clinking in with their own bottles (avoiding the restaurant mark up on wine). It’s rather like a dinner party but with strangers.
Supper clubs are now increasingly fashionable in London and Brighton and are even spreading into the Sussex countryside, though the concept itself is decidedly old. Dining societies gained particular prominence in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They were largely elitist, men-only affairs, geared towards the well-heeled gentleman with time on his hands to devote to frivolous pastimes.
One example was the Sublime Society of the Beefsteaks (founded in 1732), which could count the Prince Regent and the Duke of Sussex among its members. The exclusive society (motto: ‘Beef and Liberty’) only had 24 members at a time. They would congregate in Covent Garden once a week over a juicy steak (paid for by the club president).
Each member had to wear a uniform of a blue coat with a buff waistcoat adorned with brass buttons. Like many societies, there were various ‘laws’, any breach of which would involve doing ‘penance’ in a white sheet (yes, the mind boggles). Thankfully, to attend a dining club these days you no longer need to be male, blue-blooded or have a weakness for flamboyant clothes that would bring out a blush in Grayson Perry. Informality marks supper clubs, like Repast, which I run from home in Haywards Heath. Each month, inspired by history, I host a dinner for 12. I’ve prepared everything from ancient Roman feasts and medieval menus to commemorative dinners for the Magna Carta and a Mexican Day of the Dead celebration. The challenge? To create modern dishes based around historical recipes, and to give guests a deliciously unique experience.
Critically, there are no quirky laws, and therefore no chance of a punishment involving a sheet. Having been on both sides of the table, I can safely say that they are a fantastic way to meet fascinating people.