Supper clubs and pop-up kitchens have been all the rage in London for some time now.
But thanks to new platform Tabl the craze has well and truly landed in Brighton and Hove.
Business editor Finn Scott-Delany tried one out for himself.
Chatter wafts from the basement of an elegant Regency townhouse on a balmy Hove evening.
But this is no ordinary dinner party.
Most of the guests have never met and there is little danger of a bad meal.
We are at a pop-up kitchen hosted by celebrated chefs Sam Metcalfe, proprietor of Sam’s of Brighton in Kemp Town, and Ollie Couillaud, former head chef at La Trompette, Bord'eaux, The Square and Tom's Kitchen.
The hosts, both used to purpose-built modern kitchens, must squeeze past guests to reach their domestic appliances.
But it is all part of the charm, and the collaborative six-course feast, served to around 25 guests, is a fine adversary to the humid air.
Smoked salmon and caviar is served up as a refreshing appetizer, followed by venison capriccio and truffle oil, sea bass, asparagus and pomegranate for main, a cheese course of creamy Cashel blue and an indulgent chocolate fondant to finish.
Despite plenty of street diner and private cooking experiences this is Sam’s first official pop-up – and the start of a new business partnership with long-term friend Ollie, who has bought into Sam’s.
Sam said: “I’m usually stuck in the kitchen so I particularly enjoy cooking in front of customers and the interaction with everyone “As well as Tabl we marketed it through our own customer database so we had a lot of regulars.
“As a restaurateur, the food business is always changing, the type of experience people are having is always moving on.
“A lot of restaurants that struggle are ones that don’t diversify, but we’re quite good at that.
“The key thing is always the food – quality, purchasing and keeping it seasonal.
“It’s a hard job, why bother do it poorly? It’s foolish.”
Ollie has now moved to Brighton and the pair are considering new city centre concepts.
The luxurious yet simple seasonal dinner was partly made possible by Tabl, the platform which brings diners and hosts together on a beautifully designed site.
It was inspired by underground dining around the world such as table d’hote in France, Cuban paladares, and Latin American restaurante de puertas cerradas and other pop-ups in places like London and San Francisco. The Brighton-based business, which brings together great food, socialising and advernture, was launched earlier this year as a Sussex pilot.
It has already been featured in the 2014 Future50, an independently judged list of exciting and disruptive businesses. The online hub, which connects cooks with diners, builds on founder Andrew Fisher’s experience in online dating with his start-up Cute Media.
Part of the collaborative consumption movement, it was influenced by the likes of Airbnb, which connects travellers to accommodation in private homes.
Part of the fun is that the exact address is a secret until booked, adding mystery and intrigue to the experience, a dinner party with friends you have not met yet.
Events range from experimental seven-course feasts to comforting roasts by enthusiastic home cooks. There are also event themes around literature, art, quizzes and other interests, with costs varying from £5 to £48. Up to 20 events a month are currently hosted on the peer-to-peer site with plans for further expansion.
Andrew explained: “Tabl is a place for people who love eating to gather together, a focus point for passionate foodies to meet.
“It’s a great way for people to experiment with concepts and test ideas outside a restaurant.
“The concept also gives hobbyists and amateurs a taste of catering.
“It might be that meeting people is more important than the food being consumed.
“Some people who use supper clubs could even see it as a way to find romantic interests.
“It’s a young business but we’ve learnt what people want to evolve and spread further afield.”
Not all pop-up kitchens are about fine-dining.
Tina Hovarth, founder of CanTina Brighton, is the original supper-club hostess and undisputed Queen of pop-ups in the city.
She decided to set up her now much-in-demand Regency Square supper club after hosting a market stall on Upper Gardner Street.
Tina said: “I’d have always been a bit of a frustrated chef, so I started the stall to earn a bit of money and dabble in cooking.
“I’d seen various people in London starting supper clubs, and people started asking me if I had my own restaurant.”
It was not long before she was getting requests for private catering and Nick Mosley, director of the food and drink festival, encouraged her ideas and helped with publicity.
Her three-monthly clubs were instantly popular, with word-of-mouth and features in Grazia and the BBC magazine, building her reputation.
Tina said: “One thing leads to another. The stall helped me populate the supper club and then I get requests to do weddings and birthdays.
“If 1,000 people come to my supper club and they all tell ten people that’s how it spirals.”
But for Tina the success of her business is not so much about good food, but about being a good host.
She said: “It’s completely different to going to a restaurant, I’m not pretending to be a restaurateur.
“My nights are much more about conviviality and fun.”
Supper clubs are also a chance for people outside the food industry to try their hand at catering.
Another business to enter the scene is Beach BBQ, which launched earlier this year at the food festival’s spring harvest.
Former car salesman and Masterchef contestant Kieron James is behind signature sous-vide rib of beef, which is seared over smoky coals.
As well as private events, festivals and street diner catering Kieron and wife Tamsin have been serving protein-friendly supper clubs from their Brighton home.
And after being bitten by the foodie bug, the couple are moving out of their home to concentrate on the business, with a plan to do pop-ups and festivals across the country.
Kieron said: “What’s really good about supper clubs is it gives everyone a chance to become a ‘Come Dine with Me’-type host.
“It’s an opportunity for normal cooks to charge £12 and cover their costs and it’s a great way to meet other foodies.
“I wonder how long before the novelty wears off but at the moment it’s all a big adventure.
“My wife has quit her job and we’re renting out our home and moving into the motor home to hit the road.
“I’ve been using Sam’s of Brighton’s kitchen for prep and I really want to do as many pop-ups over the summer as possible.”