Imagine you’re seated at a dinner table set for eight in a 1920s power station. You’re savouring the umami flavours of a wild mushroom terrine, alongside industrial refurbished turbines. An unusual setting for a dinner party! So, you must be one of the lucky few who managed to acquire a seat an Underground Dinner hosted by The Forum in the old Turbine Hall in Newtown.
While pop-up restaurants have been popular overseas since 2000, it’s taken almost a decade for the concept to capture the imagination of South Africa’s foodies. Predictably, the pop-up hotspots are the Mother City and Johannesburg, in places like secret gardens usually closed to the public or dilapidated warehouses where nobody would dare to venture, let alone eat!
Supper clubs and secret dinner parties – the pop-up restaurant is dishing out plenty of excitement for SA’s food aficionados
Pop-up restaurants only have two things in common; they’re usually a once-off affair, and the menu is the star of the show. At the end of the evening, the circus of food dismantles in the blink of an eye, with only the tantalising scents of a delicious meal left lingering in the air.
Celebrity chefs and undiscovered talents
United Kingdom-based ‘molecular gastronomist’ Heston Blumenthal, who is probably best known locally from his television cooking series In Search of Perfection that aired on Dstv’s Food Network, created a series of themed pop-up feasts (Heston’s Feasts) where a guest list of handpicked celebrities were invited to enjoy a one-of-a-kind menu in a setting designed to complement the food. At his Alice in Wonderland-inspired dinner the diners enjoyed a pateshaped like a dormouse in a room that looked like it had been sketched straight out of the pages of a Lewis Carroll novel.
Although not as over-the-top, some of South Africa’s well-known chefs also host these magical supper evenings. Chef Arnold Tanzer and his Eat360 concept ‘pop up’ all over the inner city of Johannesburg. His fan club of food devotees are only sent an email and text message on the day, letting them know at which venue he’ll be serving up his fantastical dishes.
Then there are the established pop-ups, like Cape Town’s travelling dim sum bar, the Beijing Opera created by Yang Zhao. The Bar was most recently spotted at the annual Design Indaba at the ICC, but rumour has it that the Beijing Opera will soon be making its way cross-country to Johannesburg from April onwards.
Many of these pop-up restaurants have a BYOB (bring your own booze) policy. This means that you can enjoy a glass of your favourite red or white alongside an out-of-this-world meal. Seek out a supper club or a pop-up restaurant in your city, and get ready to have your taste-buds seduced.
How do I find a pop-up restaurant in my city?
Word-of-mouth is the currency that finances a pop-up restaurant’s success. With no fixed address, you won’t find them listed in the Yellow Pages or a city guide. Not surprisingly, it’s social media that’s driving the hype.
Fans follow the restaurant’s witter, Facebook, even Pinterest accounts to find out when and where the next event is taking place, and many of these young, talented chefs are foodies themselves maintaining blogs laden with delicious images documenting their pop-up project. @TheSecretEats (Cape Town) on Twitter is a great place to start, as well as @eatpopup (Johannesburg) which is Arnold Tanzer’s project. Sidebar
Underground Dinners, Turbine Hall, Johannesburg
Book your seat for a heavenly three-course meal hosted at Johannesburg’s oldest power station. Tickets are R330 per person. Dinners start at 19h00 for 19h30. The available dates are 31 May, 28 June, 25 July, 30 August, 27 September and 25 October. Contact Hazel Ndebele on 087 310 3888 or email email@example.com
Secret Eats, Cape Town
Newly launched, this invitation-only underground dining experience is unusual in that you can apply (via the website) to cook, host or eat at one of the events that are held at a different location each time. To get onto the invitation list, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org
The Supper Lounge, Johannesburg and Cape Town
This mix-and match dining concept created by Katrin Starzmann and Ellie Gorgievska, sees like-minded people getting around the dinner table for good food and great conversation. You can find out more at http://www.supperlounge.com/