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An underground restaurant, sometimes known as a supper club or closed door restaurant, is a social dining restaurant operated out of someone's home, generally bypassing local zoning and health-code regulations. They are usually advertised by word of mouth or unwanted advertising. Websites such as BonAppetour have been created to help people find and book these restaurants.
Depending on the area's law, the establishments may be illegal although they have been around for decades. They are becoming increasingly popular in the U.S. and internationally, including Cape Town, South Africa.
The attraction of the underground restaurant for the customer varies. In some cases, it is the opportunity to sample new food, often at low cost outside the traditional restaurant experience; other times, customers are paying a premium price for direct access to some of the top chefs and young talent in a region. Guests of the underground restaurant also cite one of the biggest reasons for enjoying the experience is the social interaction with strangers over food, something this would generally be frowned upon in a traditional restaurant setting. “Every dinner you go to is completely different,” an avid supporter of pop-up restaurants, Marisa, told Cape Town Magazine.
Underground restaurants have been described as "anti-restaurants;" however an increasing number of restaurant chefs are stepping out of their kitchens to re-ignite their passion for cooking in non-traditional spaces. For the host, the benefit is to make money and experiment with cooking without being required to invest in restaurant property. "It's literally like playing restaurant," one host told the San Francisco Chronicle, "You can create the event, and then it's over."
As long ago as 2001 the Pemberton family returned from a vacation in Cuba where they discovered a dining phenomenon. “Casa Particulares”, were where tourists could go to sample ethnic cooking at reasonable prices. Arguably the very first underground restaurant in the UK and based on the Cuban model, Brovey Lair is situated at the back of the Pemberton's home in Ovington, a village to the west of Norwich, Norfolk. What makes their restaurant stand out from those who’ve followed the trend is its many accolades. In 2010 Brovey Lair won The Good Food Guide’s Best Fish Restaurant in Britain award and still holds top place as their top rated restaurant in Norfolk.
In 2013 a new kind of underground dining restaurant emerged in Cape Town, South Africa called SecretEATS. Unlike social dining restaurants of the past, the concept brings together top South African chefs, international guest chefs or young, rising stars with adventurous food and wine lovers in secret, undisclosed locations. Guests request a private invitation to join the members-only dining movement through the web site; invitations are sent based on factors such as interests, geography and special dietary requirements like vegetarians.
Past dinners have taken place inside of an ancient castle, underground wine cellars, private gardens at the foot of Table Mountain, urban, industrial warehouses and stunning, immaculate art galleries; chefs have included MasterChef SA runner-up, Sue-Ann Allen, celebrity chefs Pete Goffe-Wood, Bertus Basson, Neill Anthony and Matt Manning and some of the country's most beloved restaurant chefs like Brad Ball, Craig Cormack and more,.
Founded by former American Express senior manager, Gregory Zeleny, the 'moving restaurant' was started with the simple goal of bringing people together around the table over food. From there, it evolved with a key focus on the chef and his or her story behind this menu that has just been created just for one night only. With a focus on working with chefs committed to using only the freshest, most organic and seasonal ingredients, dinners are of a gourmet caliber unless otherwise stated.
- Charlie's Burgers - Toronto - ranked by Food and Wine Magazine as one of the top three "word of mouth" supper clubs on its list of “100 Best New Food and Drink Experiences in the World”.
- No Fixed Address - Vancouver
- PlateCulture is a new rising trend where you can book dinners at local chefs' private venues
- Jim Haynes' Supper Club - Paris - considered the original supper club
- New Friends Table - Paris
- SecretEATS - Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban, Pretoria
- Slippery Spoon - Cape Town
- Supper Lounge - Cape Town
- [spasie] underground - Cape Town
- Hush - Washington, D.C.
- Midnight Brunch - New York City
- Savor Charleston - Charleston, South Carolina
- The FourCoursemen - Athens, Georgia
- Ghetto Gourmet - New York City
- Burgos, Annalisa (23 January 2015). "Dining with Strangers". Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved 23 January 2015.
- Perlman, Dan. Mi casa, su cuenta, The Guardian, April 17, 2008.
- Smillie, Susan. Going underground, The Guardian, May 29, 2009.
- The Secret Feast, The Guardian, February 9, 2009.
- Sarah Schindler, Unpermitted Urban Agriculture: Transgressive Actions, Changing Norms, and the Local Food Movement, 2014 Wisconsin Law Review 369, available at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2414016
- "World's Best Secret Dining Clubs". Travel + Leisure. Retrieved 2016-05-15.
- "Pop-up Restaurants in Cape Town | Pop Ups, Dinners, Supper Clubs & Dining Out Western Cape". www.capetownmagazine.com. Retrieved 2016-05-15.
- DeFao, Janine. Guerrilla Gourmet, San Francisco Chronicle, Jan 22, 2006.
- "casa particular cuba .org - Casa Particular organization for renting private rooms in Havana and all Cuba". www.casaparticularcuba.org. Retrieved 2015-12-30.
- Lanchester, John. "Restaurant: The Cafe at Brovey Lair, Ovington, Norfolk". the Guardian. Retrieved 2015-12-30.
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- "A SecretEats Dinner at Spice Route". Crush Mag Online. 2015-08-24. Retrieved 2016-05-15.
- "The Secret's Out – A Unique Experience Awaits At SecretEATS". Joburgsdarling.co.za. Retrieved 2016-05-15.
- "Cooking: Carnival of ideas". Financial Mail. Retrieved 2016-05-15.
- "9 Underground Dinners You've Never Heard Of Slideshow". TheDailyMeal. 24 January 2012. Retrieved 27 July 2015.
- 'Kitchen confidential: At this underground dinner party, cleaning your plate hurts so good', Maclean's, March 30, 2009.
- Toronto 'anti-restaurant' ranked third best new food experience by Food & Wine magazine | National Post
- Baker, Vicky (23 January 2009). "Chez Jim". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 27 July 2015.
- Thelin, Emily Kaiser (November 2009). "Supper Club Confidential". Food and Wine. Retrieved 27 July 2015.