Come to dinner and be surprised
WHETHER you call it a pop-up dinner, supper club, or private dinner, these often share a common trait - they are one-off, individualised dining experiences that are not just about food, but also about entertainment, new dining companions, plus exotic locations.
If that does not ring a bell with you, then it is probably because these dinners are often few and far between, as they require months of effort and logistical planning. Not to mention, one of their most appealing factors is the exclusivity, so most of them only cater to fewer than 100 people each time.
One of the pioneers in this elusive industry is Lolla's Secret Suppers, which has over 2,500 followers on its Facebook page even though each supper session is open to only 20 to 30 people each time. One of its organisers, Pang Hian Tee, explains that they started their first Secret Supper in 2010 purely for fun, not for profit.
He says: "But our secret suppers are not just about the food and venue, there's always something more - for example, we've had a sculptor, a Japanese keyboardist, and a Romanian jazz singer."
So far, Mr Pang has organised a total of 11 Secret Suppers in the last five years, and this has led to him co-founding two restaurants - Lolla at Ann Siang in 2012, and Lollapalooza at Keong Saik earlier this year.
Tickets to their suppers often sell out within half an hour of each announcement, says Mr Pang. That's despite the fact that people are not given any details about what they are paying for.
One reason for this is that people are more well-travelled these days, he theorises. "People who come for these dinners tend to be quite adventurous. If it costs $280 and you think you want to come, you just pay."
One of those who attended a Secret Supper was Crystal Chua, who later went on to start her own private chef business - My Private Chef - incorporating similar elements of the Secret Suppers.
Explains Ms Chua: "A lot of our clients want not just good food; they want to impress their guests beyond that standard restaurant meal. They want the theatrical, exotic venue appeal...it's also a bit of a status symbol for some."
Creativity is something that people seem to be looking for these days too, as Janet Lim of Jiak Ka Bui puts it.
She says: "People get bored very easily these days, so they're always seeking something different and looking for something unexpected."
THE JUMPING TABLE
When it comes to food, David Yip has no problems going the distance. He makes monthly trips to China alone just to look for old chefs, learn old recipes, and collect old ingredients for his pop-up dinners.
"For my pop-up dinners, I do more unique stuff in the sense that first of all, I do things you can't find in restaurants. Or they are almost impossible to find. Long-lost menus or ingredients - that's the whole concept of what Jumping Table is about," explains the trained chef, who used to run a restaurant in Hong Kong.
More recently, he organised a dinner based on a list of hard-to-find ingredients from his personal collection - things that even money may not be able to buy. For example, some ingredients were a batch of 50-year-old aged tangerine peels used in a braised duck dish.
He usually only has a limited amount of ingredients to work with. That means he limits each dinner to an average of four to five tables of people, and the only way he publicises it is through his personal list of Facebook contacts.
His love for traditional Chinese food stems from having been exposed to a lot of Cantonese cuisine as a child, and a recent desire to relive his childhood, so he does not mind charging between $30 and $100 per person per meal, even though he loses money each time.
JIAK KA BUI
When Janet Lim first started organising pop-up dinners, it was a very simple, personal affair. This Saturday, however, Ms Lim is finally organising her first proper pop-up dinner that is open to the public - an eight-course meal which she has fondly dubbed Jiak Ka Bui (eat until fat).
The menu is made up of dishes that Ms Lim describes as "familiar but modernised": Babi tempra (fried pork with lime juice and soy sauce - a twist on the Nonya chicken dish); sticky rice bowl with an onsen egg; Spam (luncheon meat), kimchi, and bechamel fritters; braised beef summer rolls with laksa pesto; and a sugee cake with White Rabbit candy ice cream.
Ms Lim used to work for the Spa Esprit Group, but is now running her own public relations agency.
The Jiak Ka Bui pop-up dinner features herbs grown by local urban farmer Edible Gardens. So far, almost all of the 50 available seats have already been snapped up.
The first Jiak Ka Bui pop-up dinner runs on May 30, 7.30pm to 10pm, at 107 Rowell Road. Tickets cost $80 for eight courses and one cocktail.
E-mail email@example.com for more information or to purchase tickets.
They may not have a physical presence in Singapore just yet, but that is not stopping hotel and resort group The Luxury Collection from making its presence felt here, through a three-night pop-up dinner titled Epicurean Journeys.
This series of dinners takes place at the MoCA Museum of Contemporary Arts in June, and each night will highlight one of three foreign chefs - from France, India, and the United States.
Yeoh Fay-linn, director of brand management at The Luxury Collection and St Regis, Starwood Hotels and Resorts Asia Pacific, says: "We want to introduce our newly renovated and/or opened Luxury Collection hotels, and what better way than to bring their cuisines to Singapore."
On the first night of the pop-up dinner series, French chef Stephanie Le Quellec of one-Michelin starred restaurant La Scene in Paris will cook a six-course dinner featuring her signature dishes such as farm egg with acidulated egg yolk, green asparagus, and morel with yellow wine, and a duck foie gras with shrimp and turnip.
Day Two will see Manjit Gill of Bukhara (ranked 41 on Asia's 50 Best Restaurants 2015) and Dum Pukht showcasing tandoor (clay oven) cooking and Indian fine dining with six dishes such as a macchi tikka - fish kabab (kebab) with carom and yellow chilli.
As for the the final day, California's Jesse Llapitan of The Garden Court will prepare six items as well, including black Angus beef short ribs with saffron couscous, and ahi tuna tartare with an original green goddess dressing.
Epicurean Journeys runs from June 4 to 6 at the MoCA Museum of Contemporary Arts (27A Loewen Road), at 7.30pm each night.
Tickets cost $248++ each, inclusive of wines. Log on to www.epicureanjourneys.sg for more information or to purchase tickets.
THE BUSINESS TIMES