In cities across the globe, a ‘guerilla’ style of dining, featuring themed dinners, secret locations or even dining in a stranger’s home, has become one of the edgier and more exciting ways to get your foodie fix.
In recent months, we’ve noticed this trend for food-themed meet-ups and supper clubs growing in Dubai.
Last month, within one week, the city hosted at least three ‘dine-in-the-dark’-inspired events (at Taste of Dubai, Nineteen and Anise), a dining trend that has previously gripped cities such as London, Paris and New York. Earlier this year, social concierge service, Lime and Tonic, launched its first set of secret supper club events, which after a brief hiatus last month are re-starting this week, on Monday April 8. This year has also seen the start of Restronaut. This meet-up group, created by Leith Matthews, founder of Make Business Hub, aims to encourage people with shared interests to meet, socialise and make friends over dinner. This month marks Restronaut’s move out of their soft-opening phase of operation.
In light of this growing trend for meet-up-inspired themed dining with strangers, we spoke to the organisers behind these two new groups, Tariq Sanad from Lime and Tonic and Leith Matthews from Restronaut.
According to managing director Tariq, Lime and Tonic is a ‘social concierge’ service, running themed experiences and events, where the primary goal is ‘creating memories’ for the guests that sign-up to them. Lime and Tonic’s purchasable experiences include learning to be a barista for the day at RAW Coffee or creating your own grape and dim sum pairing at Hakkasan. In addition to this, at the beginning of the year, the group launched the first of its secret supper club events, where a group of 16 strangers come to together in a secret and unexpected location for a themed, fun and gourmet dinner.
The idea, Tariq explains, is to provide an opportunity to meet new people – which he suggests can be difficult in Duba – in an environment that is also conducive for doing so. As such, the secret supper clubs
take place on Monday nights, since Tariq suggests diners are more likely to dedicate time to meeting new people mid-week, rather than meeting their friends. The themed nature of events also plays a significant part in breaking the ice and adding to the overall excitement.
The first event in January coincided with Art Night at DIFC. As a result, the supper club not only had an art theme, but proceedings started at Art Night, as diners were told to search out people at the event wearing T-shirts saying ‘shush!’ Diners were then transported to their secret location, in this instance the design-led kitchen space at Miele Gallery, where they were given a list of whimsical objectives for the night (such as fitting unusual facts into conversation). Here, they were served a meal created by the region’s well-known pop-up chef, Tomas Reger, whose art-themed dishes for the night included a white tomato soup inspired by Andy Warhol’s famous print and steak made to look like a Joan Miró sun.
‘Chef Tom is such a huge part of what we do, and he is so creative with his menus. For example, when we held the Venetian-themed secret supper club at The Courtyard in February, Chef Tom served a pigeon dish, inspired simply because there are lots of pigeons in Venice!’ says Tariq. From talking to him, the energy and delight that he and Tom both put into and take from planning these events is very evident. On Monday April 8, Lime and Tonic will host an ‘Emperor’s Kitchen’-themed supper club, while May’s event is due to take on an ’80s-inspired disco theme. We can’t of course spoil the surprise by disclosing the secret locations though.
Like Tariq, Leith from Restronaut agrees that it can be difficult in Dubai to meet new people; particularly, he explains, because people have the opportunity to connect via social media sites such as Twitter and LinkedIn, but not necessarily in real life. In Dubai, Leith puts this down partly to the lack of ‘horizontal choices socially’, whereby people will be driven to spending their free time at Dubai’s currently most discussed activity, such as the biggest event of the weekend or the city’s newest restaurant, where being there isn’t necessarily indicative of a collective interest or mindset.
While Lime and Tonic’s secret supper clubs are focussed on meeting new friends in an entirely social and non-work related context, in contrast, new dinner meet-up group Restronaut has focused so far (during its soft launch) on allowing like-minded professionals, who might ordinarily communicate through social media, to connect and network in the physical world.
Leith explains that the Restronaut portfolio will not be exclusively industry focussed. For now, many of the events have been themed around a common career goal or interest. For example, taking place at the time of writing, the Fierce Fashion night invited fashion bloggers, fashion industry professionals and those with a burgeoning interest in either, to meet for dinner at Siddharta Lounge at the Grosvenor House Dubai. So far each event has had a leader, who can direct proceedings on the table if necessary, in this instance, fashion blogger Nadya Hasan.
Leith explains that the events are currently heavily ‘curated’ by the organisers in order to ensure that the difficulties of bringing new people together are ironed out. The leader of the dinner for example, can direct initial social interaction in an environment where people don’t know one another. However, part of the move out of soft launch phase will be a departure from this, and as the supper clubs become more dinner-driven, Leith reveals that ultimately, the aim is to allow Restronaut members to initiate their own themed meet-up dinners through the website, opening it up to its community of members. ‘If for example, you were a fan of Alfred Hitchcock’s movies, you would be able to set up a dining event to meet other fans.’
Although not for the secret supper clubs, this functionality already exists on Lime and Tonic’s site; diners can instigate their own edition of one of the company’s events. While at present Dubai offers guerilla dining via joining an organised event, it looks as though the future is set to become more independent and personal, as it becomes increasingly user-driven. Dubai’s guerilla diners may well be setting up their own factions across the city. Bon appétit comrades.
More social groups for foodies to try
Dubai Meat Club
One of the newer food-themed meet-ups on the block, the Dubai Meat Club is currently an intimate group, but open to new members, with ‘invitation by appreciation’. The group’s activities involve a meet-up once a month over a meat-themed dinner for eight to ten diners.
Tweet-up, a Twitter-driven meet-up group, is aimed at dragging the communal and social interaction of like-minded Twitter users into the real world. While the group is not exclusively food themed, many of their events are, such as the recent Irish fine dining experience at The D Bar and Grill. Despite the Twitter handle, Tweet-up DXB also holds events in and around the capital.
UAE Coffee Club
This meet-up group for coffee experts and enthusiasts, comes together regularly for a cup in Dubai’s cafes to test and rate the quality of what they’re drinking as well as the experience, but all
just for highly caffeinated fun.