Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Furtive feeds for daring diners

The Rocks Area, Sydney Harbour Foreshores

Its Sunday afternoon, 3 o'clock. A guy who looks like an off-duty kitchen hand is walking furtively, head down, towards some steps off a lane in The Rocks. The staircase hugs the rock and concrete cliff face towering over Walsh Bay. He goes halfway down the stairs to a landing where a couple of cooks are fashioning a makeshift kitchen.

Insider events ... the secret Soupy on Sunday by Full Circle. 
Diners seated on The Rocks Steps as the meal is prepared
on a middle landing Photo: Alex Craig

They've lugged gas burners, a stock pot, baskets of bread, flagons of red wine and a quarter wheel of cheese to this glorious setting overlooking Barangaroo. The white hulk of the Sea Princess is docked at the terminal. Ships horns sound and the sun is peeking over the clouds.

MV Sea Princess

The Rocks and Sydney Ports Harbour Control Tower, Barangaroo

Our kitchen hand has been joined by 40 other people, sitting or standing on the stairs for the fourth Soupy on Sunday, a secret food happening. The cooks are feeding their friends and breaking who knows how many rules and regulations, just so they can gather spontaneously to share a bowl of soup.

The gathering is part of a movement, also called secret dinners, guerrilla dining, underground eating, pop-up dinners and undercover foodies. Diners are emailed or texted and told where to go just before the event, sometimes a day ahead, sometimes just a couple of hours before. The menu is a surprise, so is the decor.

This food movement echoes 1970s art happenings and 1980s music raves. These two cooks are only old enough to remember the latter. They are buddies. He works as a chef at an inner-city restaurant. She was the manager of a couple of other inner-city restaurants. They don't want their names mentioned because they have no permits and no licences to do any of this.
Three years ago, they formed Full Circle to mount dinners in startling locations. They have served food and live music in the set design studios of Opera Australia, a Surry Hills warehouse and a Waterloo recording studio.

Guerrilla or underground dining grew out of the American speakeasies selling illegal liquor during the Prohibition era in the US. These secret dining collectives for consuming alcohol then morphed into meeting places for political and social activists in the 1960s.

These days, clandestine restaurants are popping up, as well as one-off events. In Barcelona, Tintoreria Dontell is a 15-seater fine-dining restaurant behind a dry cleaner. Diners go through a curtain and have to swipe their fingerprints to enter. Another hidden Barcelona eatery is Speakeasy, behind the Dry Martini bar, through a kitchen where you dine surrounded by illuminated pantry items. The joy of spontaneity, of being included in a secret eating experience goes on.

Some images from other locations of 'Secret Dinners", or, "Secret Foodies", or, "Guerrilla Diners":
The cheese offerings at Full Circle. Photo: Alex Craig
Diners dig in at the kitchen-garden of Three Blue Ducks. Photo: Edwina Pickles
Fanning the flames for the spit at Three Blue Ducks. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Table Sessions regulars and about 60 people descend to feast on suckling pig and crackling, roast chickens, barramundi fillets, sambals and salads.  Soup made from pine mushrooms foraged south of Belanglo Forest the day before. 

The wine is BYO. Diners leave a donation of what they can afford or think the dinner is worth. 


momto8blog said...

so interesting!! i would definitely love to patronize a secret dinner!! looks fantastic!

JohnD said...

Yes! Looks like a great idea, doesn't it!

Wisewebwoman said...

Forwarded this post to Daughter The Food Warrior. Who knows this might start in Canada too, brilliant!
PS and thanks for visiting me!

JohnD said...

You are welcome and I'll come over and visit again! Pleasure!

Anonymous said...

How do you. Find out about the Full Circle events?? Thanks!

JohnD said...

Its all 'word-of-mouth' - some people are almost willing to kill to get 'on-the-list' - others get told and arrive there to find they have already moved on!