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The rise of supper clubs

PUBLISHED: 09:52 11 January 2010 | UPDATED: 07:21 02 July 2010

Abigail Saltmarsh

A series of tables stretch the length of the sitting room, laden with bowls of salad, flowers and candles. Now all the Unthank Supper Club needs is for its guests to arrive. ABIGAIL SALTMARSH reports.

A series of tables stretch the length of the sitting room, laden with bowls of salad, flowers and candles. Now all the Unthank Supper Club needs is for its guests to arrive. ABIGAIL SALTMARSH reports.

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At first glance this looks like any other dinner party. There are a few more people than the average social occasion is likely to see perhaps and the menu is undoubtedly more impressive than your normal sit-down city feast - but, other than that, this could be any gathering of friends who have come together to enjoy their food and have a chat.

This newly launched monthly social event is, however, rather different from all the other dinner parties going on in Norfolk at the moment.

Not only have hosts Clarissa Bromelle and Yusuf Lovett never met many of their guests before, but they also ask their visitors for a suggested voluntary contribution towards the cost of the meal.

The Unthank Supper Club was launched last month following announcements by Clarissa and Yusuf on the internet. Since then, two successful nights have been held, with up to 20 people arriving on each occasion to sit down and eat.

“I make it very clear to people that this isn't a restaurant. It's more like an informal dinner party,” said Clarissa, who is passionate about food.

“We don't provide alcohol, people have to bring their own wine along and it is all very relaxed. There is a lovely bubbly atmosphere.

“At the last one, someone helped me to load the dishwasher, for example, and someone else arranged the fruit for me on the dessert.”

The supper club, which is believed to be the only one of its type in Norwich, came about after Clarissa and Yusuf watched Jamie Oliver's American Road Trip and saw him visit a similar set-up in New York.

It has been launched at a time when both supper clubs and pop-up restaurants in the home are becoming more popular in London and elsewhere in the country.

Here in Norfolk, Michelin-recommended Brovey Lair, at Ovington, has recently been the focus of a BBC TV programme about restaurants in the home, and other series, with more of a game show format, have also recently hit the small screen.

But for Clarissa and Yusuf, the idea was quite simple - to serve good food and to meet new people.

“It is not about making money. The contribution really just covers the costs,” she said. “We wanted it to be fun.”

Clarissa, a former costume designer from East Harling, and Yusuf, a carpenter, who lives in Bunwell, quickly ruled out holding the supper club at either of their own homes. They needed both space and a central location that people would be prepared to travel to.

So, instead, they asked friends Russell and Brondie McNamara if they could host it at their Unthank Road home, in Norwich.

Russ admitted: “I have to say I wasn't sure about it to start with and didn't really know if I would enjoy it. But it was great fun and I am certainly keen to do it again.”

For the couple, who recently moved to Norwich - and whose son Billy greets guests at the door - it was a perfect way to make new friends.

“The idea of having people I didn't know coming into my house didn't worry me at all,” said Brondie. “I knew that if they were adventurous enough to try something like this then they would be like-minded people.

“I love going out to eat but this was much better than that. I've made some good friends and enjoyed food that has surpassed any restaurant every time.”

Clarissa, who stopped working full-time in the film and television industry when she had her baby son three years ago, learned to cook after moving in with a Sri Lankan family.

“I was 18 then - and before that I couldn't even make beans on toast,” she admitted. “But I learned how to make Sri Lankan food before English food, and then realised how much I loved doing it. Since then, I've really enjoyed both cooking and entertaining.”

The first supper club, at the end of October, featured an Italian-themed meal, with Clarissa and Yusuf serving the likes of broad bean and Parma ham salad with a mint and lemon dressing, followed by osso bucco (Italian slow cooked beef shin with

saffron risotto and a finely chopped blend of parsley, lemon zest and garlic) with risotto Milanese and gremolata.

The November meal was a Malaysian and Vietnamese fusion. Eight courses were served including the Vietnamese fresh rolls with a sweet dipping sauce, jumput (Malaysian deep fried shrimp and herb dumplings) and Vietnamese salt and pepper squid. Desserts included pear and almond tart, homemade cinder toffee ice cream and pavlova with orange marscarpone.

“We do also prepare vegetarian options for those who request them and can cater for people with other special dietary requirements too,” added Clarissa.

Stuart MacCullum and Kate Sullivan were among the new members of the club to attend the November meal. They had also heard about the concept and become interested.

“It is something I have thought about doing myself,” said Kate, who works in an art gallery. “We had a lovely night. The food was delicious and it was nice to talk to all the other guests.”

Sarah Filer, a trainee therapist, came across an announcement about the club on www.gumtree.com. She has now attended both meals.

“It is the social aspect that I love. It's nice to be able to sit and talk to people you might not otherwise meet,” she said.

Full-time mum Jodie Beazley, from Norwich, has also been along twice. “The food is great and the atmosphere is not pretentious,” she said.

And Kerry Radley and John Shanahan, also from the city, agreed: “The food was just gorgeous and the conversation just flowed,” she said.

The next Unthank Supper Club night is being held on Friday, December 18, and will have a seafood and fish theme, with Clarissa and Yusuf serving the likes of whole baked salmon wrapped in puff pastry stuffed with herb butter.

The idea is to hold a supper club every month but the couple also plan to offer their services for private dinner parties in other people's homes.

“We are really enjoying doing this. It does involve a lot of preparation but it is fun,” said Clarissa.

“It's a bit like having dinner with friends - only you have never met most of them before!”

t To find out more about attending the Unthank Supper Club or Clarissa and Yusuf's private catering services email unthanksupperclub@gmail.com or visit the club's Facebook page.

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