We went into Angie’s Little Food Shop as strangers for roast Jerusalem artichoke soup, slow cooked venison, almond and orange cake, biscuits, cheese, and chocolate truffles, but left the restaurant together as a community.
I, along with 27 other souls from all over the globe who happened to be in London at the same time, met at the Chiswick restaurant on 28 January for a supper club dinner hosted by Grub Club’s A Little Lusciousness. The supper club trend in the United Kingdom is an interesting social experiment: a chef runs a pop-up restaurant for one night only and provides a full course dinner to a limited number of diners, who all occupy the same table (space permitting) for the night. When you’re sharing the same space for an extended period of time—three to four hours seems is a common window on Grub Club—the diners are forced to interact with one another, despite knowing nothing about each other before walking in.
Think of it like a group blind date.
But the beauty of this set-up is that it’s suitable for both extroverted and introverted individuals. The outgoing person will thrive from the thrill of meeting and entertaining new people, while the intimate environment of the pop-up restaurant will help a reserved person open up to the new individuals surrounding him or her.
I somehow made it to Angie’s Little Food Shop 10 minutes before the official start of the dinner. Traffic from the Madejski Stadium to the Reading train station almost caused me to miss the 1740 train to London—I hopped in the train as the doors were about to close. After the hour-long train ride into Paddington, I had to make a quick detour to a grocery store to do something new: wine shopping. Belated welcome to adulthood, me!
Grub Club dinners are Bring Your Own Bottle; the bottles of wine are shared by the diners. The chef recommended a bottle of Chianti to pair with the main course’s venison. It took me 15 minutes to Google how a bottle of Chianti would look like, get lost in the wine shelves looking for the red wines, find a cheap Chianti, then run to the back of the store to pick up a bottle of water and bottle of Lucozade Sport for myself, and pay.
I arrived at the restaurant at the same time as a middle-aged couple and a woman who looked like she was also in her late 20s. Four people were already seated in the square wooden table at the back for eight, so my quartet sat in the main table at the center of the restaurant. This table, which eventually sat 17 people, was a long wooden table across from the main counter, with the silverware, white saucers, and white napkins set at each seat.
Richard and Judy, the middle-aged couple, sat to my left. Richard is a former British journalist, while Judy is an American who was also born and raised in the Chicago suburbs. The couple and I had a lot more in common than Chicago, despite the age gap. They traveled to Florida a week before the dinner to buy a home in the Gulf Coast. (Florida: my gateway to talking to anyone with ease.) Their daughter got married in my Connecticut town; she lived in New York, but now lives in Los Angeles, which is nearly the reverse order of how I’ve moved around the country.
Claire, the woman about my age, took the seat across from me. She is a PhD holder from Australia who has spent the last five years in London conducting research on diseases. But the coolest thing about her is that when she travels, she likes learning about a place by grocery shopping.
Finally, I learn I’m not the only nerd who loves grocery shopping away from home. The fact that she has a PhD further validates this travel hobby of ours.
Ben and Sarah, a couple in their 30s, joined us a few minutes later and took the seats to my right. They live in Croydon, just minutes from the lovely Selhurst Park, but they’re northerners at heart. Ben is the first Manchester-born Manchester United supporter I’ve met and Sarah hails from Sheffield. Ben was so fascinated by me traveling all the way to England to watch soccer matches from Brentford to Palace that he gave me a quiz.
“What are the two clubs in Sheffield?” Ben asked.
I shot him a confused look. “Is this a trick question?”
“No, no! I’m curious.”
“Wednesday and United.”
“Wow, haven’t met anyone from another country who knew this much,” Ben said. He then turned to the Sheffield native, Sarah. “What are the two clubs in Sheffield?”
Sarah found the question incredulous, but told him Wednesday and United.
Seated to Ben’s right was Sonya; as an African-American, she was the only other person of color besides me at the table. She’s a Texas native—we exchanged Hook ‘Em Horns in what must have been an odd sight for the others—who lived in New York before her job sent her on a temporary two year assignment to London. Her tenure in London ends in the summer, so she’s trying to soak up as much of the city as possible before returning home. I asked her if that meant she was moving to Texas or New York.
“Texas will always be home because of my roots, but I’m moving back to New York,” she said. “Especially with the election results, Texas won’t be as welcoming now. I’m culturally more at home in New York.”
Across from Sonya and to Sarah’s left sat Annika, a Dutch national living in London. When she spoke, though, she sounded American. It turned out that she lived in California for a period of time before moving to London, which explained the slight, but noticeable, Southern California twang to her voice. She’s also the first person who ever greeted me with the European double kiss, which I thought I butchered at the time because for each cheek, my cheek bumped her cheek and I gave an air kiss. Two YouTube videos after the dinner told I had no need to be embarrassed about myself at the table.
At the head of the table, to my left, was Michael, who spoke with me as the four people between us (including Richard and Judy) cycled in and out of the bathroom. He was a native of Johannesburg who now called London home for the past seven years because of his work as a counselor.
Our varied backgrounds and the tense political climate created by the US Presidential Election and the Brexit made politics an inevitable topic in the table. (The wine also facilitated the chatter. Yes, Claire even talked subborn me into a glass of wine.) There was a general agreement that the isolation isn’t a good move for either country and we sifted through the reasons why the US and UK veered in that direction.
This was a calm and composed discussion on politics and immigration that felt poignant because of the occupants of the table and the timing of the dinner. Our dinner was on the day that the Executive Office of the US signed the first attempt at a travel ban, which was protested all over the globe before the US courts halted the Executive Order. And here we were—three Brits, three Americans, an Australian, a Netherlander, and a South African—in a tiny restaurant in one of the world’s financial capitals, sharing a meal and the incredible professional accomplishments that they’ve all made because they were able to leave their faraway homes and settle in London.
People can accomplish amazing feats if they have the opportunity.
Just as amazing as their professional accomplishments was the part where no one took out their phones (except to show pet photos). Everyone engaged with each other in conversation—the tiny restaurant had the noise level of a high school cafeteria—and made a sincere effort to listen, contribute, and get to know each other. It felt like all the folks seated near me and spoke to were friends of mine by the time we left, which always make it a tad tough to accept that you’ll never see them again. There was a lot of levity mined out of Richard and Judy’s life in the US before moving to London, Claire’s love for The Shins (I appreciate Richard’s wingman efforts to set me up as Claire’s plus-one for the two tickets she has for the band’s show in London, but alas, the show is in two weeks) and travels around the world, Ben and Sarah’s search for a home so they can adopt a dog, and my soccer trek through London and Leicester.
The food was excellent—can we get more restaurants in the US to serve venison?—but the people made the dinner an experience worth having. After all, the bonds we have or make with others are why we share meals.