BY NINA BEESTON
Sydney’s food scene is undergoing a revolution. Foodies are increasingly moving away from the conventional evening in a restaurant, and towards new exciting ways to combine a love of food and socialising… in the comfort of the home, in the presence of strangers.
One such concept is that of Sydney Soirée. Founded in 2014, Sydney Soiree prides itself on providing a unique city dining experience unlike any other. “It’s essentially a roaming dinner party,” one founder Paddy Millington-Buck tells City Hub. “We aim at those who want to eat great food, drink nice wine, but also meet new people.” A popular combination it seems, the last Soirée attracted 600 foodies.
Fellow founder Suz Klean explains the logistics: “Each Soirée consists of three groups of females and three groups of males (you sign up as a group of four friends). If the female groups are ‘hosting’ (this alternates each event), they prepare a three-course dinner at their house. For each course, they meet and entertain a different group of males for one hour – and the males rotate around their Soiree.”
Of course, the concept of a roaming dinner party is not a new one. “They’ve actually been around since the 1960’s,” Paddy tells us. Sydney Soirée is set apart in that the attendees do not know who their hosts/guests are going to be until they arrive – so each course is the chance to make new friends (as well as eat great homemade food). There’s also the chance to reconnect at their infamous after party events – some of Bondi’s finest live acts and DJs will takeover Jam Gallery for the next one.
There’s also a potential romantic side to Sydney Soirée. Patrick and Suz are excited to celebrate the first Soirée wedding between a bride and groom who met at an event two years ago. Of the romance, Paddy said; “She blew him away with her sticky-honey gammon.”
Sydney Soirée is undeniably successful. Yet, they do minimal advertising or marketing. “We use recommendations as our currency,” explained Suz. “Friends of friends of people who have taken part.” And it’s a strong currency – events are often oversubscribed and require booking far in advance.
Paddy highlights the technological disconnect in today’s social world a key popularity factor: “Nowadays, people meet new acquaintances behind a screen first. Sydney Soirée is anti that; you actually meet face-to-face, where factors like body language and chemistry play a part. And it’s not daunting, like Tinder, because you’re with three friends.”
Ahead of the next event in December, Suz provides tips for a successful Soirée: “Be original and get noticed. We’ve had Soirees aboard yachts, mariachi bands following groups from house to house, the works!”
Another novel culinary concept that has popped up in Sydney is EatWith. Founded in in 2012 and originating in Barcelona, EatWith can be described as a conscious effort to democratise the food industry, spreading over 200 cities worldwide. But, what does the “Airbnb for meals” entail exactly?
Foodies log onto the EatWith website or app and browse menus uploaded by hosts in their current city. When they find one of fancy on a suitable date, they book a place – and the menu is served up at the chef’s own home. Sydney host and chef Jamie Dyball simply explains: “It’s like going to a restaurant but at a chef’s home sitting at a chef’s table with a set menu.”
Who is it for? Of the attendees, Jamie cites “everyone who likes to try new things and meet people”. Of the hosts, it’s a little more restrictive. Prospective hosts receive a visit from an EatWith representative, who will judge their cooking for quality and home for hosting suitability. Once they pass, hosts are free to set up their profiles and advertise brunches, lunches and dinner parties – often with themes. Hosts also fix a donation per place at the table.
There’s no denying it’s an inspired idea. For an average price of $50, you can ensure a restaurant standard three-course meal and the chance to meet the creator in return. Admittedly, the restaurant atmosphere of service and pomp is missing. For some, this may be a turn-off. For most, that’s the beauty of it – it’s the chance to connect chef and foodie and meet people from all walks of life over an intimate communal table and love of food. It’s not unheard of for Michelin star chefs to open their homes.
For any aspiring hosts, Dyball recommends keeping menus simple and full of passion. He tells City Hub: “All I want is to share my passion for comfort food and show my home cooking style, but with a restaurant twist.”
Considering the rising popularity of concepts such as Sydney Soirée and EatWith, Cesar Chavez’s words resonate more and more: “If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him… the people who give you their food give you their heart.”
Next event: Saturday Dec 10, 6pm. Various private locations including the Eastern Suburbs, City, Inner West and Lower North Shore. $66.30. Bookings & info: www.sydneysoiree.com.au (bookings close this Sunday Nov 27)
Browse various dates and menus at www.eatwith.com. Locations vary. Average price $50.