February 22, 2011
Hip Paris first wrote about underground dining back in March 2009, when we experienced Hidden Kitchen for the first time. Since then, we’ve gathered around private tables with the likes of David Lebovitz, interviewed chefs like Rachel Khoo, and searched high and low for these special, discreet, private experiences. Forest Collins has sorted through the (now abundant) options on the Paris scene to brings us today her top 3 Clandestine Paris dining experiences — Geneviève.
A private dinner (Leo Farrell from Rachel Khoo)
Groucho Marx said it best: “I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.” Sometimes the harder something is to get, the more we want it. This seems to hold especially true with eating out in Paris as the capital catches up with the extensive network of already established ‘private dining clubs’ in other major cities.
Not your usual restaurant, private dining clubs are a different kind of eating experience where food-minded folks gather in under-the-radar locations to share a meal. They range from closely guarded secret rendezvous to more publicized, well-known gatherings. Because they exist outside of the usual commercial restaurant mold, they’re often hard to find and sometimes even harder to get into.
So are the added hindrances to underground dining worth it? Last week, I checked out three clandestine Paris Kitchens to find out.
Cookies and Tatie, the house dog at Hidden Kitchen
Hidden Kitchen: where sophisticated palates converge with the gastro-curious to indulge in Paris’ finest of clandestine cuisines
This was not my first visit to the brainchild of American ex-pats Braden Perkins and Laura Adrian. I first ate there when they opened with a near immediate fan base in 2007. Since then, they’ve accrued a substantial following and attracted enough media attention that they had to move to a larger location where they now serve a communal table of 16.
Elegant ten course dinners take place in their enviable Parisian apartment. Braden brings his special touch to fresh local ingredients, creating dishes that rival the best of restaurants for both flavor and presentation. He still finds time to step away from the stove to talk guests through each course while Laura selects and pours wine for the pairings and takes over in the kitchen when it’s time for the sweets.
Hidden Kitchen, which was originally intended as a yearlong project, is still in action after more than four years. Over this time, they have stayed consistently booked up while developing their culinary and wine expertise. They also keep things fresh by inviting occasional guest chefs – on my latest visit, Nicholas Calcott created an impressive 9 course Szechuan dinner.
If the topnotch food, service and setting aren’t enough for you, the communal table adds a convivial element not found in your run of the mill eateries that I was truly able to enjoy during my latest solo visit.
Suggested donation: 70 to 80 Euros
Two vibrant green dishes at Hidden Kitchen
Soul Kitchen Supper Club: where the un-ironically hip rub elbows and bump knees over flavor-packed world dishes in art-infused surroundings
For a change of pace, American duo Christian Guerrero and Alexa Wisnoski casually cater to a global-minded eclectic community of wanderers, wonderers and food ponderers who appreciate a seriously good nosh. An evening at the relatively new Soul Kitchen Supper Club begins with a genial cocktail apéro in the couple’s cozy apartment with up to 32 guests.
After mingling, diners slide around the multiple low glass-top tables and await delights from the kitchen as pitchers of wine appear. Christian and Alexa create origina and well thought-out 4-5 course menus focusing on fusion flavors that are hard to find in Paris like Non-Tex Mexican and New Jersey Style Italian American Cuisine.
On my visit, a four course Franco-Vietnamese menu began with a Thai basil and chanh muối mojito. A personal favorite dish of the evening was the ‘Bánh-guette Mì’ that exemplified both their skill and humor in fusing as they prepared their Banh Mi on an Eric Kayser baguette.
Soul Kitchen is about more than just putting food in your belly. Evenings may include music or an art exhibition – like the recent on they did as a charity benefit. The more casual approach also allows for a bit of table hopping to interact with the medley of open-minded diners.
Suggested Donation: 35 Euros
Rachel Khoo and her Little Paris Kitchen
Little Paris Kitchen: where twosomes lunch on simple dishes made with TLC in Paris’ tiniest test kitchen.
With only a table for two, the Little Paris Kitchen earns two superlatives as both the newest and tiniest addition to the Paris underground dining scene. London transplant Rachel Khoo invites guests to Saturday lunches in her tiny Paris pad and manages to simultaneous cook, serve and provide charming company while joining guests for each course.
With already two cookbooks under her belt, this Cordon Bleu trained chef, ushers visitors into a darling world of Parisphile daydreams. Ever fantasize about living in a little Paris studio and cooking up sweet and savory treats using fresh herbs picked from the pots on your windowsill? Welcome to Rachel’s world. For our visit she dished up three courses sourced from local ingredients such as croque Madame muffins and grilled côte d’agneau. Ingredients are organic when possible (including the wine) and direct from the market.
The inspiration behind her pint-sized private operation? A third cookbook! Rachel gathers materials and tests out recipes on lucky diners in her Little Paris Kitchen. She brings her fresh approach to satisfyingly simple dishes that are a pleasure to eat but also easy for a home cook to recreate.
Suggested donation: 25 Euros
A scene from a private dinner by Rachel Khoo
Private dining clubs may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Dietary requirements can usually be accommodated, but general preferences are harder to take into account with set menus. They book up quickly, sometimes months in advance. It takes more commitment to secure a place and eat in this manner. But in exchange diners enjoy the thrill of finding them, the camaraderie that comes with sharing a communal table and the feeling of belonging to a community of food-minded people. Importantly, these three Kitchens highlight what I think is the best aspect of this type of dining: Passion over profit. Each of these projects has sprung from a deep passion for food and the goal of sharing the experience with others. Thanks to their format, they are also less hindered by cost-cutting measures necessary in commercial establishments.
A delicious dish at Hidden Kitchen
While these three aren’t the only private dining clubs in Paris, I’ll let you find the others for yourselves. Because finding them is half the fun.
- Food and Wine events for Feb 18 – 24 (Paris by Mouth)
- Hungry for Paris reviews Les Tablettes, a hot new restaurant
- Gridskipper on Paris’ best private dining rooms
Written by Forest Collins
Forest Collins chronicles her search for the finest cocktails in Paris on her blog, 52 Martinis. Every Wednesday, she tries a new place. She starts with a martini for a standard of comparison and then usually orders a second. Got a bar you think makes great drinks? Let her know, she'd love to try it!
Website: 52 Martinis