As the tastes and preferences held by luxury travelers progress, planners are commonly expected to deliver experiences that are unique, authentic and “off-limits” to the average person. Gone are the days when travelers were satisfied with only visiting “touristy” spots and staying off the roads less traveled. Immersion in the local culture is now en vogue and appears to be a trend increasing in popularity.
Not surprisingly, more luxury travelers are seeking out authentic local cuisine instead of sticking to foods familiar to them. Leaving your comfort zone when in an unfamiliar part of the world can make for unforgettable moments.
One of the most entertaining and unique ways to experience authentic local cuisine lies in discovering “closed-door” restaurants. Also known as underground restaurants or supper clubs depending on the country you are in, these private eateries are essentially dinner parties shared with strangers located in a chef’s home. Although they may not have the glitz and glamour of your average Michelin starred restaurant, they are often among the most desired spots in town and offer the most traditional cuisine around, along with an opportunity to mingle with locals.
Some chefs are professionals, while others are just enthusiasts, but prices are typically affordable and the locales are often very charming. Dining in hidden gardens and private living rooms add to the fun of the event. Closed-door dining has been around for many years, originating in family-run Cuban restaurants called paladares. This sudden surge in popularity makes these opportunities more abundant and accessible, to those in the know.
How do I locate closed-door restaurants?
It can be challenging to discover these secret spots…but that just makes the food taste that much better when found! Thankfully you do not have to necessarily know a local or be with a tour guide to find these spots. Some great websites exist that can aid you in your search:
Feastly – https://www.eatfeastly.com/intro/
Feastly claims to be the Airbnb of the food world and seeks to create alternatives to impersonal dining.
Eat With Me – www.eatwithme.net
Social networking food site Eat With Me began in Melbourne, Australia and now has members from over 80 countries. Their events page lists upcoming dinners and other culinary happenings that are quite interesting.
The Supper Club Fan Group – http://supperclubfangroup.ning.com/page/the-supper-club-map-a-work-in
Created in the UK, The Supper Club Fan Group has a map of the world that highlights underground restaurants for easy viewing. The site appears to be a little dated but it is a good starting point for your research.
Ghetto Gourmet’s Supper Club Directory – http://www.theghet.com/page/links-to-our-culinary-comrades
Ghetto Gourmet’s Supper Club Directory is strongly focused on US-based supper clubs but does have several international links. Either way, it can be a great resource for domestic travelers.
If these websites don’t give you exactly what you’re looking for, try forming a connection with a local food blogger. If anyone will be in tune with this underground scene, it is them!
What should I expect?
Communal tables, fixed menus and being in close proximity with strangers are things that you will likely experience at the closed-door restaurant you choose. Sometimes the menu is shared in advance but oftentimes it is a complete secret. The location may not be revealed until just before dinner starts. It is also important to remember that many of these chefs are inexperienced and trying new things so the results are unpredictable. However, a warm welcome, fun atmosphere and unique local experience are all but guaranteed.
What else should I know?
- In the US, they are called supper clubs
- In the UK and Australia, they are referred to as underground restaurants
- Puertas cerradas are their name in Buenos Aires
- Signing up for mailing lists or social network feeds is a great way to get the news first on new events
- Since closed-door restaurants are not licensed, regulated or taxed, there is a certain amount of risk involved in dining at them
- It is crucial to communicate allergies or food restrictions to the club well in advance since the menu is often a secret
If you have any wisdom to share or know of any good, closed-door restaurants around the world, please share in the comments. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.
Written by Kristopher Hewkin
JNR Incorporated is a results-based, globally recognized leader that specializes in creating custom travel, meeting, event, prepaid card and merchandise programs that motivate, engage and inspire the employees, customers and channel members of our clients. We have over 30 years of experience working with Fortune 500 companies of many diverse industries. Our programs are tailored to fit the specific needs of marketing, sales, management and human resource professionals. The unique solutions we apply are measurable and proven to increase performance, loyalty and revenues.