A version of this post originally appeared on www.food24.com
What’s the worst that can happen when six strangers meet for dinner? It could go two ways. Either you’ll spend the night checking your phone as the minutes tick by, endure awkward silences and generally just be bored out of your mind. Or you could meet new, interesting people who share your love of good food and wine. It’s a risk, but as a sociological experiment, I just couldn’t say no when invited to attend a dining-with-strangers event in Cape Town.
The broader trends of buying and enjoying experiences rather than things and the rise of the sharing economy have been leading to the creation of such social dining ventures. With Airbnb Experiences you can book a four-course dinner in someone’s home in locales like Lisbon or Bali and on the Eatwith website you can take your pick of meals in dining rooms in London, Nairobi, Tel Aviv and more (great if you're a solo traveler!).
The dinner I joined was hosted by DINE4SIX. They have a slightly different approach as you won't be dining in someone's home. Instead, DINE4SIX allows business travellers, tourists and local “foodies” alike to find a seat at atable for six and enjoy a social dining experience, prepared and presented by a renowned chef. DINE4SIX guests enjoy an exclusive menu, specifically created for each individual event. If you’re not keen on the anonymous aspect of things, you are also allowed to fill a whole table by reserving all six seats. Events can currently be booked in South Africa (Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban), in North America (Dallas) and in Europe (Dublin).
We savoured a 4-course menu with wine pairing at the Azure restaurant at The Twelve Apostles; menu prepared by chef Christo Pretorius.
Buttermilk fried chicken wing, sriracha mayo, sour cucumber gel
Confit egg yolk, burnt beetroot puree, pickled shimeji mushrooms, mustard aioli, brown butter croutons
Baby Calamari Risotto
Grilled baby calamari, roast tomato puree, tomato water jelly, dehydrated tomato, tomato consommé, seaweed butter, pickled onion rings
Beef Rump Picanha
Chargrilled beef rump, salsa verde, beer and barley glaze, celeriac puree, grilled baby leeks, green herb gnocchi, barbeque jus
Chocolate and Karoo Honey
Honey ice-cream, cocoa custard, Manjari aero, honeycomb, chocolate torte
The food was delicious; the venison tartare was surprisingly good and the dessert deserves a special mention too.
Why are some people willing to try social dining? The reason why the majority of us don’t like eating alone and many people feel ‘weird’ when they find themselves solo at a table, is because eating is an inherently social activity. It’s never just about the food. Rather, it’s about sharing the experience.
Certain studies have also found that it might actually have negative consequences on your health if you regularly eat alone. With social dining, there’s also the element of unpredictability and surprise. You know where you’ll be eating and what you’ll be eating, but you have to wait and see who you’ll be dining with. My fellow diners included a TV chef, a lifestyle blogger, two banking/insurance professionals from Johannesburg and the founder of DINE4SIX. The conversation topics ranged from “Where do you buy your meat?” to the creative destruction of cooking and eating and recommending weekend activities for those visiting from Gauteng.
Social dining is not for you if food really is just sustenance in your book. However, if you don’t miss an episode of MasterChef, know that Ottolenghi is not an Australian animal and assuming your budget allows, then your upcoming dinner plans might be sorted.