Cheap Eats Group SYDNEY - Dancing at VillaCaprese 1 Cheap Eats Group SYDNEY - qrcode -

- The Sydney Morning Herald - Good Living Magazine -

  The company of strangers - Good Living     The company of strangers
  The company of strangers - Sydney Morning Herald  
  The company of strangers -

- - Tuesday 17th March 2009 - 12:00AM

It is the latest trend in dining out - get a text and go to a one-off event.

You never know who you will meet, writes Carli Ratcliff.

A TEXT message arrives with an address, a dress code and a request to be prompt.

Dinner will be served at 10pm.

Welcome to the world of underground dining, Sydney-style.

Transient Diner is the brainchild of an apprentice chef who felt stifled working in five-star kitchens. Realising many of his colleagues felt the same, he developed the dining concept to give third- and fourth-year apprentice chefs the opportunity to run a virtual restaurant for an evening. From finding the location and creating the menu to curating a theme and employing staff, the experience gives young chefs the freedom to experiment without the commitments and responsibilities of opening a real restaurant. The chef behind Transient Diner refuses to be named, remaining true to the group's strict code of conduct. Explaining the motivation behind the collective, he says, "These young chefs are highly competent, they are the ones executing the signature dishes of Australia's best restaurants . . . it is our intention to bring them in from the background, to encourage, motivate and grow them." Menus vary from hearty home-cooked fare served in a paddock to a Spanish-influenced 10-course degustation menu with matched wines. Dinners are held monthly. Patrons log their interest via email and, if selected, receive a return email with a reservation date. No further information arrives until the day of the dinner, via text message.

Underground dining collectives were born of the speakeasy (illicit liquor outlet) tradition in the US during the Prohibition years (1920 to 1933). It is estimated there are more than 100 secret dining groups in the US and a growing number across Europe and Latin America.

Some secret dining groups are closely aligned with political and social movements. Chef Alice Waters, of California's famed Chez Panisse, began her career on the underground dining circuit in the late 1960s. Catering for fellow free-speech campaigners, Walters's community-conscious dinners became known as Alice's Restaurant. Some groups operate as social networks for like-minded foodies, such as Casa Felix in Buenos Aires. It is a private dining club, known as a "closed door", where patrons enjoy fish and vegetable feasts in gastronomic defiance of the city's obsession with beef.

Others provide a way to meet new people, such as Sydney's The Cheap Eats Group a collective of North Shore singles who love food and wine. The group has met weekly since 1982. Punters register interest via a website and, once approved, are supplied with a phone number for details of the next location. Convenor "Kingsley" believes secrecy and privacy are major drawcards. "Secret locations intrigue people and the fact that the group changes constantly means you never know who you will meet," he says. For many patrons, however, it is all about the allure of the unknown.

Dinner might be in a field or a car park or a private home. The underground dining trend reached Hong Kong in 1997, following the Asian economic crisis. In her memoir, Shark's Fin And Sichuan Pepper, Fuchsia Dunlop chronicles the rise of private kitchens run by families keen to supplement their income, often from their own kitchen table. Many private kitchens gained a cult following and have grown into larger underground restaurants. Some are booked out months in advance.

Michael Fantuz began his underground network, Table for 20, in Sydney in 2004. Together with other Surry Hills locals, he was keen to create a communal dining experience with a focus on simple food and interesting company. "The underlying objective has always been conviviality," he says. They started as informal "hood dinners" in friends' kitchens and living rooms. Everyone would bring a plate and help out in the kitchen. In 2006 Fantuz decided to rent a permanent space in Campbell Street, Surry Hills. Community-spirited dinners now run weekly. Interested patrons send a text message to a mobile service and are contacted if there is room at the table. Fantuz welcomes diners, runs the floor and eats with his guests. Two communal tables are covered in platters of food. There is no menu. "Sharing and eating the same dishes provides a sense of communion and encourages discussion between people who may never have met otherwise," Fantuz says. "It is a shared experience."

Alison Drover, convivium leader of Slow Food Sydney, says it is no surprise underground dining is an emerging trend.

"It is all about connecting people through food and a consciousness about what you are eating," she says. "It is a move away from flashy restaurants to a more intimate, often private experience."

Savva Savas of Plated Catering agrees. Savas curates bespoke secret dinners for clients and goes to great lengths to guard their privacy. "The host wants their guests to be comfortable, to be able to be themselves and to enjoy an experience that can not be had in a restaurant," he says.

Savas has designed and executed a secret dinner for 20 in a tunnel. "The client was so insistent on secrecy that all correspondence was hand-delivered and details discussed in person," he says. "Even I was not privy to the location until four hours prior."

On another occasion, guests were transported blindfolded in a minibus to a private home. The windows were blacked out and the guests had no idea where they were.

The style of food is dictated by the environment, Savas says. "The menu has to be designed around logistical limitations," he says. At a secret dinner in a warehouse we had no power and no gas, so we arrived with the food ready and a box of candles."

He believes the key to a successful secret dinner is an extraordinary location, appropriately matched food and a sense of freedom.

"In a private scenario people tend to be bolder and to mingle more broadly," he says. "The experience gives guests a common talking point, it is a great conversation starter."

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  The Company Of Strangers - Life and Style - Food and Wine

  The Company Of Strangers -

  The Company Of Strangers - Food and Wine - Life and Style

  The Company Of Strangers - Life and Style - Food and Wine

A Discussion of Communal Table Dining in Australia in 2013

In The Company of Strangers: Communal Table Dining is a global hit with lonely hearts, friendly souls and astute restauranteurs, all are starting to discover communal tables and their natural synergy. Whilst the idea of eating with strangers is enough to make some of your average Australians quickly lose his or her appetite, Communal Table Dining quickly creates a whole new social dynamic at each bench table, and gives the whole room an almost instant buzz of excitement, through the density of conversation that it generates.

Communal Table Dining suits the easy, democratic Australian style, but its success in Sydney has surprised no-one. After all, everyone is on the same level, and gets the same treatment. There are neither discreet corners, nor natural Heads of Table, and when there is just one large table in the restaurant, it becomes extremely difficult to insist on the best table in the house.

Now awaiting the day when one of my male work colleagues shows everyone, a digital photo on their mobile telephone, and proudly announces the first names of their new twins: Nigella and Lawson.

Sydney is the oldest city in Australia, the economic powerhouse of the nation, and the country's capital in everything but name. Blessed with sun-drenched natural attractions, dizzy skyscrapers, delicious and daring restaurants, superb shopping and friendly folk. Although it has come a long way from its convict beginnings, Sydney still has a rough and ready energy, and offers an invigorating blend of the old and the new, the raw and the refined. While high culture attracts some to the Opera House, gaudy nightlife attracts others to Kings Cross.

Sydney is not a dangerous city, but all the usual big-city rules do apply: never leave cars or rooms unlocked, never leave luggage unattended, never show big wads of money, never get drunk in the company of strangers and never walk through parks alone late at night. Use extra caution in Kings Cross, which attracts drifters from all over Australia and gutter-crawlers from all over Sydney.

It seems superfluous to mention it, but do not go swimming if you have been drinking alcohol. The surf life-saving clubs are not there for show - many people are rescued from the surf each year. Shark attacks are extremely rare. Some major beaches, especially around Sydney, have shark-netting to deter sharks from cruising along the beaches. If a siren sounds while you are swimming leave the water quickly but calmly. There are a few poisonous marine animals (such as the blue-ringed octopus, whose bite can be fatal, but only twice in the last hundred years).

There are a few nasty spiders in Sydney, including the funnel-web, the redback and the white-tail. Check your shoes before putting your feet in them - the funnel-web bite can also be fatal. For redback bites, apply ice and seek medical attention.

      Sydney Population: 4,400,000       Sydney Area: 2,103 square kilometres      

Question: What if married people were treated by the media, friends, and family like singles (in this case, uncoupled singles)? Worldwide they could encounter these statements:

* "Don't worry, you'll get a divorce someday!"

* "Oh, you're married? I'm so sorry!"

* "You're so great - how come you're still married?"

* "It's okay to be married for a while, but eventually you need to grow up and become single."

* "You're so lucky to be married and not have as much responsibility."

* "But don't you feel bad not having a life, seeing as you're married?"

* "When are you going to get a divorce?"

* "It's so sad having to come home to a house with someone in it all the time."

* "Well, I would've invited you to book group, except you're married and I thought you wouldn't want to be around all those happily single people."

* "What's a beautiful woman like you doing married?"

Question: What if USA married people were treated by their government as singles? They could have to:

* Fight to be recognized as a legitimate and powerful voting bloc, no matter how much of the American population they represent.

* Lose the 1,138 federal provisions that currently accommodate married people on account of their marital status in the distribution of rights, benefits, and other legal privileges.

* Come to work even if their spouses, children, or parents are sick and in need of their help. After all, they don't get to take advantage of the Family and Medical Leave Act.

* Leave medical decisions for their loved ones to doctors and immediate family not related to the able spouse.

* Live in the barracks like every other soldier.

* Give up that extra cash-per-month and increased housing allowance that the military currently grants married soldiers.

* Testify against their spouses in court instead of being granted immunity.

Question: What if USA married people were taxed like singles? They could have to:

* File individual returns only and never gain a tax "bonus" for filing jointly with a spouse.

* Pay income tax on their spouses' employment benefits.

* Give up as much as 60% of their assets to the government in death taxes.

* Lose all social security benefits when they die.

* Give up benefits for those children living in the household who do not meet the criteria for a "qualifying dependent," or those children who are not related to their caregivers by blood or marriage.

Question: What if USA married people were paid and treated in the workplace like singles? They could:

* Make, on average, 26% less than they currently do; they would be paid the same as everyone else regardless of their marital status.

* Not be able to negotiate salaries and other work-related perks using marital status as a factor.

* Be expected to stay late and work during the holidays, just like everyone else.

* Have to give up vacation privileges (or implied benefits that assume that single people are not as invested in their families and personal lives as married people must be) - singles like to travel just as much as, if not more than, married people do!

* Have to pay for expenses related to whole-family relocations due to work.

* Encounter no support from employers in helping spouses find jobs.

Question: What if USA married people had access to the same health and other insurance policies as singles? They could:

* Be unable to add anyone, even spouses, to their employer-provided health care plans.

* Have considerable trouble paying for independent health insurance, especially if the married people work part-time or if they freelance.

* Have to decide between buying a high-deductible, bare-bones health plan and no plan at all because they can't depend on their spouses to help them afford the low-deductible, full-coverage model.

* Pay more for car insurance, especially if the married couple is young.

* Have access to only limited options when it comes to life insurance; there's only one or two plans in which married people can invest through any given company, whereas singles get many options.

Question: What if USA married people were treated like singles in the marketplace? They could have to:

* Convince real estate agents to sell to them by promising to pay on time, not relocate, and generally be financially responsible.

* Also have to convince real estate agents that they really do want to look at the spacious house with the view, instead of the tight quarters that real estate agents insist would "be just right" for the married people and their families.

* Pay more for travel packages so that single people could receive single-traveler discounts.

* Pay more than singles for club and gym memberships, so that singles could reap the benefits.

* Purchase single-serving sizes of food at the grocery store in order to receive a decent discount.

* Dine alone so as to get the better deal at restaurants.

Question: Are you able to act appropriately and just be yourself?

* Be empathetic and intelligent, and your intellect tells you that you have to be active in your own rescue, it is a question of your own resourcefulness ... prevent self-destructive behaviour ... use self-preservation in your interviews so as to be as boring as possible, just bend over backwards to be profoundly boring, the less that is known about yourself the better it is, since there is nothing spoken to feed rumours ... self-awareness that it takes talent to manage yourself, with the downside that you surrender personality and point of view ... but this is real life, mystery is a wonderful thing to maintain, especially as you are not living the words and the personalities of characters on a theatre stage ...

CEG FAQ Question: How many hours do the Sydney Cheap Eats Group volunteers spend of their own spare time to create the next years' Sydney Cheap Eats Group website, in the weeks before January each and every year?

* CEG FAQ Answer: Each year, more than fifty hours are spent writing the new website pages and manfacturing new images and creating other new webpages and replacement webpage content ...

GFC gives extra reasons to belong, with these Value-Added Membership Benefits:
At selected dinner events, Cheap Eats Group members have also received, internet discount promotion codes and printed discount vouchers with two for one offers (BOGOF) for movie cinemas and for live theatre performances. Also complimentary tickets,   [ free-tix and half-tix and comp-tix and cheap-tix plus $9.00 cinema tickets ]   and great discounted price offers at many Sydney live performance theatres for Opening Nights, Sneak Previews, Previews, Dress Rehearsals, End-Of-Run   ...   for selected show performances each year at some of these live Sydney stage venues:     Theatre Royal, Capitol Theatre, Lyric Theatre, Star Theatre, The Studio, The Playhouse, Drama Theatre, Riverside Theatre, Independent Theatre, State Theatre, Sydney Theatre, CarriageWorks, Seymour Theatre Centre, Belvoir Street Theatres, Old Fitzroy, Darlinghurst, Genesian, New Theatre, Newtown Theatre, Nida Theatre Centre, Angel Place, Ensemble Theatre, Glen Street Theatre, Wharf Theatres, Zenith Theatre, etcetera.   Always Get Really Good Seats: We regularly secure excellent ticket deals for our Cheap Eats Group members.


Cheap Eats Group SYDNEY - Dining at The Coachmen
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Cheap Eats Group SYDNEY - Vlad
Cheap Eats Group SYDNEY - Dining at Bel Paese

2013 Wednesday
Dine and Dance
at some of
Sydney's Top
Quality and Value
for your money

  • 3 Courses Dining
  • Choice of entrees
  • Choice of main courses
  • Dessert
  • Coffee or Tea
  • BYOW
  • Dinner
  • Dancing
  • Music
  • Wednesday Price:
    $40.00 or less;
  • Friday Price:
    $50.00 or less;
  • Sunday Price:
    $zero   $nil

Cheap Eats Group SYDNEY - Dancing at VillaCaprese 2

- Cheap Eats Group SYDNEY - © 1994-2013

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