Lamenting the lack of good Singaporean food in London (Singapore fried noodles doesn’t count), Goz Lee started the plusixfive supper club out of his one-bedroom flat in Islington, determined to showcase his country’s cooking to hungry Londoners. Taking its name from Singapore’s international dialling code, plusixfive and its team of chefs have taken the London supper club world by storm, regularly selling out their monthly dinners and counting among their guests celebrity chefs, food critics, bloggers and television stars.
Held every fortnight on a Sunday, every supper club dinner follows roughly the same format. Once all the guests have arrived, drunk a little, comingled and made awkward attempts at introductions to fellow guests, hoping, cross-fingered, that they do not turn out to be serial murderers or worse, serial anti-socialites, we give a short introduction to the meal. Then we launch full-throttle into the dinner service, accompanied by anecdotes and memories, in our regular order of starters, mains and desserts.
Before anyone’s inner traditionalist bursts out, waving flags, beating chests and crying out that this is not how Singaporean food is usually served, they should just stop and think about what Singaporean food really is. There isn’t one traditional way of serving Singaporean food because the cuisine itself is a disparate amalgamation of at least three major ethnic cuisines: Indian, Malay and Chinese. Also, if you really want to get pedantic here, whenever you go to a hawker centre and sit there waiting for your big main meal to come along, be honest and ask yourself, how many times have you gone over to get a little snack from the popiah stall or the satay uncle? That pre-meal nibble is arguably a starter, no?
But the main reason for this arrangement is that during the gestational periods of plusixfive, I thought long and hard about what I wanted the format of the meal to be. Should it be a full-on, Singaporean Chinese-style meal where plates of food just get piled on the table as and when they are ready? Or should the meal have a formal structure? I had so many dishes in my head and I wanted to be able to showcase as much food as possible without overwhelming our guests. So, taking my cue from the degustation menus of smarter West End restaurants in London’s Soho neighbourhood, I decided to serve mini nibbles as starters to whet everyone’s appetite, before launching into the main courses and a few small desserts.
Also, everything—save for maybe plated desserts—would be shared. That was something that I insisted on.
Sharing has been my biggest bugbear in English food cultures, where the tendency is for everyone to order their own meal and not to share or try each other’s mains.
Singapore is a nation where meal sharing is almost mandatory. Meals involving more than one person, especially large extended family dinners, always feature an assortment of dishes placed in the centre of the table, and everyone helps themselves. You don’t have to choose. You just order everything on the menu.
And so, I wanted my guests to eat like I ate at home and get sharing.
Whilst we try to maintain a consistently high standard of cooking, I have always firmly believed that a plusixfive night should not be defined solely by its food. One of the main aims of the supper club was to share with Londoners what Singaporeans eat and hopefully through that, a little bit of the nostalgia for Singapore that we all share. So with every dish that comes out of the kitchen, we also serve up snatches of our memories of home, mostly from childhood, and how and why we were inspired to cook that particular dish. Although it did not begin as a conscious effort, the stories served as the garnishing on the dish, and sharing stories became an integral part of the plusixfive experience.
As with any other supper club, chances are you’ll be seated at a table with a random menagerie of personalities. We’ve had food critics, journos, train drivers, graphic designers, artists, gallery owners, doctors, bankers, lawyers, hairdressers, photographers and a heck of a lot of chefs come through our doors and share meals, drinks, banter and laughs with one another. You name the profession, we’ve probably served them. (We have not had millionaire drug lords or hookers yet though—or not that we know of anyway.)
I want the guests to feel as if they are eating a feast at a friend’s crib and not as if they are dining at a restaurant. They should feel free to poke their noses into my open-plan kitchen and holler out for seconds; to grab me or any member of my team and grill us on how we made the dish so gawddamn tasty; to leave general dining etiquette at the door and feel unashamed to get elbow deep and messy peeling crab shells, sucking on prawn heads and fighting for the last piece of chwee kueh with a bunch of strangers they’ve just met. And after the dinner is done and I can finally relax, I want them all to linger, refusing to leave despite the fact that it’s a school night. The team and I can then shake off our aprons, throw on some Massive Attack, sit down with the guests and, amidst piles of dirty crockery, share a nice stiff drink or two. Or ten.
And when the room is filled with the raucous nattering, laughter and banter of strangers who have met just hours before, drowning out the ’80s synth lines and warbling vocals of The Killers in the background, I know that the night has been one awesomely successful plusixfive night.
Contributed by Goz Lee of (+65) / plusixfive.
Get plusixfive: A Singaporean Supper Club Cookbook