With private dinners catching on in Singapore, we attend one by Once Upon A Secret Supper to see what all the fuss is about. Turns out, dining with strangers isn’t so bad after all.
Entering a stranger’s house in the outskirts of the city isn’t something I’d typically plan for a fun weekend out but Angie Ma has convinced me otherwise.
It’s a humid Saturday evening when my Grab pulls up to a multi-storey bungalow. The almost forty-minute drive to this part of Singapore definitely isn’t anywhere near my usual weekend drinks with friends. In fact, I think the Singapore Zoo is nearby. I pause at the gate for a minute, uncertain if I’ve arrived at the right place. I walk in and as I push the front door open, I glance at my watch. The time’s six o’clock.
Entering a stranger’s house in the outskirts of the city isn’t something I’d typically plan for a fun weekend out but Angie Ma has convinced me otherwise. She’s the founder of Once Upon A Secret Supper (OUASS), a pop-up dinner series currently based in Singapore, and for tonight they’re eating their way around the world at Christmas time. Intimate dinners held in homes and places other than restaurants have been growing in popularity over the past five years. While I’ve written about them, I haven’t been to one.
Starting from scratch
Back in the bungalow, the heavy wooden door opens to the living area where a long communal table is placed diagonally. It’s been set with candles and holly, each seat marked with a handwritten note of our names. To the left is a large Christmas tree draped in blinking fairy lights and to the right, a snow-covered gingerbread house sits on the side table by the sofa. I head upstairs to where there’s a flurry of activity going on.
Around a table, the rest of Ma’s five-person team is making the preparations for tonight’s dinner before the guests arrive. Matt Jennings, one of the chefs, is slicing salmon that I later learn he’s cured on his own with vintage Campari, gin, juniper and dill. It’s for the Kartoffelpuffer, a fried rosti you’d find at Christmas markets in Germany typically served with cured fish, apple sauce and sour cream. When he’s done, Elodie Bellegarde swoops in and takes the tray into the kitchen to plate. A professional food stylist and photographer by day, she lends her expertise for the event.
In the kitchen is where I find Celina and Gok Tan, the couple whom the house belongs to and who also hold dinners of their own at intimatesuppers. Gok is taking out trays of mini rostis from a sleek industrial oven and throws one into his mouth for a taste test. They were introduced to Ma after a friend of theirs attended one of OUASS dinners and decided to team up for this Christmas-themed meal. Ma shares that most collaborations happen quite organically and it’s what helps give secret suppers a personal touch.
I also find Eunice Eelin busy chopping vegetables over the kitchen counter as Ma stands by the stove stirring a big pot of crayfish bisque for the Humarsupa. It’s for the third entrée in our three-hour long dinner and is derived from a classic Nordic soup. My dinner companions are beginning to trickle in, where they’re greeted by Chris Marshall from Distilled. Looking smart in a white shirt, he’s providing the craft spirits for Kamil Foltan, founder of The Indigenous Bartender Headquarters and mixologist for the night. The cocktail for the night is inspired by fluffy snow young Foltan played with in Czech Republic; it’s a fruity whisky sour made with Hawthorne’s gin, green mango, starfruit honey, yellow chartreuse, chocolate rum, citrus and egg white.
From strangers to dinner companions
As drinks and conversation flow freely, the canapes make the rounds for a little mid-chatter nibble. I introduce myself to someone from a design agency, a Hong Konger working in finance, a journalist from Reuters and an Iranian couple. Most guests have either come alone or as a pair. Tickets are only sold to a maximum of two people from the same group, which is done intentionally to encourage interaction.
I’ve barely gotten enough of the homemade baguette spread with a soft and warm Mont d’Or—a cheese from South France that’s ripens in December—when we’re ushered into a room on the third floor. It’s here that Foltan does a demonstration of his version of the classic egg nog as the rest of the team makes the last of dinner preparations downstairs. His clever addition of coconut cream and whisky essence gives it familiarity, and each sip of egg nog is reminiscent of custard used in Peranakan kueh.
As soon as we are seated, dinner commences with a homemade sourdough and fermented butter from the Tans. For the bread, they’ve used yeast culture grown by them and even churned butter from scratch. They’re also responsible for the Syrah mulled wine granita with candied orange peel that later comes to us as a palate cleanser and our main of a suckling pig inspired by Roman cuisine.
Hosting a dinner party and ensuring you’ve got the right mix of people, ambience, food and drinks is a formula most establishments are still trying to figure out.
By the time dessert arrives—a coupling of apple strudel cardamom baklava and a scoop of mince pie-infused ice-cream with pepparkakor gingerbread crumbs and candied orange—the chatter has mellowed. The Tans’ children have returned home; their son helps plate the last few courses and their daughter performs a few songs with her band. Like their parents, they are unfazed by a group of strangers in their house. On the contrary, we were more surprised to see them stroll in casually halfway through dinner.
I’m typically the grinch when December comes around but I have to admit, the OUASS dinner did warm me up to the idea of celebrating Christmas. In a short span of three hours, Ma and her team managed to get a table of strangers to share their best and worst memories of the holidays. Even the ample amount of food felt akin to the team sharing their favourite Christmas treat from all over the world.
The most admirable thing, however, was how every guest came into this with an open mind and with that were able to hold honest conversations no matter how short-lived. Hosting a dinner party and ensuring you’ve got the right mix of people, ambience, food and drinks is a formula most establishments are still trying to figure out.
OUASS is a labour of love and it shows; the entire team hold day jobs, most of which are not related to the food industry. By keeping the suppers cosy, they’re able to pursue any ideas that come to mind. It’s a safe space to experiment and appreciate, which is a large part of the appeal. Ma teases me with the next event: it’ll revolve around sustainability and guests will have to bring a little something of their own to contribute to the dinner.
Wine & Dine was invited to Once Upon A Secret Supper for the story. Save a spot for the next dinner at www.onceuponasecretsupper.com