Review: The Secret Garden Supper Club by ANDSOFORTH
In a change-up to their usual style and location, ANDSOFORTH offers a green fingered sit-down affair in their latest offering and collaboration.
ANDSOFORTH is best known for organising immersive dinner theatre experiences that take audiences on an adventure, moving from room to fantastic room and meeting quirky characters and themed food items each time. But in The Secret Garden Supper Club, they’ve changed up their formula to offer a different, single room experience instead, where guests are invited for a sit down affair, as they indulge in a five course meal while actors entertain with antics and activities in between.
As its name suggests, The Secret Garden Supper Club is based off Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel The Secret Garden, and for the first time, ANDSOFORTH has joined forces with florists With Every to decorate the space and London-based immersive dinner book club The Literary Hour to provide the inspiration behind the menu. When we first enter the industrial building’s premises, we’re greeted by the enthusiastic gardener Colin (Lian Sutton), who tasks us to go on a treasure hunt before we’re allowed entry into the garden. In this warm-up of a sorts, guests are to put their wits together to find some well hidden boxes, each sealed with a puzzle lock to be solved based on a number of clues given.
The reward, of course, is entry to the (fairly obvious) Secret Garden Supper Club. Pull back a curtain of vines to reveal the heady, purple lighted room, draped in long flower garlands of all varieties as the room is filled by their aroma, creating a relaxing environment. We are welcomed with an appropriately floral-themed cocktail, made with Damrak gin, lemon juice and singed rosemary to start us off on a refreshing note before we are shown to our respective tables, while nostalgic, old timey music plays. If desired, guests also have the option of ordering other flower/herb themed cocktails at an additional fee, with drinks such as vodka with thyme infused plum syrup, and Damrak gin with hibiscus salt and cucumber syrup.
With all 35 of us seated, Colin began the night’s activities, as he recounted his memories spent with The Secret Garden protagonist Mary, getting audience members to help him win her heart. Throughout dinner, we’re tasked to help them out in ways such as texting Mary on an ancient phone (cheeky messages are of course, encouraged), or reading a handwritten letter she sends in response. If anything, it certainly breaks the monotony of simply waiting for course after course at the dinner table, and makes for ease of breaking the ice with the level of audience participation. At one point, audience members are even asked to participate in an almost gameshow like segment, where they are tasked to identify various herbs.
Herbs then, become one of the key motifs that we see, experience and taste throughout dinner. Utilising herbs sourced from local urban farm Citizen Farm, each of the five menu items are characterised by their own individual herb, a key taste featured in each course. We begin dinner then, with an amuse bouche – presented with a cream cheese cracker, diners are shown a small herb garden and get to pick however many herbs they want to garnish it with, making for a fun introduction and teaser to the tastes we will be experiencing throughout the rest of the night.
We began with our appetiser – a garden harvest salad with baby corn, carrots and purple carrots garnished with a salsa verde based on parsley. A good opener, the vegetables featured here were fresh, and the salsa verde helped add to their flavour with hints of salt and citrus.
Our two main dishes of the night began with a thyme infused, sous vide cod with pea veloute. The cod itself was well-cooked, and the thyme, while not our personal favourite herb, could be tasted in every bite, going well with the pea veloute.
We followed this up with the second main, an herby stuffed chicken ballotine with cauliflower puree and xiao bai cai as greens. The herb stuffing of the chicken was based on sage matched well with the meaty but tender chicken ballotine, making for a satisfying end to the mains for the night.
Ending off our supper club experience was dessert, with a floral jelly served with ice-cream. Hidden within the ice cream was a nice surprise – biscuit crumble and popping candy, and a single basil leaf to evoke the dessert’s sweetness with a hint of mint. It is at this point that people were now free to leave, and one felt that perhaps, a more formal conclusion to the ‘performance’ should have been conducted here, as opposed to before the dessert, to give the entire experience proper closure.
Collaborating with London’s Literary Hour and With Every has lent this production a different dimension, and having sold out their entire run, The Secret Garden Supper Club is certainly a successful step in a new direction for ANDSOFORTH. With such a busy year so far, we’re excited to see how they continue to innovate and find new ways to enjoy both a meal and theatre through their unique concepts, and continue to surprise us in the productions to come.
Performance attended 2/8/18
The Secret Garden Supper Club runs till 5th August at a secret location. Tickets are now sold out. For more information on upcoming shows, visit Andsoforth