Described as a pop-up for hungry readers, The Novel Diner literary supper club was launched in March 2012 by food and arts writer Mina Holland, event organiser Claire Coutinho and their university chums.
Little did they know back then that their book-themed nights may be written up in the Wall Street Journal alongside other experimental food experiences such as Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck. “We provide guests with only the barest information beforehand in order to retain the elements of intrigue and surprise,” explains Holland.
Previous themes have included Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho. The latter — which was held at Soho House — was attended by 100 ’80s-clad partygoers who enjoyed a Patrick Bateman-inspired nine-course canapé menu, complete with urinal cakes, as well as a cassette and video tape installation, and a Whitney Houston impersonator.
“Our events vary in size according to the chosen venue however the concept really works best when small and intimate,” says Holland. “I want guests to bond over books and hope our thought-provoking menus help bring the world of any given novel to life.”
Guests are encouraged to dress the part, mingle as every true literary Bohemian should, and embrace sharing a table with absolute strangers. Yet, it’s almost guaranteed they may be far from strangers by the end of the evening. Choosing a novel around which to structure an event naturally takes careful consideration, however, continues Holland, “books with vivid food descriptions are vital. Children’s books lend themselves particularly well due to all our shared memories and excitement at revisiting certain scenes.” The latter was perhaps best illustrated in their last event, which showcased Roald Dahl’s 1964 treasure Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Fans of The Novel Diner are prepared to venture far afield for the events. Vauxhall — the site of their last one — might be an obscure location for literary frolics, however the neighbouring council estate was immediately forgiven on entering the Tea House Theatre.
The space had been imaginatively transformed into the famous Chocolate Factory for one night only thanks to set designer Harriet de Winton and Oompa Loompa waiters and waitresses offering guests Butterscotch and Butter Gin cocktails. Welcome to a world of pure imagination…
A selection of ‘glorious galumptious’ culinary delights from the Sweet Shop start the evening off: pea macaroons, savoury cupcakes, tomato soup, roast beef, and blueberry pie. A truly evocative reading from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory may have taken everyone right back to bedtime stories as they listened with awe, wonder at Violet Beauregarde’s experience with the three-course dinner chewing gum.
“Everyone seemed happy to participate in a good old-fashioned sing-along when we handed them song sheets to ‘Pure Imagination’ from the 1970s film.” says Holland.
Guests then dove into the communal bowl of Whipple Scrumptious Fudgemallow Delight pudding and knocked back the accompanying chocolate vodka with irrepressible childish grins. Quoting Roald Dahl, Holland adds wryly: “A little nonsense now and then, is cherished by the wisest men.”
Novel Diner: The Bell Jar
7 Uxbridge Rd.
London W12 8LJ
020 8743 3584
18 -19 March
For more information on future Novel Diner events please visit The Novel Diner’s site