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'Dinner with strangers' gaining popularity in Delhi

India Today logo India Today 03-04-2014 Ashwin Ahmad
Photo © Provided by IndiaToday Photo

It's a hush-hush affair. No, we are not talking about a breakaway coalition, an eloping couple, a pregnancy in the family but rather something more simple - dining out. In the past an occasion of flamboyance when one flashed brands, diamond rings and money power at the best restaurants in the capital, dining out in Delhi has undergone a gradual trend - discretion and even secrecy.

From passwords, secret codes and anonymous emails telling the diner where and when to meet and eat, dining out has acquired a fun and risque feeling. One example is one of Delhi's best nightspots. This leading-bar cum restaurant - whose owners prefer it should not be named as part of their "secret marketing" strategy - has wowed patrons with its 1920 decor and even better its cocktails.

Located in Vasant Vihar, the restaurant prides itself on its lack of signages and has a further hurdle for the casual visitor. To enter, guests must provide a four digit numerical code which is passed on by the owners to selected guests through SMS. In this way, the bar-cum-restaurant has achieved the antithesis of what most restaurants in Delhi strive for - it remains a closet secret.

"The idea of our bar-cum restaurant was influenced by 1920s America," explained Vaibhav Singh, one of the three partners who own this mysterious place. "At that time, liquor was illegal and patrons who needed a drink had to visit speakeasies where liquor was served. However, to gain access a secret code had to be provided."

The idea of secret dining is slowly gaining in popularity. While most restaurants such as the ever popular Bukhara, Megu and Le Cirque still testify to good old fashioned "see and be seen" dining, there is a growing interest in a new generation of Indians towards something different. And that's where secret dining fills the void. Aided and abetted by social media, secret dining clubs are steadily finding regular patrons on Facebook. Shunning publicity, and being picky about clientele they let into their inner ranks, these clubs are slowly being coveted by gourmets. One of the best known is the Delhi Secret Supper Club. The club, which came into existence in March last year, organises "Secret Suppers" at several interesting locations throughout the city.

The organizers, who choose to remain secret, invite who they think are interesting guests, who are then informed via Facebook or email of where and when the secret supper will take place. Interested diners can also email them where they have to prove to them why they should be invited to the supper.

Sometimes, this penchant for secrecy reaches such a point that cheeky passwords are reportedly required by members to gain admittance. The objective of the evening, as the hosts declare, is to put perfect strangers in close proximity to one another.

The other popular phenomenon is "Dinner With Strangers". The concept, founded by Shuchir Suri and Anjali Batra of Food Talk India last year, is based round inviting guests to specially curated events at various restaurants in the Capital. "The whole concept is to introduce 'communal dining' to the Capital. The drill is simple. We have five different coloured bands, 60 strangers, cocktails and food. On arrival, each guest receives a coloured band which determines his or her table. Complete strangers sit together and become friends," Suri says.

The growing popularity of secret dining is slowly gaining ground with potential advertisers as well. For instance, German luxury kitchenware brand Hafele recently sponsored a "secret event", where selected customers were invited to have dinner at the firm's showroom.

According to Hafele India CEO Jargen Wolf, the secret dining concept was a winwin for them. "We introduce potential customers to Hafele India luxury kitchenwear and demonstrate how perfectly a German kitchen can work for Indian cooking." The other advantage was that potential customers were induced through the idea of secret dining to visit Hafele's showroom in Okhla - something they may not have done otherwise.

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