Travellers have long returned from Amsterdam with wide-eyed accounts of a fabulous, indulgent nightspot called Supperclub, where guests recline on beds like pashas, nibbling on divine sweetmeats while beautiful young people entertain them with exotic performance art and cutting-edge cabaret.
Now the Supperclub concept has arrived in London, in a converted Notting Hill nightclub under the Westway, an area which is arguably exotic, but not in an entirely relaxing way. Cubic bouncers loom outside. Inside, there's a bar which has all the decadent appeal of a paystation in an underground car park; a cold concrete bunker painted red. Required to arrive at 8pm for the single 8.30pm service, we stood drinking unwanted cocktails while an exuberant purple-clad master of ceremonies called Pauly Paul submitted us to a welcoming salvo of weapons-grade zaniness, culminating in nipple-twiddling (his own) and a full-contact hug.
Eventually the doors to the Supperclub itself slid open, revealing an authentically fabulous all-white room on two levels ringed with raised bedding platforms covered in white mattresses and cushions. Staff have apparently answered a casting call for wacky club kids in an off-Broadway musical. A hostess in a skimpy body-con outfit showed us to our not-table, where we were seated – or rather – lain down, by a waiter dressed in a shrunken suit, wrist-warmers and a tiny diamante trilby. Still, at least we didn't get the guy in the black leather kilt and animal mask.
Self-conscious in our stockinged feet, we reclined to wait for our food. The beds are positioned around a central area which turns into a dance floor later on. A prominently-positioned DJ plays a digestion-friendly mix of music, from Zero 7 to Joni Mitchell, at louder than comfortable levels. It's been quite a while since I've had to shout to make myself heard over Carly Simon.
"This would be great for an office party!" one of my friends ventured. The room would certainly have been more atmospheric with a few more bodies in it, and it would certainly have been warmer. It was like being trapped in a fridge with the cast of The Fifth Element.
Occasionally we were roused from our hypothermic torpor by some carb- free delicacy from the kitchen. Five mystery courses arrive unannounced – there's no menu, and dishes change weekly. The food, overseen by a former head chef of Oxo Tower, is unexpectedly good, if not exactly indulgent. "This is food for people who don't eat," one of my friends observed, as we were presented with a chilly platter holding tiny lozenges of tuna sashimi, dots of lemongrass mayonnaise and some lotus root crisps, which disappeared between our chattering teeth in three bites.
Next up, a truffled celeriac velouté served in a mini kilner jar. Fine, but the perils of eating soup while lying down are well-documented. Let's just hope all that white bedding is machine-washable.
During these early courses, we were entertained, if that's the word, by a woman laboriously filling small glasses with red and blue liquid and arranging them in a circle. Then – performance art alert! – a turbaned, bare-breasted Oriental woman, her body daubed with white paint, slid into the middle of this circle and lay down on the bare floor. We were encouraged to go up and drink from one of the glasses, which contained a viciously synthetic mix of vodka and something like Tizer, at which point the woman would fiercely smear herself with red or blue paint.
Meanwhile, a couple of girls circulated, performing an ostentatious girl-on-girl massage. This lengthy display was apparently not meant to be erotic, but just to signal that hey, this is the kind of place where people can do what they like. Just go with the flow! Personally, we would rather they had just brought us a bread basket, but that clearly wasn't going to happen.
Our banquet continued with a decorous pink slab of seared beef tenderloin with cauliflower purée; decent enough, but with all the personality of superior airline food. Ditto the assembly of little chocolate treats, fondant and the like, which brought the food service to a forgettable conclusion. By this stage we were so cold we had begged the staff for blankets. Sympathising with us, not just for being cold, but for being the kind of people who have to pay top dollar for this hollow simulacrum of fun, they brought us extra pillows, which we stacked around our bodies like Eskimos preparing for winter.
Pauly Paul, sensing from the pitiful tableau we now presented, that he was losing his audience, stepped up his maniacal attentions, reaching under the pillows to massage our feet and even, at one terrifying point, kissing my toes. You certainly don't get that at the Wolseley.
At the end of the evening, we were all dragooned up onto the dance floor to drink simultaneously from the red and blue glasses, while the artist smeared herself into a frenzy. With such Eyes Wide Shut-style faux-libertine embarrassments encroaching on all sides, we studiously avoided the eyes of our few fellow guests, though we soon realised that the majority of the revellers were actually members of staff. They were going through the motions of having fun, but with the exception of the fanatically committed Pauly, they seemed less than convinced, like they'd been hired in by a production designer for the day.
Some half-hearted dancing broke out, as though to encourage the illusion that we were all at some kind of groovy happening. But in truth, this was a not-happening; an entirely manufactured attempt to create spontaneous fun. According to the owner of the various Supperclubs around the world, "a Supperclub evening is only a success if all five senses are stimulated". I'm fairly sure that freezing to the music of The Stranglers, while a paint-smeared woman lies collapsed on the floor and a stranger kisses your toes, really wasn't what he had in mind.
Supperclub, 12 Acklam Road, London W10 (020-8964 6600)
£50 a head for four courses before wine and service
"Service charge is 12.5 per cent discretionary, of which 100 per cent goes to the staff; all tips go to the staff"
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