Have you heard rumours of a great Italian place in Toronto somewhere on Queen East? You really want to try it, but apparently, the restaurant has no name (but those in the know tell you to follow your nose). More and more those who love food—love preparing, love pairing and love eating it—are creating unique, selective culinary events. Some of these invite-only restaurants rotate from city to city, others stay in one spot but force the dedicated into finding them—all have one thing in common: You need to appreciate the unknown and unknowable that’s because these menus won’t give many options to make substitutes.
Here are the top five of the best invite-only restaurants in Canada. Hopefully, your turn to try these great underground restaurants will be next.
1. Charlie’s Burgers
A name like Charlie’s Burgers doesn’t exactly imply secret, posh or underground, but the modestly named spot packs a high-end punch. Four years ago, a series of mysterious culinary events were created. Only a few in-the-know socialites were selected to dine on Charlie’s Burgers upscale delicacies. Those “invited” were asked to bring a $110 cash donation and “a sense of humour.”
“It was definitely more like a dinner party, but with people you don’t know,” said Jamie Drummond, director of the Kennedy restaurant group. Guest chefs have included former Top Chef Canada winners and some of the world’s most respected culinary artists.
Through it all, the mysterious “Charlie Burger” watched over the project like a secretive Batman villain. No one, not even the hosts of the dinner club’s venues spoke to him, but he seemed to add to the event’s overall “kooky and whimsical” vibe. Even after his identity was revealed—as world-renowned chef Franco Stalteri—this chef still remained secretive. Today if you wish to receive an “invitation” to the club, you must enter your email into a database on their site and you may or may not be contacted with an invite!
2. Vegan Secret Supper
Vancouver / Montreal / New York
In the opposite vein of Charlie’s Burgers, Vegan Secret Supper (VSS) tells you exactly what you are in for, and it’s some really inspirational stuff. Rotating between New York City, Montreal, Vancouver and other select cities at limited times, the events are sporadic and invite-only. The VSS calls these dining days “pop-ups,” because they choose to have dinner whenever and wherever they darn well please. If they email you an invitation, well, you better be ready for some local, vegan, organic reminders of all the culinary world has to offer.
Another cryptic ride is Ottawa’s secret gem, Cobra. Guests, like the other restaurants, are chosen by putting their email into a database. Cobra’s selection process from there, however, is entirely random. Even more exclusive than most, the waiting list lasts years as the events host only 10 to 12 guests at a time.
Once you get an invite, however, a Cobra event offers a menagerie of quirky flavours. The underground element allows chefs from the city’s finest to experiment without a barrier. Beef tongue with cheez whiz couples with chicken and waffles whiskey. It’s a carnival of crazy that people are begging for.
Gastown in Vancouver is growing into a hip, cool and innovative place to nurture anyone interested in the creative. Farmtwofork proves it’s part of this pack by pairing an exclusive culinary experience with art. At each dining event, the work of a specific artist is showcased, allowing diners to experience the relationship between taste, smell, sound and sight.
While Farmtwofork relies a little less on the secret part, they do rely heavily on exclusivity—calling themselves a “premiere private dining experience.” The phrase may sound snooty, but the argument is you have to be selective when throwing culinary curveballs. Want to try hazelnut mulch with beetroot bubbles? What about chorizo with squid ink emulsion? If this doesn’t sound appetizing then don’t vie for a seat at this exclusive gastro-experience.
5. House of Commons
Toronto’s killing it in the secret foodie department and House of Commons follows the trend. Enter their website and all you get is a selection of mysterious and prestigious crests that remind you of old family trees. Next, you’ll notice that a password is required. Yep. Its fight club meets fine-dining. Turns out, House of Commons not only exudes old-world charm but it relies on old-world secrecy (using somewhat updated technology). Not to worry, though, as this is one of the more accessible private dining experiences. According to their website, House of Commons is open for private dinners or pop-up parties, although times and dates are dependent on finding room in the calendar.
As a dining experience, House of Commons puts the focus on local ingredients, grown or from the province of Ontario. The actual dining portion is set around a large table, with plenty of “botany and other curiosities,” as described on its homepage. The chefs and “cooking comrades” rotate and use the opportunity to showcase their big talent in the little kitchen. Better still, The House never runs out of “Cocktails, Cocktails, Cocktails!”