The decadence of dining

Food for thought: supper clubs

As instructed in the e-mail - sent to me by the friend of a friend of the man who runs the operation - I park my car a block away and walk a deliberately circuitous route to the address. It turns out to be a house, respectable enough, with lush foliage lining both sides of the cobble-stoned path to the front door. Still following instructions, I turn the knob and enter without knocking.

The willowy young woman who greets me doesn't look like a criminal, nor do the dozen or so well-dressed people seated at her table. They seem relaxed, sipping champagne and conversing quietly, but you can tell by the gleam in their eyes and the way they hungrily sniff the air that something illicit, even dangerous, is going on.

And then, suddenly, it starts: the man who runs the operation, a concert promoter whose name I have promised not to divulge, but who just so happens to be my brother (sorry Kevin), enters the room and places a small bowl in front of each person. Pan-seared Digby scallops in five-spice carrot reduction.The crowd collectively moans, tucks in, and moans again. And that first taste, that first delectable gulp of perfectly seared scallop delicately napped in a lustrous, dark ochre, slightly Peking duck-tasting sauce, seals our fate, and begins our communal descent into crime.

Crime? What crime? Since when is it illegal for your brother to throw a dinner party?

Since the guests started paying.

Underground restaurants and supper clubs are springing up everywhere, from London to Vancouver, Hong Kong, San Francisco, Berlin and Paris. Besides the one allegedly run by my alleged brother out of my alleged sister's house (the willowy young woman - a nurse by day, an outlaw hostess/ waitress/kitchen help by night), I'm particularly fond of the Paris address, mainly because I founded and run it.

Having told you this, I will now have to kill you.

What started as a lark last spring - a way of showing off my unique culinary talents to a selected coterie of devotees - has since grown into a thriving, tax-free, £4m-a-year business, with a guest-list that reads like a Who's Who of the hot and happening, and a steady line of Michelin-starred cooks clamouring for the special guest-chef spots.

In your wildest dreams. I'm lucky to break even. Like most underground restaurants, mine was born from expediency: we didn't have enough chairs, let alone table space, in our cramped Paris flat to comfortably seat our friends for dinner. And my wife resented the clean-up after. And, because of my love for expensive ingredients, I was spending a small fortune on every meal. So, after lengthy negotiations with the patron of a small, kitchen-less cafe across the street, the Paris arm of the notorious Supper Club syndicate opened its doors.

Our first meal had seven courses, starting with tiny cornets stuffed with basil cream and smoked wild Pacific salmon (smuggled over in my sister's luggage), passing through cockles, scallops, rabbit and beef cheeks, ashed chevre cheese with tricoloured organic beet salad, coconut ice-cream and black Thai rice pudding, and finishing, finally, with chocolate marzipan truffles (made without a permit by my friend Simone, a Danish actress who also contravened a number of labour laws when she stitched together the tablecloth and napkins). Since then, the patron has put in a fridge and a cooker, which means we no longer have to dodge cars carrying each course over from our third-floor apartment.

Are we breaking the law? Aside from the lack of health board and fire department certificates, the absence of food-handling, liquor, water and business permits, the temperature, structural, equipment, ventilation, insurance and zoning violations, and the tax fraud, well, yes, of course we are. But we are also providing a valuable community service. We break bread far beyond the sterile confines of the traditional restaurant, building friendships and offering that most ancient and sacred of experiences: a sinfully rich meal made with love. If our friends want to kick in a "donation" to cover groceries, where's the harm in that?

So what if we don't have separate restrooms and a snooty maItre d'? We have something that even the trendiest "legitimate" restaurant can't provide - true outlaw status, a seductively subversive commodity traditionally found only in speakeasies, opium dens, brothels, and backroom poker games.

So forget Jamie, Gordon and all the other brand-name beans-on-toast bad boys of the culinary world. Instead, join our merry band. Come over to the deliciously dark side of dinner.

But first, you have to find us.