At 9.15am my phone vibrates.
“We’re looking forward to seeing you tonight at ‘Converted Church’. Meet us in the laneway next to 126 Greeves Street, Fitzroy. Canapes from 7pm. PDR x”
From the event description on the website, all I know is that Jo Barrett and Harry Cordner of Oakridge Restaurant will be cooking. The venue, menu and guest list remain a mystery.
Come dinnertime, I venture off Fitzroy’s beaten tracks, following Google Maps down a dark laneway. I think I’m lost, but the little blue dot is telling me otherwise.
Someone emerges from a garage in a nearby laneway with a wine glass. Peeking in the dimly lit garage, I see a long table lined with glasses of champagne. Waiters in penguin suits are roaming with boards of canapes. Guests almost speak in a whisper as they hover around a sleek, silver car that sits in the middle of the space. The car seems a bit random, until you remember you’re in a garage.
The 40 guests are ushered upstairs into a stunning, open home. The ceiling is very high; stained-glass windows decorate the tall walls; and sturdy, dark wooden beams and banisters feature throughout.
From then on, it’s a grand yet intimate dinner party. Guests watch as the chefs prepare a British-inspired six-course menu on the island bench in the home kitchen; strangers get to know one another across a long, white-clothed dining table; sommeliers roam the room, taking the time to talk each guest through their wine pairings.
One of those somms – and organiser of the dinner party – is L’Hôtel Gitan’s Tim O’Donnell. He established the Private Dining Room (PDR) series in late 2015.
“To be honest with you, the secrecy came about for the first event from not actually having all the details to give people – I was trying to sell tickets based on something that didn’t necessarily exist,” explains O’Donnell. “But people liked that – this element of surprise. I think that builds up excitement around it.”
So far, dinners have been hosted at an old wool factory in Collingwood, an 1800s St Kilda mansion, the Mechanics Institute of Victoria in Prahran, a photography studio in the CBD and, most recently, the converted church.
“The [church] we found through Airbnb,” he says. “I was actually just looking for a place to have a weekend away with my partner and came across it.
“There’ve been other venues where I’ve just been walking down the street and literally walked in and had a look around. We’ve managed to create dinners in spaces that have had no kitchen at all, or no running water, nothing.”
O’Donnell’s intent for PDR is not only to unlock the city’s hidden spaces but to introduce Melburnians to the city’s new breed of experimental, up-and-coming chefs. Chefs who – perhaps due to the nature of their day jobs – cannot create or execute their most ambitious menus.
Next on the PDR bill is Stray Neighbour’s head chef Romina Gagliardi, who’ll draw on her Italian heritage to develop the menu.
While O’Donnell admits the PDR dinners can’t stay a secret forever, he’s confident that the locations can.
The only clues he’ll give for the next one?
“It’ll be open-plan, but quite different to the last. Down an alleyway, up some dodgy stairs,” he divulges.
“And it’s not the Abbotsford Convent.”
Private Dining Room is hosting an event on November 24, 2016. Tickets for the six-course dinner with matched wines are $165 per head and available here. Keep up to date with future dinners via the website.