If you were lucky enough to secure a seat at one of the communal plywood tables that made up the mysterious, makeshift warehouse restaurant called The Eat In last year, you may have heard of Full Circle and the team of food enthusiasts that brought the pop-up project together. The Eat In ran every Thursday, Friday and Saturday over the first few months of 2013, in Chippendale. It was all done with a fairly low profile – the location was kept secret and the website showed only an image of a mobile number painted in white on scratched wooden flooring. If you did go along, you will remember the lamp-lit warehouse, the fiery kitchen only a stone’s throw from your table, the strangers opposite you that were friends by the end of the night, and the hand-written menu, a wild, fixed-price degustation of seasonal and local produce.
Now, though, the warehouse is no more and all that’s left of The Eat In are the stories of evenings well lived. But this was not the first event-based project for Full Circle, and nor will it be its last. When asked who exactly makes up the Full Circle group, members Kristen Allan and Tom Merryweather exchange glances and pause for a moment to think. “Well, it all started with Kristen and Dan four or five years ago,” Merryweather explains, to which Allan agrees. She met chef and Full Circle co-founder Daniel Johnston while the pair was working at Vini and Berta in Surry Hills. “We found ourselves with some free time and we started talking about throwing these different dinners at different locations around Sydney,” she says. “We were both really passionate about local produce and we just wanted to do something that was fun – and something that was our own.”
Before pop-ups became a common exercise in branding, and when the idea of repurposed spaces was still fresh and a little radical in Sydney – Johnston and Allan hosted guerrilla feasts in an Opera Australia set-design studio, a warehouse in Surry Hills and a recording studio in Waterloo. Long tables were installed, ovens and crockery brought in and people sat on crates with cushions. ‘Thanks for coming last night,’ writes Johnston on the Full Circle blog, after a warehouse dinner in mid 2012. ‘Short notice, last -minute dinner party. You’d be happy you left when you did, before the whisky hit the table.’
Soon Merryweather and a host of others were involved. “Full Circle, for us, isn’t about just the two of us. We knew there would be all these different people helping us,” says Allan. Indeed, Johnston defines the group as himself, Allan and Merryweather, but also a network of, “lots of other total legends depending on the project we are working on.”
The Full Circle feasts were always location dependent, and scouring disused city spaces was never easy. During winter the group began to host ‘Soupys’, which were slightly less involved, allowing them to pop-up almost anywhere – a stairwell in The Rocks overlooking Barngaroo, a Rozelle tram shed, an overpass and a park. “We did most of the prep for the big dinners in our kitchens,” says Allan of the full-blown feasts. “You know, a little home kitchen oven trying to cook for 50, 60, or 70 people … With the Soupys, we could just do one big pot of soup and a desert, and it would be smaller and easier.”
The idea for The Eat In and a slightly more permanent setting for Full Circle’s endeavours came to Johnston after spending some time in Italy. Particularly inspired by a simple fish restaurant that was set up nightly in a mechanic’s workshop in an industrial suburb of Rome, he was keen to bring the idea, and the philosophy back to Sydney. “It was all about food, about sharing food, and the company,” explains Merryweather. “[Dan] just wanted to recreate, or bring that to people’s awareness here in Sydney.” And so The Eat In was born.
And as for what’s up next for Full Circle, Johnston explains, “We are all in a transitional phase at the moment.” Members of the team are keeping busy channelling their passion to other, individual projects. “I have just got back from helping to open 121BC in Hong Kong,” Johnston continues. “Tom is helping a friend with a new cafe in Alexandria, and Kristen is trying to keep up with the demand for her amazing cheese-making workshops held at Cornersmith Picklery.”
Last week, the group took part in the sustainable food and wine festival Rootstock – Johnston spoke about the stories of Full Circle and The Eat In at a discussion called Think Outside the Box, Allan hosted two cheese-making master classes and Full Circle had a stall in the Sunday Marketplace selling and making cheese. The Full Circle community has plans in the works for another semi-permanent space this year too, and there is talk of more secret dinners to come. “Now is the first time in a little while we've all been together,” Johnston says. “And we are planning and scheming for the future.”