A table of 20 strangers sits in complete silence. The initial bustle of nodded, waved and grinned greetings has subsided and now time seems to have juddered to a painful crawl as silence sets in, heavy and plodding. I’ve aged in the last five minutes. A self-confessed chatterbox, the desire to speak has been burning on my lips since the moment we arrived. Only another hour and 55 minutes to go. I exchange an agonised look with my companion sitting to my left. He is probably the only person I know who likes to talk more than I do. He glares at me angrily as if to say what the hell are we doing here? Good question.
Over the course of the last five years, the conservative, safe world of Sydney’s dining scene has been taken over by experiential eating experiences such as these Silent Dinner Parties, also known as guerilla dining. Pop-up restaurants, secret supper clubs, food trucks gastronomic book clubs and gourmet safaris have become mainstays of the city’s evolving dining scene.
Gone are the days when soft candlelight, some decent grub and an attentive waiter made for a perfect evening out. Now we seem to need something more. Which is how we find ourselves here, counting down the minutes of muteness.
Several glasses of wine later, a plate is placed in front of each of us with the first course of a parmesan-stuffed portobello mushroom. It’s nothing special but we all fall upon it as though we have never seen food before – relieved for anything to fill the word-shaped void in our mouths. Chewing somehow eases the awkwardness.
When we uncork our second bottle of wine, things have started to loosen up and get creative. The picture perfect couple sitting opposite us have managed to perform a brief highland fling to explain that they are from Scotland, while the lady to my right has been pretending to drink a cup of tea with her pinkie pointed in the air to demonstrate that she is from England. We’ve played a strenuous game of imaginary volleyball across the table. We’re actually having fun.
After all that exertion, we’re more than ready for the next course – chargrilled peppers, couscous and pumpkin salad. My companion has, by now, cottoned on that we’re in for an evening of vegetables and is looking a little traumatised by the lack of meat. I top up his wine glass and he shoots daggers as he knocks it back.
By the time that dessert (a spiced poached pear with vanilla ice cream) has been demolished, we’re feeling pretty drunk. Everybody stands and we all hug, massively bonded by our silent escapades.
But as soon as we step outside, words frantically spill from our mouths. Staying silent was exhausting work, but it certainly gave us a lot to talk about.