“Is that for decoration or can you eat it?—that’s always the first question we get asked,” begins John Lim with a laugh. As the founder of luxury botanical design studio This Humid House, his affinity for the language of plants and flowers is a given. While his newest culinary venture might seem like a departure from his usual field, Lim views it, instead, as an extension.
“Senang Supperclub is a way for us to challenge that assumption, that something can’t be both beautiful and edible. I’ve always thought of food as a soft power. This is a nation of foodies and we have a very developed food culture. The way I see it, there’s a potential for the same kind of sophistication to be applied to plants and flowers, and that’s what we’ve tried to do in our work. It’s been a dream of mine to be able to combine both of these things in a way that allows them to resonate with each other.”
Hosted at This Humid House’s beautiful new office space, Senang Supperclub invites guest chefs to prepare a menu, then turns it into a culinary experience like no other. On the surface, this might seem like your typical gastronomic pop-up. Dig deeper, however, and you’ll find that it goes far beyond just that.
“For most, a typical Senang Supperclub session begins with the fight to find parking, or with being dropped off and getting very disoriented, because this is such an unassuming area that few people know it,” Lim jokes. “What we do is put a small pedestal with a floral arrangement far out onto the street so it’s impossible to miss. It’s a bit of an announcement. Guests head down a passageway and when the door opens, what they’ll find inside is a nice surprise.”
This Humid House’s new space might be an office in name, but it feels like a cross between a home and an art gallery. An extensive array of unique vessels—collected over a decade from all parts of the world—spans an entire wall, regularly used in the work that the botanical studio does and at the same time making a striking visual statement. In a corner, a mid-century modern table stands, previously part of the collection from the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia.
Next to it is a buffet table that used to be in the old Jakarta Post office, one of many local and regional design elements that fill the space. Every inch of the room is filled with sculptural forms and intricate details, yet it retains a sense of intimacy that defines the Senang Supperclub experience.
“The hospitality starts from the door. Guests are handed drinks immediately and the idea is that you have these breakaway spaces where people can start conversations as they begin to look for their name on the table,” Lim explains.
Evoking both the cosiness of a home gathering and the splendour of an extravagant feast, Senang Supperclub is a place of community. A large communal table lends itself to interaction as certain dishes are served in pairs for sharing. There is a particular charm in finding yourself a part of the Senang Supperclub circle—surrounded by good conversations and good food.
“Beyond having guests feel taken care of, the highest end goal is for them to feel seen,” shares Lim. “This is very much in line with how we try to incorporate a lot of recognisable elements in the experience. We cook with a lot of familiar flavours, and style with many plants that are common in people’s gardens. It’s done in a way that’s unexpected, but just delightful at the same time.”
The first chef to bring the concept to life is Bryan Koh, a Southeast Asian food researcher, author and co-owner of cake shop Chalk Farm. Having penned multiple titles that go in-depth into the cooking of various countries in the region, Koh puts together a menu that inspires guests to rethink what they know of as Southeast Asian cuisine. Think Filipino seafood salads with coconut milk alongside a comforting pork rib curry that Koh remembers his grandmother making during his childhood.
“The whole idea was to create a menu that was, by most people’s standards, quite unusual, and that would take them on a bit of a ride. We never really step beyond the flavour zone of Southeast Asia, yet the menu is designed in such a way that no two dishes overlap,” Koh explains. “We are also careful not to make guests feel as though they were being educated. We always have fun-looking vegetables and it’s quite exciting to see guests make their way around the plate to figure out what things are, what they liked and what they didn’t. We like to keep people on their toes, we want them to be excited about what’s coming up next, but without being daunted in any way.”
Gentle provocation, is how Lim puts it, and it is this precise notion that drives the culinary concept the duo has put together for this particular shoot. Building upon the idea of a holiday party, they have created a menu that nudges the typical yuletide feast into familiar local territory.
“Whenever someone tells me they are going to a Christmas party, my first instinct is to ask about the food,” muses Lim. “The idea of having holiday celebrations in the tropics has always been interesting to me. When it’s hot during Christmas, everyone has an idea of holiday food that is so unique. Often, it’s based on some tradition but adapted in a way to make it local. For me, that is what it means to own an idea and I love everything about that.”
When we step into Senang Supperclub on the day of the shoot, it is to a large turkey suspended from the ceiling, reminiscent of the produce hanging in a Hainanese chicken rice stall, atop a cake of fragrant rice on the buffet table. Instead of the typical green bean casserole, local string beans are cooked whole and served with nanmi sauce, as a Burmese egg curry takes the place of deviled eggs. For dessert, Koh prepares unday-unday, Filipino-style glutinous rice balls in coconut caramel.
Slowly, tables are dressed, candles are lit and the space is filled with gorgeous botanical arrangements by Lim and the This Humid House team. All that’s left to do, then, is await the dinner guests for a wonderfully surprising holiday feast.
Photography Sayher Heffernan
Styling Nicholas See
Hair and make-up Zhou Aiyi and Jen Lim/Makeup Entourage
Stylist’s assistant Elden Zachery
The December ‘Carouse’ issue of Vogue Singapore is available for sale online now and in-store from 14 December.