It might be minus-one degree Celsius outside, but in the warmth of a brightly lit studio space in North London, 30 complete strangers are clinking glasses of Prosecco. I step inside, shake the snowflakes from my coat, and help myself to a glass.
I’m at The Sister Table, the first in a series of monthly brunch clubs held by sisters Bonita, a graphic designer, and Benjamina Ebuehi, a baker and food stylist who appeared on The Great British Bake Off. The brunches are aimed at millennial woman who enjoy “food in good company with purposeful conversation.” Some of the attendees at today’s event have come from as far as Dartford and Hertfordshire.
Looking at the menu, this doesn’t surprise me. It includes classic brunch items like granola and smashed avocado, as well as dishes that draw on the sisters’ Nigerian heritage, including buttermilk cornbread and fried plantains—all of which sound well worth travelling for.
“The menu was inspired by some of our favourite flavours and ingredients and so naturally, that included food like plantains, something which we both grew up eating regularly,” Benjamina explains. “Growing up in London, we’ve been so lucky to have been exposed to foods from around the world and it’s been great to be able to bring those all together to create a unique spread.”
Both Benjamina and Bonita enjoy hosting dinner parties for friends, and this motivated them to start the brunch club.
“We get a lot of joy from hosting, feeding our friends, and being around the table for hours and hours,” they tell me. “It’s powerful to see how many people connect over food so we decided to extend those sentiments to a wider audience.”
Ultimately, the sisters hope that guests at The Sister Table will not only enjoy the food but also forge new friendships and business contacts.
Looking around the studio today, it seems to be working. Everyone is seated on one long dining table, which means there’s scant opportunity for solo guests like myself to stand alone. It’s not long before I’m in full conversation with my neighbours, debating everything from Britain’s north-south divide to attending college in Alabama. I feel like I’ve known the women on the table for years.
This chance to bond in an intimate setting with like-minded women was a major draw for some of the guests.
“There’s a certain sisterhood between women that only comes out when we’re alone together,” attendee Harleigh Reid, a baker and blogger at The Small Slice, agrees. “I’m all here for male-free zones and I’m not sorry.”
As we talk, Benjamina and Bonita prepare the dishes in the small upstairs kitchen, occasionally strolling back down to mingle with their guests. Mostly, though, they leave us to get to know one another. After about 45 minutes, our first course is ready: tahini granola with pears poached in vanilla and ginger. There is no better way to spend a Saturday afternoon, I think, spooning extra honey and yogurt onto my bowl.
At £35 per event, The Sister Table brunch is significantly more affordable than other supper clubs, which can cost as much as £50 a ticket. In part, Benjamina and Bonita set their price point to attract millennials, who have less disposable income compared to older generations, earning a fifth less than their parents did at this age. Another reason behind the price was to make the brunches accessible to people of colour, who also earn significantly less than other demographic groups.
“We want our events to truly be diverse and inclusive. It would be a shame to think that people couldn’t come because of the price,” Bonita explains. “The Sister Table aims to bring women together to take part in a dining experience that is a bit alien to non-white, non-middle class culture.”
Benjamina adds: “I’ve been to many supper clubs in London where I’ve been the only person of colour in a room of over 30 people. The only times this hasn’t been the case was when the theme was very culture or country specific, like ‘Ghanaian’ or ‘West African.’”
For Harleigh, it’s particularly poignant to see black women claiming the supper club space.
“It’s inspirational to see what [the sisters] are doing with The Sister Table,” she tells me. “It’s a great example of what I can be capable of too.”
While diversity in food is increasingly being recognised and discussed, thanks to platforms such as The Racist Sandwich podcast and the work of culinary activists like Michael W. Twitty, the sisters think that there is still work to be done before it is fully inclusive.
“There’s still a way to go,” Benjamina concedes. “Especially in terms of seeing food created by people of colour as just a trend that can be picked up and dropped at a whim.”
Until then, The Sister Table is creating a space where women of all backgrounds can find healing through the sharing of food. As we move onto our second course of toasted buttermilk cornbread, grilled halloumi, smashed avocado, and fried plantains with red pepper jam, I think about how important events like this are in the current political climate.
“There’s a shared experience among British women of colour. Being all together around a table can be a real comfort,” Benjamina says. “I think there’s less pressure to present an altered or diluted version of yourself. That in itself can be healing.”
That, and a really good dessert. With the last smears of jam wiped from our plates, we move onto our final course of salted caramel and hazelnut brownies, lemon drizzle cake, and white chocolate meringues. Ten phones crowd above the dessert trio, vying for the perfect Instagram shot. “Are we done so we can eat?” laughs one of the guests.
A resounding “yes” comes from the table and we dive into the desserts, struggling to decide whether to eat one, two, or all three. I heap the meringue and a slice of lemon drizzle cake onto my plate. The sweet white chocolate transports me back to gluttonous Eid feasts.
“I hope the event being run by two black women doesn’t push it into a corner where only black women feel comfortable to attend,” Harleigh says as we devour our desserts. Even so, she’s optimistic as she recalls her fondest memory of the day: “After the final course, the end of the table I was sitting at broke out into a ten-woman strong analysis of Black Panther, with women of all races. It was amazing.”