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When talking about private dining, you’d probably imagine an intimate room that’s separated from the rest of the restaurant. They’re perfect for small gatherings to celebrate weddings, birthday parties, or even corporate events.

But have you ever heard of a secretive private dining restaurant? No, not the kind that’s hidden behind an inconspicuous door disguised as a wall or shelf of books. 

I’m talking about Verbena Dining Club (Verbena) by Chef Gabriel Bonnin, an exclusive private dining club serving Spanish soul cuisine that’s concealed somewhere in Bangsar. 

It’s more than just about the food

Looking at the dining club’s Instagram page, you’ll notice that Verbena isn’t just a spot where you consume good food.

Located in the personal residence of Gabriel, Verbena offers guests with cooking classes, event catering, and also its popular Pool & Paella event. Hosted every couple of months, the latter is a pool party where the club’s new tapas buffet menu is offered, along with a live paella cooking show.

Image Credit: Verbena Dining Club

But at its core, Verbena’s cooking show experience is the main star of the dining club. 

It starts in the kitchen where guests of up to 14 pax are seated at a counter and Gabriel cooks three tapas in front of them. During that, guests will learn how the food is prepped and get up close and personal with his cooking.

Afterwards, the experience is moved to the dining room where you’ll have the mains and desserts. All of which are prepared by Gabriel and his small team of kitchen assistants. 

But in order to join these experiences, you’ll have to book a spot by dropping the brand a DM or WhatsApp message. Otherwise, you won’t find its location on any other platform, even Google. And for good reason, but more on that later.

Combining Eastern and Western flavours

Describing the dining club in his own words, Gabriel shared that Verbena is a space where Spanish soul food combines with local Malaysian ingredients.

Image Credit: Verbena Dining Club

“I don’t like to use the word fusion because fusion sounds like something that you need to force to make it successful. I’m integrating local ingredients to Spanish cuisine, which you will be surprised how well it can pair,” he explained.

Much of it is inspired by his own experience as a chef back in Madrid, Spain, where he used to work in a two Michelin-starred restaurant. It’s where he met Jose Alonso, a fellow chef that later invited Gabriel to join his fine dining company called Tapas Club in Singapore. 

This is how he ended up in Malaysia shortly afterwards, with the task of setting up and leading another Tapas Club outlet in KL.

But then the pandemic hit and the restaurant in KL closed down, which resulted in him losing his job.

Image Credit: Verbena Dining Club

With the extra time, Gabriel decided to start his own private dining business with his friend Aida Perez, the owner of MYSYBARITAS, a store that imports Spanish gourmet products.

It started with an experiment

“Everything starts with MYSYBARITAS,” Gabriel shared and credited this as the beginning of Verbena.

From the cooking show to the menu curation, this was where Gabriel honed his passion for expressing himself in the kitchen while entertaining guests. 

“I love to talk to my guests, love to change opinions about what they eat,” he confided. “What I like the most is to see how they enjoy the plate. Sometimes you don’t need to ask, you just need to see their face to understand if your job is done well or [if] you need to improve.”

They were getting reservations three to four times a week, which eventually became too much to handle for Aida. One of the reasons being the dining experience was hosted at her house.

Image Credit: Verbena Dining Club

So Gabriel and her parted ways on good terms, and the chef set out to make it on his own. On the way, he connected with Nicolas and Lucas who take charge of the backend matters.

And together, the trio built up Verbena to be a dining club that mostly gets its publicity from word-of-mouth marketing.

An exclusive and private space 

“I won’t tell you our address,” Gabriel reaffirmed. “Because our guests are looking for privacy and exclusivity, and they pay a lot of money for that.”

Each experience at Verbena, whether it be to dine, to learn cooking, or to party, starts from RM190 and above. 

Image Credit: Verbena Dining Club

Many of the guests happen to be regulars that visit more than once a month. So to cater to this crowd, the club provides a menu that changes each month too. Though, they’re working on spicing things up soon with a more personalised menu curation.

“Verbena is constantly moving, constantly adding new offers and doing new things. It keeps us alive, otherwise I cannot deal with a business that is always the same,” Gabriel confided. 

It’s one of the reasons why he joined the private dining scene initially because he wanted to personally interact with customers. This includes being able to look at guests appreciating his cooking, as “the eyes don’t lie”. 

Keeping it a little more old school

Image Credit: Verbena Dining Club

This might be a more controversial take, but Gabriel shared that Verbena and himself are not interested in online reviews.

“I’m not interested in how many stars you’re going to give me. I’m very proud to say [that] we are beyond these reviews,” he said.

This is because to him, not all online reviews are genuine. Some of the bad reviews could be non-customers that are just looking to badly influence other guests. 

Hence, instead of stressing about this or letting it influence the business, the dining club focuses on in-person feedback from customers.

Image Credit: Verbena Dining Club

He teased that the dining club is looking for more ways to grow and expand this year. “Unfortunately, we cannot tell you much more because we must keep it private for now.”

So perhaps I’ll just have to stay tuned to the brand’s Instagram page for updates.

At the moment, Verbena remains a side job for Gabriel and his two behind-the-scenes partners. During weekdays, he’s the executive chef at Artisan’s Playground in KL. But on weekends, he’s fully committed to giving guests a unique experience at Verbena. 

  • Learn more about Verbena Dining Club here.
  • Read other articles we’ve written about Malaysian startups here.

Featured Image Credit: Verbena Dining Club

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Vulcan Post aims to be the knowledge hub of Singapore and Malaysia.

© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)