Saturday, August 21, 2010

Annabelle White at One80°

Last night we went to a Wellington on a Plate event featuring Annabelle White. When we were trying to decide what to go to we went through the festival booklet and each of us marked the events that we wanted to go to. As it worked out, there were only a few things we both rated and could fit into our calendar. This was one of the events we both thought sounded interesting, as we watch Breakfast while getting ready for work and are amused by Annabelle's unstoppable chatter and energy. The blurb for the event wasn't very specific about the format - it said "Join Annabelle White for an evening of great food, fun food activities and quips and tips about cuisine and home entertaining from one of New Zealand's most well-known chefs." Given the price ($65 per person) and the 6pm start we knew we'd be fed (well, and it did say great food) but not much else.

When we arrived we were directed to the bar to get a drink (included in the price), and the barman told us we had the option of a Moscow Mule and or a fruity mocktail. We both opted for the Moscow Mule, which was delicious, one of those dangerous drinks where you can't taste the vodka at all (in fact, I normally avoid this sort of drink since I can't see the point in paying for alcohol I can't taste) with a nice fresh, zesty flavour (it's a combination of ginger beer, lime and vodka). While we were sipping our cocktails (well, Mr Cake's vanished pretty quickly - that's his glass in the back, oddly bereft of beverage) Annabelle came out and began introducing herself to the guests (we had all been asked to take a seat in the lounge), finding out names and interests and writing them on labels for us to wear. We were last on the tour, by which time her chatty nature was obviously causing the chef and other staff mild concern, as they attempted to shepherd us into the dining room as quickly as possible.

When we were seated in the dining room an amuse bouche of bruschetta - topped with Kapiti kikorangi blue cheese mousse and pear paste; smoked salmon with avocado salsa; and pumpkin puree with feta and semi dried tomato - was already in front of us. Our orders for the starter, mains and desserts (much more food than I was expecting!) were taken, then Annabelle welcomed us all and got people in the room to try to guess the age of a deceptively youthful-looking man - he was sitting next to us when she introduced herself and discovered his age so we weren't allowed to play, but the closest guess won the guesser a prize.

Once she'd got us all giggling she told us to speak to someone at our table we didn't already know, and to say something interesting like "you have a nice bosom". Well. Way to make awkward silences! ;-) I don't think any of us quite knew what to say after that! There was soon a pretty convivial sort of chatter carrying on so I guess the ice-breaker worked in a round-about way.

The bruschetta was nice but unremarkable - without referring to the menu I wouldn't have known the tomato topped one had pumpkin in it - but I did like the blue cheese one - again, couldn't really detect the pear, but the walnut nicely complemented the cheese, which was not overly sharp.

Annabelle will likely be utterly appalled that this is the best photo I managed to snap - she just never stops moving, so is very difficult to photograph! The format of the evening was essentially that whenever we weren't eating she was telling us crazy and utterly hilarious stories. One of these stories involved being on holiday somewhere with Paul Henry, who mocks her endlessly for her Nordic walking, and parading her Nordic walking technique up and down, to which he commented on her boundless energy. The story was, of course, accompanied by vigorous actions and was pretty funny in itself - but also sums up Annabelle's personality very well. She is nigh on unstoppable! (but very, very funny)

Our starters arrived - being a good food blogger choosing from a set menu consisting of two choices for each course, I placed my order by saying to the waiter after Mr Cake ordered "I'll have the opposite to him". So Mr Cake had the roasted Jerusalem artichoke soup, while I had tomato and fennel chowder with mussels. I was quite jealous of Mr Cake once I had tried his soup - the chowder was spicy and rich, with a generous helping of mussels, but the soup was very creamy, well seasoned, and just a little bit different - Jerusalem artichoke is not something I've eaten much of, but it's certainly something I'd like more of!

After another bout of giggles and a few more prizes out came the mains. I had pork scotch fillet wrapped in bacon, and Mr Cake had boneless stuffed corn-fed chicken with thyme and lemon. Both were served with root vegetable gratin, wilted greens and red wine jus. I'm not a huge pork fan generally so won't usually choose it - and it was nicely cooked but I found it a bit too fatty and not especially tender. The vegetable gratin was very tasty, with the vegetables layered, almost baklava style, with lots of buttery goodness. The wilted greens consisted of a few bits of cavolo nero, which was a very welcome part of the rich dish - I would have happily accepted a much smaller portion of meat and more of the greens. The red wine jus I found excessively salty (and I love salt) and so didn't really eat it. Mr Cake's chicken was well cooked and seasoned but he didn't find the thyme and lemon flavours shining through.

Inconveniently my dessert looks much better in portrait format, so you will have to excuse the ugly photo layout. ;-) For dessert the options were crisp apple tart with ginger and lemongrass ice-cream, or white chocolate and vanilla tart with raspberry coulis. Mr Cake had the apple tart, and the tart was crisp but he was disappointed as it didn't have much flavour. The ginger and lemongrass icing was made by the chef, Suhil (pictured at the top with Annabelle), as he had forgotted to order the Kapiti ice-cream so was forced to create his own! I found it too rich (he told us the recipe, and the custard was entirely cream, whereas when we make ice-cream it's generally half cream and half milk - plus I may have already ODed on ginger from my ginger crunch, oops) but Mr Cake loved it, and the flavours were a great match for apple tart. My white chocolate tart was sweet, and the white chocolate was apparent though perhaps not as creamy as I would have liked - but then I am a dessert fiend.

All in all we had a great time - given that we are headed for a big meal tonight (another Wellington on a Plate spectacular - watch this space!) I was hoping that it would have been a lighter offering, but then normal people don't do stuff at every possible opportunity. ;-) I had also thought perhaps there would be more in the way of Annabelle showing us some cooking - she did spend some time covering some key cooking techniques but really it was a meal with humour. Still excellent, though, and her energy and constant chatter made it impossible not to enjoy oneself.

I believe there is another sitting tonight but imagine it's a bit late - but in case you want to make a last ditch effort the details are here.


  1. Jerusalem artichokes are knobbly and tricky to peel and even when he cant taste them, cause your grandfather to throw up so tended not to figure in family meals. Those apple tarts look good.

  2. Interesting... But since Grandpa wouldn't probably be too keen to eat anything I would do with it anyway (and since he lives in a different city) that's probably okay. :-)


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