Sunday, August 22, 2010

White, White, Baby!

When Mr Cake and I first looked at the programme for Wellington on a Plate, we were both instantly drawn to "White, White, Baby!" - run by Boulcott Street Bistro, it promised an evening of all white, the idea being to remove the sense of sight from the eating experience, challenging our tastebuds and expectations. The event was being held in a car salesroom (to further the white theme), and sounded fabulous so we made it top of our priority list and booked as soon as we could. We were told to dress in black and white, and excited about our big night out, and after some careful scouring of the wardrobe (including me wearing footless tights for the first time since about 1995 - is it wrong to subscribe to the same trend more than once in a lifetime?!?) we excitedly wandered down to the GT Nissan Showroom on Kent Terrace.

As we approached we could see that all the cars had their hazard lights on, making it clear that something exciting was happening. On arrival we were ushered to a table to collect a glass of Taittinger champagne. The UV lighting combined with the monochromatic dress code made for a fantastic atmosphere, and the room was buzzing with great anticipation. We noticed also that the cars in the lot had been carefully placed - the ones flanking the showroom were all white - though the men in the room seemed more interested in the black Maserati in the corner. I realise that I have not taken any photos of this apparent masterpiece - sorry to any readers who feel that may have been a highlight; you can tell how highly cars rank on my priority list! ;-)

Servers circulated through the crowd, ensuring no-one was at any time wanting for champagne. Before too long they started emerging with plates of canapes, which we eagerly accepted.

The first offerings were small balls encrusted with rice noodles. We asked and were told they were prawn, and they were generously sized, hot and very moreish! I found them to be two bites and the noodles made this a bit messy, but Mr Cake was quite happy with them being bite-sized morsels, gobbling them in one man-sized bite. The prawn flavour came through loud and clear and I loved these - very savoury, and though perhaps hiding the pinkish prawn meat inside was cheating a little I was not going to complain!

The second plate to be presented contained small glasses of hot cauliflower and truffle liquid - I guess a sort of soup but very, very creamy, nicely warming our bellies and exciting the tastebuds for more!

I have to thank the very tolerant servers for their willingness to be photographed - I hope it didn't disturb them too much; they were all very obliging!

While waiting/chatting we speculated on where we would eat, and realised that a sort of curtain was concealing half the showroom from view, and this had to be our dining area. We presume the back of the showroom was serving as the kitchen, for this is where all the servers came from and was also curtained off.

After a generous quantity of canapes had been served the evening was introduced (though I am unsure of the gent's name, he was also an organiser of the WLG pop-up restaurant we went to last weekend) and we were asked to move through into the dining area when we were ready.

Well - they did themselves proud! It was spectacular, all in white except the stems of the flowers in the centrepieces, and reminiscent of a wedding. We were shown to our seats, which were marked with the name of the person who had booked - Mr Cake booked for us and the gent sitting to my right had his seat booked by his female companion so amusing introductions were had. The whole effect was fantastic, and having everyone dressed in monochrome made it all the more impressive.

Each place setting included two wine glasses, and soon after we were seated chardonnay was poured for us. As with the champagne, top ups were generous and frequent, though I requested the server not refill my glass as I don't tend to drink that much and wanted to focus on the food aspect of the evening.

With 96 diners (94, actually, the two who were supposed to be seated beside Mr Cake never appeared, somewhat oddly as pre-payment was required and at $150 per person the cost wasn't trivial!) it did take some time to serve the food, though once each course appeared plates were distributed very efficiently.

We weren't given any indication of what the food was - indeed, if the point is to challenge your perception of the food then mystery is important. The first course was very mysterious indeed - a four layered dish. It was fairly obvious to me straight away that there was some sort of fish sandwiched in the middle, but other than that the visual clues were sparse - perhaps lychees on top and a layer of goats cheese, and as for the bottom - very hard to tell. It was surprisingly difficult to detect the flavours of the dish - I was amazed just how large the influence of my sight was - and we all spent some time discussing and dissecting the various components to try to establish what they were. The top layer was reasonably easy - scallops. The third layer, as expected, was fish, though we were unsure if it was sardine, herring, or something else. The bottom layer I guessed to be polenta with some sort of sharp cheese through it - there were occasional chewy bits and a very distinct, strong cheese flavour. The second layer stumped me, though; it looked like goats cheese but tasted quite bland.

The official description: Grana Padana and Chevre gellan with pickled white anchovy, lamels of Nelson scallops and rice wine vinegar. So the strong cheese in the base, the goats cheese (though I am now unsure if my tastebuds were so confused they missed the familiar flavour, or if it was so mild it played second fiddle to the other dominant flavours), anchovy, not herring or sardine, and scallops. Not too far off but it certainly did require a lot of thought!

The second course took quite a while to get to us, and was preceded by our second wine glasses being filled with chenin blanc. Some amusement came with the serving of the meal as all the servers donned these stunning sunnies while collecting the first round of plates.

I have to say, though it was delicious first impressions with this dish were not exactly high! Part of the challenge, I guess - I find the lumpy texture of the sauce pretty offputting to look at but once it got to my mouth it was fine. We had speculated that our main would likely either be chicken or fish, and the chef did an excellent job of confusing the table by presenting both, sort of. On taking my first bite I told Mr Cake he had guessed right, as he had thought chicken likely since our first course was seafood-oriented. It took him another three or four bites to understand, as he had started with a fishy part of his dish.

The menu description was: Chicken and spanner crab galantine on white turnip puree with horseradish. We hadn't figured out that it was crab, not fish, and no-one in our vicinity picked turnip or horseradish, either - but the chicken and seafood flavours were definitely the dominant ones here.

While we were eating our meal we were entertained by this singer, who provided a pleasant accompaniement to the meal. Though he only sang a couple of songs it added another dimension to a very well thought-out event - it really did provide the full package.

By this point in the evening, with copious quantities of wine being poured and not a great quantity of food, people began to comment on the liquid focus. The place settings had consisted only of two knives and two forks, so it was apparent that we had had the main course - but without any significant starchy mass a lot of people seemed to be keen for something with a bit more substance. It was wonderful that wine was poured with abundance but a little more food - even in the form of a potentially boringly predictable mash - would have gone down a treat. There was definitely a murmur of laughter when the servers brought out glasses of dessert wine for everyone! (it was after 10pm by this point)

The dessert followed shortly after, and was pretty, though perhaps the least mysterious dish of the day. The creamy topping was coconutty, and partially frozen - very tasty. There were some crunchy bits, sort of like meringue, and a jellyish mass with tapioca at the bottom of the glass.

Official description: Freeze dried fruits with tapioca and Malibu sorbet. I'm sorry but I certainly can't tell you what fruits were freeze-dried - possibly feijoa - but I think perhaps my senses were overwhelmed by the effort and I really didn't detect the fruity flavours. The Malibu accounts for the coconut flavour, and the sorbet was quite delicious, and I also enjoyed the tapioca, not just because of the starch factor. ;-)

The dessert wine was very nice also, though I have no idea what it was. 

Once the dessert had been cleared big plates of marshmallow were brought to the tables. I do love sweet things and this was lime flavoured, with the citrus tang a good complement for the super-sweet pillowy marshmallow. However, I am slightly embarrassed to admit that by this time much of the conversation at the table was focussed on what carbs to best offset all the wine with - the contenders being fare from Burger King, KFC, or a pizza delivery service.

Impressive clouds of candy floss were brought to the table, hot on the heels of the marshmallow, and also lime flavoured. Chef Rex Morgan brought out a big tray to top up the plates, while Mr Cake enjoyed himself making cloud shapes with the little bits he pulled off the mass. I have to admit, candyfloss does have a very striking effect and without pink colouring looks fantastic and perhaps even sophisticated.

We left after consuming a respectable (or perhaps it exceeded respectability!) quantity of candyfloss and marshmallow, though not before asking for details of what had been served; nothing had been said to us but I was presented with a rolled up menu tied with ribbon, so the details were available for all (though perhaps those who left before us missed out). We noticed on our way out that the champagne table had been reset with cups and saucers, so we obviously missed the last stage of the meal - chai latte, perhaps? (since tea and coffee obviously don't fit the bill!) However, it was almost 12pm, and when we *ahem* nipped in to KFC to get some hot chips they were about to close - so it was quite a long meal. We had planned to go to a party afterwards and when we booked were told it was expected to finish at about 10.30/11pm, so it was longer than planned. It wasn't too long, though - there was enough happening, and the challenge of identifying food encouraged lots of discussion with our fellow diners so it was very enjoyable.

Overall we had a great time, and would do it again in a flash - our only critique was the disproportionate drink:food ratio, which was happily solved by a quick stop at K-Fry on the way home. ;-) Well done to Boulcott Street Bistro for a very exciting and thought-provoking event!

White, White, Baby! was hosted by Boulcott Street Bistro as part of Wellington on a Plate.


  1. Fascinating description! But I'm afraid I would have been quite cross to have paid that much and get so little to eat, especially combined with all that wine.

  2. I think you've been over-kind in your review. I would be annoyed too, especially since the food really seemed to go for novelty value over flavour. Scallops with cheese just seems weird and wrong.

    Ms Marmitelover did a black meal once that looked quite good.

    In London you can also do the uber-gimmicky "dans le noir" which is a meal eaten completely in the dark, served by blind people. Hmm.

  3. The pudding sounds wonderful :)

    While I appreciate a decent sized meal - not Lonestar-huge but not stupidly tiny either - it does look like you could have done with another, slightly more substantial course in there. Looks like an exciting night overall though :D

  4. Anne, the atmosphere did make for an impressive evening, so I forgive it some for that. But hopefully they will learn for next time and give us a bit more!

    Sarah, I really did enjoy it but yes, more food would have been good. However, the cheese and scallops did work well - it sounds odd but tasted good, which is surely all that counts, right?

    Laura - yeah, Lonestar kills me but a little more would have been good! The dessert was yummy although maybe judgement was a little blurry by that stage. ;-) It was fabulous, though, definitely had the hype factor working for it!


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