Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Blind Dining at Capitol

Firstly, I have to ask your forgiveness for the terrible photos. Unfortunately it's reasonably tricky to take good ones when you're blindfolded! I'm sure I looked a bit daft waving the camera around but only the staff could see me so I'm not going to lose sleep over that.

Mr Cake and I had our first Wellington on a Plate adventure for 2011 on Sunday night - we attended "Blind Dining" at Capitol, which required being blindfolded at the door and surrendering our vision for the rest of the evening.

Poor lighting didn't help my blind photography!

We felt the staff at Capitol did really well hosting the event - though we were blindfolded before we entered I at no point felt uncomfortable (though I did experience more than my fair share of trust games as a kid so walking around blindfolded is not as foreign as it might be for some!). As well as guiding us to our tables very well (with a firm lead, and lots of explanation of the surroundings), they ensured the tables weren't unnecessarily cluttered (when we arrived we had only a water glass each), explaining how it would work (raise your hand if you need the toilet!), and taking our hands to show us where anything new on the table was.

We started with a cocktail, which was served in a small glass (perhaps a bit bigger than a shot glass). I sniffed it to try to detect flavours but didn't get anything from the smell, but drinking it got a rich, chocolately flavour with a good burn to it. I commented that it tasted spiced and maybe had chilli in it, and turned out to be right - many others took the back-of-the-throat warmth to be from high alcohol content rather than spice, but my investigatory sniffs helped me avoid that assumption.

Sticks and Stones
Once the introduction had been given - startlingly this was announced by people walking around the room striking knives against steels (or at least that's what it sounded like!) - the first course arrived. Entitled "Sticks and Stones" it consisted of appetising morsels which could easily be picked up with the fingers. Cheese straws and seaweed strips were easy to guess - the nuts I confidently declared were cashews were actually pistachios, and there were also spiced almonds which I didn't pick at all.

The second round was called "Spoons" and came on four Chinese spoons, which enabled easy eating. The server guided our hands to show us where the spoons were on the dish, and advised us to have them left to right. The first was seaweed with scallop - I found it easy to guess, and the seaweed was nicely flavoured and not too overpowering.

Spoon two contained something a bit slithery, definitely seafood, but very tasty and tender. I couldn't get past some kind of marinated squid (the slither factor!), but it turned out to be crayfish tortellini - the slither was actually the pasta, but my tastebuds went straight to the filling, trying to reconcile the outside texture with the taste. It was delicious, though, I would have been very happy with a meal of only that!

The third spoon was very tasty, rich meaty flavours and a crispy outside. Mr Cake threw me a little bit by saying "that's clearly arancini" which was not at all what I thought it was. He'd also confused me by exclaiming at how heavy it was when he picked it up - and when he came to get the last spoon he realised he'd actually skipped over number three. The true nature of the third spoon (which was my favourite, I thought it was very good) was revealed later on - sweetbreads! That announcement created a bit of a stir around the room - I guess it's the sort of thing some people might not choose to eat.

Spoon four was, as Mr Cake identified, arancini - very cheesy, and filling. Mr Cake really enjoyed this, and I liked it though felt it lacked punch after the rich sweetbreads (not that I knew what they were then!).

The third course was "Balls" ("not that kind!" the host quipped when he announced it - which was a relief). It was a sort of salad made up of lots of little, well, balls. Orbs of various sizes and textures, to be somehow coaxed onto a spoon. It actually wasn't that hard (with a bit of help from the fingers!) to get them where they needed to be. There were bits of cucumber, and little crunchy morsels of hot potato - those were easy to guess. Then there were the tapioca balls (we figured out what they were but hadn't guessed the savoury flavour came from being cooked in fish stock), Israeli couscous, and a couple of types of fish roe.

At half time permission was given for those who wished to to raise their blindfolds. I chose to stay blind, as I knew I'd landmark everything and my perception would change a lot, but Mr Cake raised his, as did most others. Then it was back into the dark for the main course.

Hoof and Root
"Hoof and Root" was its name - and given the name the tender meat and rich gravy on our plates wasn't too much of a surprise. However, being presented with knives and forks provided a new challenge, and it also proved more difficult than I had anticipated to identify the "hoof" - I guessed lamb, while Mr Cake stuck with beef. It turned out to be beef cheek, but the chef had sneakily used an array of different stocks (including lamb) to make the gravy. The "root" came in the form of crisps, and while I had my spidey sense turned on for the first one and guessed it to be kumara, there were also sweet potato and mushroom crisps. Partly I blame inattention for not noticing there were different types, and partly I blame my fumbly fork skills, as several of my crisps were drowned in gravy before making it to my mouth, which makes it difficult to distinguish the subtle (or not so subtle) differences. The meat was incredibly tender (cooked for 11 hours!) and though there were a few incidents of empty forks being lifted to mouths, and likewise of overloaded forks being nibbled off because the knife didn't land right, it wasn't too tricky. They were kind to us in what they served though - nothing too hard to pick up, and they didn't give us chopsticks!

This one I forgot to photograph before I gobbled it up! Before dessert we got a spoon with a creamy concoction on it, cheekily named "Intercourse." I found the flavours of this incredibly hard to guess, and there was a strong hit of something which seemed quite sour in the middle. Again I confidently proclaimed the nutty topping only to be wrong (I said hazelnuts, they were walnuts), and we basically got nothing right from this one - the sour flavour was apparently sherry, which I would never have guessed!

The "Pudding" was a foamy mound of deliciousness amid a pool of rich, tangy sauce. The fluffy part was sweet and rather nice but the flavour was largely in the sauce. I thought I detected tamarillo, while Mr Cake decided it was a reduction of the dessert wine we were drinking (which was really nice!). The crunchy bits on top were amaretti - I've eaten too many of those tasty biscuits to not know that! - but I was very wrong on the sauce. It was wine, as Mr Cake surmised, with spices. The foam was pear mousse - but the biggest surprise was the dessert wine. We enjoyed it enough that we were hanging out for the name of it so we could procure some at a later date, but it turned out to be a concoction of the bartender - three different wines, blended together for our drinking pleasure. When you think about it, why wouldn't you? But an unusual concept - and we're disappointed we can't buy it by the bottle!

We had a wonderful night, a great experience and great food. There were lots of fun little things to keep it interesting, and trying to work out what we were eating kept our minds on the food. I was initially disappointed that we were seated on our own - I thought we might have been at larger tables - but that might have been quite confusing, and though it's interesting to meet other people there was plenty to keep our minds occupied. A stellar job by the Capital team - well done guys!

Blind Dining was part of Wellington on a Plate. Capital is located in the Embassy Theatre building on Kent Terrace, Wellington, ph 04 384 2855, www.capitolrestaurant.co.nz


  1. This sounds fascinating! I think I'd elect to stay blindfolded the whole way through as well. And sweetbreads, huh? I guess their blindfold experiment worked, if everyone loved it!

    I hope you don't mind me saying this, but the idea of you waving a camera around with a blindfold on is very amusing :) I'm sure if I was in the same situation I would've misjudged the framing and missed the food altogether!

  2. Sound like such an amazing experience. What a great way to try sweetbreads...I have always been too scared. Look forward to more vicarious WOAP adventures....so wish I was there :)

  3. Laura, I don't know if everyone still loved it after they found out what it was! ;-) I don't mind you saying that at all - I was fully aware of my dorkiness at the time and was listening for the shutter so had my ear up to the camera as well - even worse! I was impressed at the photos I came away with - I think it tells you how much of my photo quality comes from the camera and how much from my [lack of] skill. ;-)

    topkatnz, it was great - I highly recommend it if you get the chance!

    Mairi, sometimes not knowing is the best way! ;-)

  4. The photos aren't bad given you were blindfolded! Food sounds fab. I think I would need to be blindfolded to eat sweetbreads. I have heard good things about them but think I would need to be tricked into eating them as I just don't like the thought of eating brains!

  5. Libby, I'm embarrassed the photos are as they are - clearly my eyes don't add much to my skill. ;-) The food was all delicious, even the sweetbreads. The way they were crumbed meant probably even with sight we wouldn't have known what we were popping in our mouths!


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