I've done quite a few things for Wellington on a Plate,and while I love all the Dine menus which make it so affordable to go to fancy-pants restaurants, my absolute favourite bit are the events - and as well as Blind Dining at Capitol, Mr Cake and I signed up (after a bit of bank account angst - it wasn't cheap!) for the Royal Banquet at The White House.
We didn't really know what to expect, other than fantastic food, but by the time we arrived after a very chilly, windy and wet walk around the bay just getting in the door was a relief! The red carpet was out to welcome us, along with a photographer, but we didn't linger to have our picture taken. We were guided up the stairs to the bar on the top level, where we were served champagne and canapes - smoked salmon on beetroot blini; crab salad, and mini asparagus and watercress tarts. They were all lovely but the crab salad was my pick - lovely and fresh with plenty of crab meat through it - very yummy.
After a few canapes we were asked to proceed down to the dining room, and truly, my photos do not do it justice but it was very grand (my photos don't really do anything here justice, but hopefully give a bit of an idea. The restaurant was quite dark and I prefer not to use flash if I can, but partway through decided it was required - however, because it's obtrusive I didn't want to take more than one photo of anything, so some are truly terrible!).
As well as a stunning array of cutlery and glassware, each person had a sealed page (real wax seals!) at their place and opening it revealed the menu for the night, along with an explanation of the royal association of each dish - the canapes, for example, were based on the canapes served at Will and Kate's wedding reception.
The first dish served at the table was Pheasant Consomme a la Royale, apparently served at a dinner hosted by King Leopold II and Queen Marie-Henriette in 1870 - I'm picking our version may have been modernised a bit, and it was absolutely stunning! The foam in the middle of the plate was topped with gold leaf (essential for that royal feeling?) and the rich aroma of the consomme reached us as soon as the wait staff walked into the room, so everyone watched it being poured with great enthusiasm - it smelt so amazingly good! The taste was amazing too, very deep and perfect to ward away snow chills. The darling little mushrooms and petals which were arranged in our bowls pre-pour were delicate in flavour and the consomme itself was definitely the star of the show - I must have a go at that sometime, it just seems so overwhelmingly difficult! (I have no idea whether it truly is very difficult or if Masterchef failures are distorting my judgement)
The second course was poached fish fillet (John Dory) with crayfish beurre blanc, which was a dish apparently served at Charles and Di's wedding. The crayfish beurre blanc was stunning (not that there was anything wrong with the fish but the sauce rather stole the limelight), and the seaweed powder around the plate I'm picking is a modern touch and likely wasn't a feature of the 1980 royal wedding. ;-)
My top pick of the night was this rather blurred dish - quail, liver foie gras, hazelnut butter and pumpkin puree. Very rich, but such flavours! The hazelnut butter had that perfect brown butter nuttiness melding in with the hazelnut nuttiness, and having a bit of crunch really elevated the dish. The quail was lovely and went oh-so-well with the foie gras. I tend towards keeping my food separate on the plate, and I know dishes like this are made to be combined and always try a forkful with a bit of everything, but in this case every forkful had to have a bit of quail, a bit of foie gras and some buttery nuts because the combination was sublime. Am I a bit ravey? Sorry... ;-)
Before the main appeared we had a palate cleanser of (I think) mandarin granita and mandarin foam - it was just the ticket after such a rich dish and could just about have served as dessert and been the end of the evening. Far from it, though!
The main (not that our bellies needed any more food!) was beef wellington, served with duchesse potatoes and beans. The plates were presented with just the beef wellington, and the vegetables served to us, which frankly I thought a bit too much bother, but it really didn't matter. I found both the potatoes and the beans reasonably unremarkable (though the beans were a welcome flash of green!), but perhaps being past my normal satiation point didn't help there. The beef wellington was excellent, though, with the meat very tender, nice and pink, and the rich mushroom/pastry/meat/bernaise combination hit all the right notes. Many of our fellow diners (Mr Cake included) thought this was the dish of the night, though I'm sticking by my quail.
I was seated to Mr Cake's right, and to the right of me was one of the evening's two hosts, Brandon Nash, of Dhall & Nash Fine Wines. This was great for us as Brandon had matched all the wines for the evening and clearly knows a thing or two about the stuff, so his commentary throughout on the pairings and flavours heightened our awareness of what we were drinking. Though I doubt I'll ever reach any sort of wine snob status it's nice to have a bit of an appreciation for the stuff, so it was a boon for me to be seated where we were!
The next course was the cheese course, and though I have a photo it's so terrible (and cheese really isn't that interesting to look at anyway) that I've left it out! However, and you won't hear these words from my lips often, I do believe the cheese beat dessert on this occasion. We were each served a slice of Windsor blue (which was already a favourite of mine) on an equally proportioned slice of quince paste, on an equally proportioned slice of gingerbread - cheese on toast? But it was so good - the spicy bread (which was more like biscotti in texture, so I suspect twice baked), the sweet paste, the rich cheese. It doesn't overtake the quail but probably somewhat easier to assemble at home, so it gets points for accessibility!
The grand finale was the snow egg, which I'd already heard some excited murmurings about in the foodie realm so was keen to try. The theme here was passionfruit, which is definitely pretty high up my dessert flavour rankings (nothing can beat chocolate, but chocolate might have been the straw to break the camel's back after this particular meal!) - such a zingy, fresh flavour. The snow egg itself is meringue, lightly poached so it's very foamy and light in texture. It was sitting on passionfruit fool and passionfruit granita, and all the elements were packed with intense passionfruit flavour. The dessert wine was the 2009 Johner Estate Noble Pinot Noir, which was very nice and my wine pick of the evening (though the unusual And Co. The Supernatural Sauvignon Blanc served with the fish was also notable).
Dessert was followed up with petit fours and tea and coffee, but while we did nibble on the marshmallows and fudge presented to us we didn't stick around as it was past 11pm and a school night so we hit the road and waddled home. ;-)
It was a fantastic night out, and though pricey I think worth it (though it will depend where your priorities lie!), and The White House created a wonderfully royal experience for us - we were thoroughly spoiled. I think I still need to work on my royal manners - I'm willing to bet that the likes of Princess Kate and her equally slender sister wouldn't eat everything served to them in an eight course meal - but then, it's safe to say I'll never be walking down the aisle of Westminster Abbey with the eyes of the world upon me, so I can savour every last bite!
Are you into events, or do you prefer to make the most of dining out on a more normal scale?
The White House is located at 232 Oriental Parade, Wellington, ph 04 385 8555, www.whr.co.nz - and they have a degustation menu so though the table might not be quite so large you can still have the royal treatment.