"Dressing up is encouraged" I read. I bite my lip. I was destined to attend an Alice in Wonderland themed event and I looked at my Alice costume hanging up, bought on ebay a few weeks before. It barely skimmed my buttocks as most of the costumes available here seem to be of the cleavage baring and derriere showing variety. I had decided not to wear it for this Halloween as I thought that I really didn't need to moon my guests. But inspiration struck, well actually a pair of white stockings struck-items I had no recollection of ever buying (does that ever happen to you?) and suddenly I had a very plausible, non butt baring Alice in Wonderland outfit.
I'm all for dress ups but with strangers, sometimes there's the very real chance of you being the only one dressed up. And I told this to Studio Neon's owner Matt Lee who has hosted these pop up dinners during October's Crave food festival. He tells us of a time that he turned up at a dress up party wearing a nappy and he was the only one-surely a cue for one to turn around and high tail their nappy wrapped bottom out of there. Looking around me I see various Mad Hatters, Alices, Tweedledees and Tweedledums and rabbits. It's not so bad.
Beetroot and wasabi macarons
Tonight's dinner is one of Studio Neon's themed dinner for Crave (the previous one we attended was A Viking Feast) but this time they've really brought the theme to the fore which I am ecstatic about. At each of our settings is a pretty china tea cup, a sign saying "Eat Me" and a perfectly textured and intriguingly flavoured beetroot and wasabi macaron.
Chef Bec Chippington is behind the pass in their purpose built kitchen and bubbles are flowing. An Alice gets chased around by a man in a bunny outfit. We are running late and there are only two seats left. I take the velvet "Queen's chair" and sink down a few centimetres shorter than everyone else and feel just like Alice. Things are getting quite trippy indeed!
"Eat Me" sandwiches
I got a bit excited about the "Eat Me" sandwiches. Long time readers may know of my slight obsession with Swedish sandwich cakes. They're the perfect idea for an Alice in Wonderland party or dinner because they look like they belong at a tea party but they're savoury. Filled with white bread and slatherings of a creme fraiche filling, dill, capsicum and smoked trout they're soft and very creamy I like the ocean trout in particular. They're a bit difficult to cut with the cake cutter being that the bottom layers are made up of the bread ends but once a knife is given, it is easy to divide.
"Drink me" Hare tea
Next a rabbit consomme is offered in a silver teapot. Bec explains later that it was extraordinarily difficult to get rabbit carcasses to make the consomme with and so a little is poured in our tea cups to whet the appetite for the next course.
Dutch carrot, zucchini flower, candied walnut and buckwheat salad
Looking like a spring plate garnished with flowers I like the sweetness and gnarled beauty of the roasted heirloom carrots and zucchini flowers that sit on a bed of sweet crunchy candied walnuts and buckwheat.
Wild mushroom salad
Served in a cast iron skillet there's about four or five different varieties of mushrooms in this wild mushroom salad. I would have loved a bit more seasoning in this.
Confit duck with shaved aniseed, wine poached beets and micro herbs
The main course arrives and everyone has been eagerly anticipating the duck. It comes out on a long plate with one duck leg per person with one or two extra for good measure. The duck is soft and comes off the bone easily although it is slightly colder than I would have liked but I suppose that is a result from serving so many people. It sits on a bed of cinnamoney wine poached beetroot slices.
Goats curd and fresh peaches with smoked ham
A favourite at the table were some lovely fresh yellow peaches slices with a stirred through rich goat's curd and a smoked ham. This gives the sweet peaches a nice contrast with the salty, smokey ham and light creaminess of the goat's curd.
Fennel panna cotta with chocolate soil
Now this was a really interesting item. When they sat it down we figured that it had to be the fennel panna cotta by default and we wonder what the brown powder is (it wasn't mentioned on the menu). I dab a pinkie finger into the powder and it tastes like chocolate although there it is not dry like chocolate-it's actually 100% dark chocolate shaved and mixed with goat's curd. And the subtle fennel panna cotta has a wobbly creaminess that really makes sense and allows you to forget thinking that perhaps fennel panna cotta is unusual. And the chocolate on it is another surprise, it's not bad and even the self proclaimed unadventurous eaters at our end of the table like it.
Queen of Hearts chilli chocolate creams with strawberry sauce
Holy heck this was spicy! And even for a spice lover like me I was gulping water hard. The chocolate cream is light and moussey and it was blanketed with a generous serve of berry sauce on top giving the spicy chocolate a slight tartness.
As with dress ups, the night descends into fun as people play out their roles.
As Studio Neon is a photography studio everyone takes the chance to take photos. It's a slightly surreal night where rabbits chase heroines, we see mirror images of the Mad Hatter and Tweedledum and Tweedledee have a mock fight. As you do in Alice land.
So tell me Dear Reader, do you like dress ups? And if so, who do you like to dress up as or what was your favourite costume? And do you ever buy things and then forget that you bought them?
NQN and Mr NQN dined as a guest of Destination NSW and Studio Neon
Alice in Culinary Land
Level 2, 136 Raglan Street, Waterloo, NSW
Tel: 0404 555 098
Tickets to Alice in Culinary Land were $145 per person