Monday, August 3, 2009
Secret Dinner, Element Bistro
A secret dinner, how intriguing! My curiosity was certainly piqued when Lili from Pikelet & Pie mentioned that she was participating in one organised by her friend Fouad from The Food Blog. Steph and I were very excited about it, as we had no idea what was on the menu, nor the venue. In fact that was kept a secret until the day of the event, and the location was sent to us via text message at 3pm that afternoon. It felt like we were in a spy movie or something – very "covert ops". I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived at Element Bistro on King Street. Having no idea of the menu made it difficult to choose a bottle of wine to bring along! The venue was a tiny yet quaint French bistro owned by Matt Barnett, who was also participating in the dinner.
We start with olive oil tasting. Patricia Lathourakis from Forque explains how to properly taste the oil – first by swirling it to warm it, then sniffing it, then tasting. The blood orange was my favourite, but I think I would have preferred this exercise with some bread to dip into the oils. Patricia also prepared the entrée, a celebration of Mediterranean cheeses all sourced locally. Inspired by Italy was a half tomato filled with tomato and oregano. Greece was represented with buffalo feta on a potato and fennel ‘pancake’ and finally Lebanon got its turn with labne (a beautiful creamy yoghurt cheese) served atop roasted beetroot slices with walnuts, honey and vinegar. This was my favourite because the creamy tang of the labne was perfect with the beetroot, and the walnut gave a beautiful crunch.
Fouad cooked the next two dishes, both Lebanese in origin, which I had to admit was a cuisine I was completely unfamiliar with. The first was Young Organic Lamb Shish Barak, also known as ‘blessed dumplings’. The lamb dumplings are beautiful and flavourful, and served in a garlicky yoghurt sauce, with coriander, silverbeet and toasted almonds and pine nuts scattered on top. I loved this so much that I wanted to lick the plate clean. The flavours and textures all complemented each other so perfectly.
His second dish consisted of ‘Moghrabbiyeh’ – large Lebanese cous cous that are eaten like pasta, served with chickpeas, chicken, caramelized onion and black pudding from Eumundi Smokehouse. It was served in a reduced chicken stock, gewürztraminer, made with burnt sugar, butter, caraway and star anise. It was, again, a very well balanced dish although slightly on the salty side. I had never tried black pudding before, but with these accompanying flavours it was right at home.
At this point I was beginning to get full, but Chef Matt Barnett’s French dish was next. A beef fillet stuffed with bone marrow and cavolo nero, creamy Soubise sauce and a potato and thyme croquette. The beef was perfectly cooked, pink in the middle and very tender. The croquette was delicious with a crispy exterior and fluffy potato inside.
Lili prepared the desserts, and I was very much looking forward to seeing (and tasting) what she had made. A ripple of excitement went through the dining room as the plates were distributed, and for good reason. It was a seductive chocolate and orange cake with sexy orange blossom panna cotta, and pine nut praline. The cake was dark and rich, yet still moist and was complemented perfectly by the subtly flavoured panna cotta. The pine nut praline gave sweetness and crunch, and I am constantly reminded how well pine nuts work in sweet dishes as well as savoury. I wanted to lick the plate clean, and I have my fingers firmly crossed that Lili might blog about the recipe!
And so the Secret Dinner came to a successful end. I would like to thank and congratulate Fouad, Lili, Trish (and Matt) for having the courage to cook for thirty strangers and share part of their cultural heritage on a dinner plate. It was such a fantastic evening, and a completely unique experience. I hope that there will be more in the future! Thanks also to Lili for offering us the spots and to Steph for being adventurous and coming along with me. Check out Fouad’s and Trish’s posts about the dinner for a peek behind the scenes at everything that went into organizing it.