Dining in the Dark

For Andy’s surprise birthday party, Michelle organised a surprise dinner. But, it was a surprise dinner with a twist… the dinner was a surprise for everyone! We had no idea what we’d be eating whilst dining in the dark!

Upon entering the foyer, we were met with a bright, strange conconction of drawings that made up a wall mural. There were octopi, flying animals, pirates, princesses, aliens, volcanoes… it made about as much sense as the name of the restaurant: Trojan Fairy.

After we placed all our belongings in a locker, we lined up, hands on each other’s shoulders and shuffled in after the waitress. The first part of restaurant has glow-in-the-dark stickers on the wall – to lead the waitresses I guess. Then, you step through another curtain into darkness. Real darkness. Let’s say blackness. I kept thinking my eyes would adjust. I kept thinking that vague shapes might come into view. But they never do.

We sat around exchanging jokes about taking our pants off and the like. It’s a really weird situation. Especially if you stop to think about what hand movements and facial expressions you use – even when in the dark! We slowly pieced together our surroundings, feeling for the edges of the table, and listening to our neighbours. It is true that your other senses are heightened when one is missing. I was a lot more aware of the chinese being spoken in the background. Other diners’ conversations were so much more prominent, and I found myself having to focus quite intently on the discussion around our table to prevent my mind from wandering around the room.

We’d organised to be there early, so our presence would be an extra surprise. The clever waitresses played Happy Birthday on the piano, so we’d know when he arrived. We tried to sit in silence whilst listening to the birthday boy being brought to the table. I giggled first – I just couldn’t hold it in any longer!

Our waiter came around and explained where our spoon and napkin were. We were brought our drinks – beers, juice and wine. Note to the restaurant: thin-stemmed wine glasses are not easy to find in the dark, and don’t show up on night-vision goggles. Sorry about the tablecloth. We complained a number of times that Cheryl’s juice hadn’t arrived, only to find out during the last course that it had been delivered but she hadn’t found it on the table yet!!!

Our first course was a ‘Russian salad‘. I was concerned that my biggest problem would be making a mess and getting food everywhere, but in fact, it was tricky getting it on the spoon! I served myself a number of spoonfuls of air.

Pumpkin soup was next. Slurping became the new noise around the table, in an attempt to make sure most of it got in our mouths and not down our fronts.

The main course was steak. An odd choice, yes, but they cut it up for us in advance. In theory, this would be hilarious, however, steak in China is generally not great. Without being able to see what we were eating, I occasionally ended up with a tough bit of gristle or fat. I would’ve much preferred a stirfry. Nic and Cheryl ordered the vegetarian mushrooms, which turned out to be just that – a plate of mushrooms!

As our main was taken away, so was our spoon. And we were instructed to eat our cheesecake by hand. In theory, fine, but when you’ve spent the last 3 courses using your hand to help get food on your spoon, it’s not perfect!

Overall, it was the experience that made the evening!! I would imagine it would be incredible if a chef like Heston Blumenthal was in charge of a place like this. He could play around with the textures and flavours so much! It would be crazy to have squishy gooey things that turn out to be delicious, and to play around with savoury and sweet.

Of course, there were costumes to dress up in after dinner!

My only wish is that we could see a video of how the night played out, or at least a photo of the mess we would have left behind on the tablecloth.

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Mooncakes

For the past week, mooncakes have been the talk of the (beijing) town on facebook. To celebrate Mid-Autumn festival (中秋节, zhōngqiūjié), mooncakes are given out by employers, friends and family members. I’m sure a lot of them are recycled too; an unwanted gift to one, turns into a gift for another. It’s a bit of a weird tradition. I’ve never heard anyone say that they LOVE mooncakes. One of my students said that he didn’t eat any this year, he just gave them to his friends. Mooncakes are heavy. They weigh a lot, cost a lot and are now even taxed by the government!!

I received a lavish box from my school. Not liking to waste food, I tried them all.

1. 乌梅乳酪铁观音 wūméirǔlào tiěguānyīn = smoked cheese and tieguanyin tea

This has been the most interesting mooncake that I’ve ever eaten. It was definitely the most beautiful!!! And it had a nice texture, as the ‘cheese’ was solid and kinda like white chocolate. I would eat this again. And tea is a nice filling.

2. 熏衣草牛奶提子 xūnyīcǎo níunǎi tízǐ = lavender with milk and a ladder (???)

This one was a little sickeningly floral, but it was tolerable. Half was enough. Cute bunny for year of the rabbit.

3. 法式牛肉 fǎshì niúròu = French-style beef

This one looked like a meat pie. The Aussie inside me really wanted it to taste like a meat pie. Really. Really. In the end, I wouldn’t say it was bad, but it wasn’t a meat pie. Well, it was meaty, but sweet as well. And it had strange crunchy bits.

4. 杂粮皮玫瑰花酱 záliángpí méiguihuā jiàng = ‘food grains other than wheat and rice skin’ and rose flower sauce

Woah. Intense. Nauseatingly sweet. Never. Again.

5. 白蛋 báidān = egg

Ah, the dreaded salty egg. There’s always one. I still don’t get the attraction. Why put something salty inside sweet, fruity filling?

6. 枣泥核桃 zǎoní hétao = jujube paste and walnut

This one didn’t look like a traditional mooncake. It had crumbly pastry on the outside and tasted just like the red date cakes that I often buy from the supermarket. In terms of a mooncake that I would go out and buy and eat… this is the one.

Check out The Lick’s icecream mooncakes!

Masterchef Beijing

When Masterchef Australia finished for the year, I felt that there was a hole in my life. It’s slick. It’s addictive. It’s nail-bitingly tense. It makes you drool. And, it’s educational.

What better way to fill that hole but with more food!! So, we hosted a Masterchef challenge at our place. Every participant was given a mystery ingredient, and that ingredient had to star in 3 courses. We all voted, plus we had a guest judge, in case of any close calls.

The results were fantastic! We had such a wide variety of delicious food – way too much though. Next time, we need to invite extra guests as well.

We had a quite a few dietary restrictions within the group, which made it an extra challenge! By looking at the dishes, you can probably guess what they were.

My ingredient was ginger. For my entree, I made sushi with pickled ginger. When pickling ginger, if it’s young enough, it should naturally turn pink in the pickling process. Mine had no luck  though, so I cheated and used some food colouring. I did a sushi making course ages ago at my fave Japanese restaurant, Hatsune, and I’d been dying to try it out. I think it worked out pretty well! I filled the sushi with carrot, cucumber, daikon and fried enoki mushrooms.

Pickled ginger recipe from: http://www.rain.org/~hutch/ginger.html

My main course was fried tofu in a ginger broth. I really struggled with this one. I think I put a lot of extra thought into my dessert, and lost a bit of focus on the main. It was yummy, just nothing exciting.

My dessert was based around gingerbread. I made edible cups and spoons of gingerbread. Then I filled them with chocolate risotto. I’d seen Jamie Oliver make choccy risotto on TV, and had been dying to try it out. I topped the dish with candied ginger too!

Candied ginger from: http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2008/12/candied-ginger/

And here are some pics of what the other contestants cooked:

Andy‘s ingredient was carrot. He made carrot soup with baby carrot rolls, carrot ravioli with pickled carrots and carrot cake icecream with candied carrot. And, he was the champion of the day!

Michelle‘s ingredient was lemon. She made baked fennel stuffed with lemon, lemon risotto and lemon curd panna cotta.

Nic’s ingredient was chocolate. She made mexican chocolate soup, mole and jicama salad, followed by Ancho chilli and chocolate truffles.

Zac‘s ingredient was chilli. He made pan-fried salmon with chilli salsa, chickpea and chilli curry and chocolate chilli muffins.

As you can imagine, after all this food, it was nap time!

Dani Garcia and Ferran Adria come to town

Dani Garcia (two Michelin stars) and Ferran Adria (3 Michelin stars) created a special menu at Raffles hotel in Beijing. We couldn’t miss the opportunity to sample some of  their famous food for lunch!

Prawn with pine nut ice-cream, truffles, pine nuts and truffle honey

This was the first time I’d ever eaten pieces of truffle. And the first time I’d ever had pine nut ice-cream. And the first time I’d had a prawn shaped into a circle. An appetiser of firsts. And possibly the most delicious thing I’ve ever eaten.

Iberian Pork dumplings

Being used to Asian dumplings, these were such a delight! It was a little taste of Spain in a delicate filling, and the broth was amazing. I ignored the fact that I was in a swanky restaurant and tilted my plate to get every last drop.

Sea bass with citrus gazpacho

Nic and Zac had this one. I got a sneaky taste of fish that melted away. And the foam was perfect.

“The Moon” – a white chocolate ball, filled with custard and fruit, with a silver coating

Wow. Even the plate had a silver moonbeam painted on it.

Read about another culinary event in Beijing