Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Food Blog's Secret Dinner, Element Bistro, Sydney CBD

Olive oil tasting
Secret dinners. The intriguing world of underground dining. I remember reading all about these secret dinners with great interest recently. A secret dinner at a secret location with mystery chefs and an unknown menu. How exciting! That's why Lisa and I jumped at the opportunity to be part of one of these secret dinners after Lili mentioned that she would be preparing the dessert for a five course meal organised by her friend Fouad (of The Food Blog).

Fouad making his introductory speech

It was a wonderful, intriguing experience from start to finish. At first we got emails, telling us a few details; 30 diners would come together for a 5 course meal inspired by the Mediterranean, showcasing some fantastic local produce. We provided our mobile phone numbers and were smsed the secret location at 3pm on the day of the dinner. That night arrived at Element Bistro in the CBD, a small French Bistro with a bottle of wine and an empty stomach.

Fouad explains that Trish (www.forque.com.au) has prepared the first course for us along with some olive oils to taste. Trish goes on to tell us that to try the four olive oils in front of us we had to cup the small glass in our hands and swirl it around to warm it up a bit, then smell it and drink it. I remember there was a chilli olive oil, plus one infused with blood orange and another with lemon and lime. I admit to being completely clueless when it comes to olive oils, so found it a bit weird drinking olive oil on its own, I'm used to having it with at least a bit of bread!

Course #1 - Buffalo Mozzarella with Tomato and Oregano, Labneh with Beetroot and Honey and Vinegar drizzle, Buffalo Fetta with Fennel and Orange Potato Pancake
The first course is a selection of local cheeses, as since I'm a big fan of cheese this was always going to go down well with me. The mozzarella was light and chewy, encrusted with lots of oregano and the labneh was definitely my favourite of the three, rich and super creamy. It was balanced out well with a sweet slice of beetroot and honey. The feta was really intense it definitely needed the sweet fennel and orange salad and the potato to go with it.

Course #2 - Young Organic Lamb Shish Barak with a Goats Milk Yoghurt Sauce and Silverbeet
Fouad was serving up the next two courses, first up were spiced lamb dumplings. They were so tasty; a fairly dry lamb mince with very thin which went perfectly with the pool of lovely yoghurt sauce and toasted pinenuts. The other diners also had theirs with toasted almonds which I'm sure would have matched well. The silverbeet was soft and moist and the fried dumpling skins were thin and crisp.

Course #3 - Chicken and Black Pudding Moghrabieh with caramelised onion and chickpeas
The next course was was equally interesting to me, I have to admit I am a little bit lacking in Mediterranean style food but I was enjoying it immensely. This course was essentially a pasta dish, moghrabieh which is also known as pearl couscous because of its size, is a large couscous made from semolina. These firm little balls of semolina were fantastic in texture and fun to pop into your mouth by the spoonful. They were accompanied by a very rich slice of spicy black pudding, chicken, chickpeas and a lovely caramlised onion. It all went extremely well with the rich sauce, a reduction of chicken stock, gewürztraminer, burnt sugar, butter, star anise and caraway. It was rich and filling, but I still managed to eat most of it.

Course #4 - Beef fillet stuffed with bone marrow & cavolo nero, Soubise Sauce and Potato and Thyme Croquette
By this point I was slowing down a bit, as the previous course had been so darn rich and filling, but I welcomed the classic flavours in this dish. This course was done by the chef of Element Bistro, Matt Barnett, who had been so kind to let Fouad, Trish and Lili into his kitchen on a Saturday night when the bistro is usually closed. The beef was tender and pink, matched with the soubise sauce which was light and creamy. I loved the potato and thyme croquette (you may remember I have an ongoing love affair with croquettes), with it's crunchy golden exterior and fluffy potato innards.

Course #5 - Flourless Chocolate Orange Cake with Orange Blossom Pannacotta and Pine Nut Praline
I was struggling to fit in the beef fillet, but of course I pushed my fullness out of my mind and my ever faithful dessert stomach kicked into gear as soon as Lili's flourless chocolate cake was brought out. She did us food bloggers proud I tell you! The dessert looked gorgeous and it tasted just as good. It was a fantastic mix of textures and flavours; with the rich but not too heavy chocolate cake and the light as a cloud pannacotta. My favourite was the crunchy pine nut praline, I could have hugged her for using pine nuts instead of a real nut, so I didn't miss out on a single part of the dish. Oh and the little candied flowers were so pretty, as well as beinga tasty addition to the dessert. I, and pretty much everyone else in the room scraped their plates clean.

Full of good food and wine, Lisa and I left that night very glad we got the opportunity to participate in this unique experience. Many thanks to Lili for offering us the spots and generally being awesome, and to Mark Barnett for providing the venue and a great course. Huge thanks and congratulations to Fouad for putting on a successful, interesting and delicious event, it was truly an entertaining and tasty experience and I hope there are many more to come! P.S. Check out Fouad's blog to read a wonderful first-hand account of the secret dinner.

Element Bistro
163 King St,

Sydney 2000 NSW

(02) 9231 0013


Mon-Fri: 11:45am - 3pm


Tues-Fri: from 5:45pm

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  1. Secret dinners are in vogue these days and I can certainly understand the appeal. Nothing like a bit of subversive dining to create an exciting night out. Everything looks great and dessert looks particularly enticing. Nice work on behalf of Lili :)

  2. Ah, what timing! I was just trying to find out about interesting and exclusive eating experiences. I'm glad you called them "secret dinners" and not "private kitchens" as many people confuse the 2 concepts. This certainly looks like it was a great concept and great meal!

  3. I just wrote a msg, and it disappeared :( Anyway, now I wish I had gone for Lili's dessert!! And yay, you didn't have to miss out on any of it! Hmm.. I want to find out more about secret dinners :)

  4. Aww damn too bad I couldn't make it at short notice! I would've loved to have tried Lili's dessert! Aww I'll just get her to make it for me lol!

  5. Oohh good work Lili and others! Everything looks tasty mmm ^^!

  6. Stephcookie, great to have met you on the night and thanks for your thoughtful post. I'm so glad you enjoyed the night. It was great to see everyone having fun with both the concept and the food, and I agree, Lili did do the food blogging community proud :)

  7. How fantastic! I saw the email and would have leapt at the chance had I not been an eight hour flight away :) Sounds like you both had a ball, and good on Lili for making such a lovely dessert!

  8. Oooh so glad that you went! I got her invite but we were busy that night. Sounds like loads of fun and great job Lili! I took a peek at the chef's site but had to disagree when he said "Food blogs can be very frustrating, with many of them stating boring facts with poor use of the language, giving little insight." Ouch! I can't really think of many like that! :o

  9. Great post :) I'm so glad that you had a good time, and it WAS so much food! But I disagree, I think that Fouad is the one who did the food blogging community proud!
    Sorry I didn't get to sit with you more, but I really did have a good time in the kitchen :)

  10. Helen - Yes it definitely adds a bit of intrigue to the whole experience, it was fun! Lili was fantastic!

    Forager - Yep I know what you mean, they're very different. Ooh let me know if you stumble upon any other good ones!

    Betty - Damn, there's weird issues with the commenting on my blog, I'm not sure why :( Lili's dessert was awesome!

    Karen - Hehe maybe she'll post it on her blog ;)

    FFichiban - I agree :) It was! And very filling!

    SydneyCider - It was great meeting you too! And I agree with Lili, you did the food blogging community proud as well!

    shez - Haha well missing out because you're eating and shopping your heart out in Msia isn't so bad ;)

    Lorraine - Haha yeah I noticed that too, each to their own I guess! *shrugs*

    lili - :) Thanks! Hehe he did too! You sat with us plenty, it was great chatting to you and Felix throughout the night! Thanks again for inviting us to it


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