Sunday, October 14, 2012

i followed the white rabbit...

Allow me to define awesome. A secret society of foodlovers. Dinner in an unknown location. One of the town's loveliest and most fabulous cooks. A table for 30 set up in the old Lock Up Exercise Yard. This, my friends, is what Underground Epicureans get up to on a saturday night.

The email arrived at lunchtime. Thankfully as I'd been hitting the 'get mail' button all morning is anxious anticipation of its arrival. The night's feast would be taking place in the old Lock Up in Newcastle's east end.

A long table for 30 was beautifully set up. The room was stunning, with its history etched on its walls. 30 of us spilled into the room, excitement shining from every face. We were to take part in our own history - making a gastronomical event part of Newcastle's new culture.

Now, it's no secret that Newcastle's food scene is sparkling. We have exciting chefs-a-plenty in this town. If anything, we have almost too many options to get around {I may have to give up cooking at home and just take up eating out. Shall I?} Underground Epicureans unveils a new chapter in Newcastle's food scene - one where food lovers are happy to pay to visit an extraordinary venue and be surprised by the chef's choice of food.

Last night's dinner by Ben Armstrong was the perfect way to start off a new tradition. I love what Ben does with food. He has a deft touch and a bold sense of flavour that tickles my tastebuds, delights my eyes and sates my sense of smell. He's also a talented wordsmith so I couldn't wait to find out more about him.

The theme was Memory Bites and Ben's tales from his memory were written down before us, a story to share before taking a bite of his life. Oh my. Ben can write. Really, really write. I adore visiting his blog - his words are like prose, so beautifully composed - a feast for the eyes.

Our first course was a crab sandwich. But oh, not just any crab sandwich. This was served on rounds of the freshest white bread, buttered with Pepe Saya cultured butter and piled with mounds of crab meat seasoned with murray river salt flakes and the most exquisite cider vinegar. It was served with a can of VB. Yep. It was too good to photograph. The crisp crunch of the salt flakes perfectly set off the soft crab meat. It was a study in simple perfection.

The next course was Tasmanian 'Pink Fish' cooked in the sous vide manner served with a sorrel coleslaw {oh my!} and a soft boiled egg topped with salmon roe. It was amazingly good. Sorrel coleslaw may be my new favourite thing.

The main was a knife and fork stew flavoured with marmite, with a confit leek and a divine lamb back strap. Each mouthful was a delight, and the marmite hit you with its aroma before you noticed the amazing taste it gave to the lentils and veg. I'll be using marmite next time I'm cooking lentils.

There was an artist in residence, sketching the evening and giving us a bit of a lesson before the dessert.

Such fun.

The dessert was pears poached in lime and vanilla with Alice from Uprising's meringue and a good splodge of whipped cream. The lime was rich, headily-scented and provided the most magnificent cloaking for the pear. Alice's meringue was, as always, exceptional. And Ben's stories behind this dessert were just as tasty.

Look at this place - what a venue!

It was a very sated crowd who left just before midnight. I can't wait for the next one.

Thank you White Rabbit - you sure do know how to throw a dinner party.


  1. Is Ben Armstrong the perfect man? Sounds like he comes close! Thanks for sharing this amazing evening. I am very jealous and am curious to check out the Newcastle scene.

  2. Thank you for sharing your delightful evening. Quite unusual food, to me anyway, but I am sure you enjoyed every morsel. How often are these epicurean adventures held? The venue was certainly most unusual and I can imagine the atmosphere the place held. Was it perhaps a little chilly in there or did they have a way of heating it? Sorry, I shouldn't always be asking questions but it's 'cos I am interested. You will probably still be dreaming about it all today as you come back down to earth. xx

  3. How totally fabulous!! Sounds like my perfect kind of night. I loved keeping tabs on your adventure on Instagram. xx

  4. I was wondering how it went. Sounds like it really met your expectations. I really want that desert. Yum.

  5. oh wow! that sounds like the most exquisite night!
    and very exclusive too ;)

  6. Oh my god. I am so jealous. That sounds amazing. On my list of reasons to move back to Newcastle. Lucky you. What an amazing night.


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