Thursday, December 4, 2014

Le Dîner en Blanc Sydney: A white night in Centennial Park

Le Dîner en Blanc Sydney, 29 November 2014, McKay Field, Centennial Park
When it's behaving, summer in Sydney is hard to beat - blue skies, sun shining and people out and about, enjoying life and cheeky drinks in the sun.

We managed to celebrate both the end of spring and start of summer at Dîner en Blanc over the weekend - the third annual Sydney event of the Parisian guerilla picnic phenomenon that's popped up all over the world.

A sea of white in McKay Field
I'd been lucky enough to attend the inaugural Sydney event two years ago, which remains high on my list of all-time most fabulous event experiences. For the third year in a row, the event's been blessed with an evening of clear skies, despite our increasingly volatile Sydney weather.

Dîner en Blanc has grown substantially since landing in Australia, with the wait list for an invite ballooning after the first year. This year's Sydney outing, at the secret location of McKay Field in Centennial Park, hosted 4,000 picnickers all dressed in elegant white as is the DeB tradition.

Guests arriving to the secret location
Boarding a bus near Town Hall with other excited guests of this year's wine sponsor Seppelt Wines, guesses of the secret location came thick and fast as we headed east, out of the city.

We entered the Randwick gates of Centennial Park and saw glimpses of our eventual destination, which was reached on foot through a picturesque tunnel of paper bark trees.

I didn't know McKay Field, our picnic location, even existed till this weekend. Somewhat closed off on three sides by rows of trees, it forms a rather secluded, sheltered meadow of Centennial Park not far from the Duck Pond. For DeB, the space was encircled by five huge, white illuminated rabbit sculptures which also made an appearance at this year's Vivid Sydney festival.

Seppelt Wines table, dressed in white and ready to go
It was here, in our own little piece of Centennial Park, that we and thousands of others would set up for a pop-up picnic of epically sophisticated proportions.

The Seppelt Wines table was set with a white tablecloth, mismatched chairs and fresh white flowers in jars - and of course, plenty of chilled Jaluka Chardonnay and Great Western Riesling (and Piper Heidsieck bubbles to start).

Other diners setting up their tables
It was great fun to watch all the other tables go about setting up their own tables for the night. With foldable chairs and tables in tow, matching their all-white outifts, diners unfolded and decorated tables with great flair and enthusiasm.

I spotted lanterns and baby's breath flowers galore, as well as helium balloons and even live white goldfish - and of course the DeB-essential white cloth napkins at every spot.

Seppelt Wines table
As we sat down to our tables, it was white on white on white - just bliss with the sun shining and champagne in hand. Suffice to say, plenty of photos were taken: of people, outfits, table settings and the gorgeous surroundings.

White on white on white
Catered picnic options are available for those who don't want to carry food along with their furniture, with boxed hampers by Kitchen Catering available for pre-order and collection on site. We scored the Premium Hamper which was a huge box of delicious goodies for a very hungry two (or even three).

(clockwise) Rosemary and chilli focaccia, pickled vegetable and dips&
We started with triangles of Sonoma's rosemary and chilli focaccia, served with Pepe Saya butter and an array of dips: pureed beetroot with yogurt; a super-smokey eggplant dip with tahini and a deliciously spicy hommous with pine nuts and parsley.

Tartly pickled cucumber, carrot and crunchy cauliflower completed the picnic-friendly grazing quartet of plastic tubs.

Potted shrimp and antipasti
I was a bit excited to open up the cardboard tubs to find, essentially, a prawn cocktail salad. With loads of small, creamily dressed prawns set on top of shredded iceberg lettuce, it was a classic if not retro combination that will always taste amazingly of summer for the fresh crustaceans.

The first of the cardboard boxes held more picnic favourites of antipasti and grissini bread sticks. Salami and a spice-edged pastrami joined marinated artichoke and zucchini, juicy flavour-bombs of semi dried tomato pieces and olives.

Seppelt Jaluka Chardonnay
Seppelt's white wine to start and match was the highly drinkable Jaluka Chardonnay which matched the scene and the sun-setting vibe to a tee.

Pasta salad with prosciutto and char grilled lamb on burghul salad
While I could have happily stopped at dips, antipasti and wine, two filled-to-the-brim boxes of cold salad mains awaited.

The first was a farfalle pasta salad with parsley and green beans, topped with three folded ribbons of prosciutto that were divine to devour on their own.

The other was a vibrant burghul salad with kale, pumpkin and red capsicum that was particularly moreish, topped with cold slices of tender, char grilled lamb backstrap.

Seppelt St Peters Grampians Shiraz
Following tastings of the refreshingly dry, clean Great Western Riesling, we had a taste of Seppelt's flagship St Peters shiraz, which was as smooth as it gets with both boldness and fruit very, very restrained - quite the opposite of a big, fruity shiraz.

Cheeses and candied walnuts
Having eaten too much of the generously sized picnic - not even counting the desserts of fig pannacotta or the chocolate mousse that was initially mistaken for pate - I actually struggled to polish off the cheese.

A very good brie and corner of Red Leicester were served with lavosh crackers and a pile of fabulous candied walnuts.

Jake Meadows performing on the harp
There was music throughout the evening but when the live-looped harp performance from singer and musician Jake Meadows came on, the wide-ranging audience was captivated. He made way for more partying and dance tunes as the night went on.

Dîner en Blanc Sydney

Waving napkins, signalling the beginning of DeB festivities
As is DeB tradition, during the night the official 'waving of the napkins' is meant to signify the beginning of the night's festivities.

Given the satellite-style layout of the tables outwards from the centre stage and DJ in McKay Field, we could see the Mexican wave-like, ripple effect of the napkin-waving as they got picked up around the spread out tables and flung around in the air.

Sparklers come out, signalling the time to mingle and dance
Photo by Shayben Moussa, courtesy of Burson-Marsteller
Later in the night post dinner, sparklers are handed out to guests to light in unison and wave about, signalling the time to get social and boogie on the dancefloor - and try to make as many new friends as possible in the process.

Even later, when the last dance has been danced, DeB guests pack up their tables, chairs and rubbish and leave the space without a trace of the evening's proceedings.

An organisational and logistical feat, the white night in Centennial Park that was Dîner en Blanc capped off another successful year and event for the lucky 4,000 guests - and it's promised to be bigger and better yet again in 2015. See more photos on my Facebook page.

Food, Booze & Shoes attended Dîner en Blanc Sydney as a guest of Seppelt Wines.


Choc Chip Uru @ Go Bake Yourself said...

What a classy and fun affair, I love the theme and never realised there were so many guests there!

Choc Chip Uru

Helen (Grab Your Fork) said...

Had a blast last year. The napkin twirling and sparkler waving were definitely magical moments!

Mr C @ The Food Diary said...

Looks good, I didn't know this was even a thing!

Amanda @ Gourmanda said...

It looks like such an unmissable event, which will leave so memories!

Vivian - vxdollface said...

great shots! i love the sparklers at the end

Tina said...

Hi Choc Chip Uru - I think the white theme gets extra impact en masse! It's spine tingling, seeing all the white :)

Hi Helen - Can't wait to see where next year's event will be!

Hi Mr C - Definitely a thing, the world over and most of our Aussie capitals too now.

Hi Amanda - It's a photographers dream and much fun for everyone else too!

Hi Viv - Thanks x

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