Friday, January 30, 2009

Reaching summits and expectations

Expectations are an odd creature from my perspective. Have them and be disappointed; don't have them and lack ambition; meet them and then what? I think it's because expectation leads to framing of thought so that whatever is then judged against expectation. And sometimes judgement just isn't necessary. However having expectations blown away (which, I might add, rarely happens) completely from left field - now that's good fun.

After a busy weekday that was a notch below scorching, I had a busy night lined up with dinner, drinks and a highly-anticipated performance as part of Sydney Festival. I found it hard to pass up the opportunity to dine finely for a bargain price as part of the Fast Festival Feast, so a fellow Festival-ite and I navigated our way through the jungle of suits at Ryan's Bar to the building elevators at Australia Square. We were climbing up to the Summit.

The night was still young, so much that blue skies and sunshine allowed for perfect city views. We were seated and initially facing the south with the sunset due to hit us mid-meal given the revolving nature of the restaurant. The revolving restaurant concept always seemed a bit of a gimmick to me: all cartoon, space station-like. I'm not sure where I got that impression from. It's also likely that the revolving may act as a distraction to the food, possibly even become the highlight over the food.

As a Summit first-timer I'll have to admit that the views and novelty won me over more than the food. And I don't think I was the only one, for when the Harbour Bridge appears in sight there's a noticeable lull in patron activity and conversation. And I also liked that the bathroom came to me perfectly timed as did the elevators when we were leaving.

But to food. The Fast Festival Feast consists of a set main, glass of wine and a little chocolate to finish. We ordered an additional side and started into the sourdough roll with butter and pink salt flakes. With news to catch up on and views to catch all round, it wasn't long before our meals made their way to our window facing table.

Fennel salt crusted Hiramasa kingfish with crisp white polenta and
basque piperade dressing from Summit, Sydney

The main meal wasn't my top pick from the lot of restaurants but the venue settled it for me. It was reasonable nonetheless and a pretty sight before I got my cutlery to it. The small fillet of roasted kingfish was topped with sweet, diced red and yellow capsicums. The fish was cooked well but not dry and went well with the olive tapenade which is hidden in the picture.

Below the fish was a pile of green beans split in half and a bit overcooked for my liking - definitely closer to tough than crisp. They sat on top of a cake of white polenta - crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside - that went well with the smear of the pureed tomato sauce. For the side I'm as predictable and addicted as ever.

Young rocket, cherry tomato and parmesan salad

A bowl full of the freshest rocket leaves in a cabernet vinegar dressing was lodgings for grilled and halved cherry tomatoes and shavings of parmesan cheese. I got a distinct taste of honey from some ingredient in the salad, probably the tomatoes, though I'm skeptical to think that it was a natural occurence.

Not being tempted by the dessert menu after the meal is further evidence that my days as a sweet tooth are over. I have such good childhood memories of Milky Way chocolates. By the end of the whole dinner we've come full circle and we once again look southward with a hazy, tri-coloured sky of sunset to the right. Perhaps this won't be a regular dining venue, but potentially a (relatively) more cost-friendly drinking venue?

Such an obedient line of Grey Geese at the bar

But the feature of the night is still to come. A hop, skip and good 15 minute walk away to Hyde Park for the one, the only, La Clique. On approach to the Festival Garden, it is indeed festive and enticing; a sophisticated 'run away with the circus' vibe almost. I've only heard good things about this performance and was trying desperately to keep expectations in check. A strong start with onsite bars and that unmissable drinking-out-of-doors atmosphere.

There's an air of excitedly relaxed anticipation about as we queue our way into the Famous Spiegeltent, wine and tickets in hand. There's a buzz inside with loud, circus music blaring over chatter and movement. We manage to squeeze into a booth, noting a bar or pub feel, and almost immediately spot Barry Humphries in the front row.

The seats fill up, the standing section seems to overflow, and we're all then transported into another world. It's definitely an eclectic gathering of talent, ranging from the localised comedy of Queen Elizabeth; 1920's styled tricks and antics to shock and awe; amazingly progressive puppetry and dance; a cheeky blue bunny; sisters that made me wish I had one (well, the trapeze act, not so much the other); and two extremely different men vying for my vote as favourite.

I can't stop giggling at the thought of the hilariously funny Carl-Einar Hackner, magician and musician extraordinaire. For me, he has created a few of those positive moments in life that you recall and involuntarily react to - whether it be a laugh, smile or something a little more mischievous.

He makes his entrance in a dowdy white suit, carrying a weathered plastic bag of tricks and illusions he pleasingly performs for the audience. This IKEA-residing Swede is awkwardly endearing - he is unjaded, very willing to please and talented beneath his guffawing facade. He made several appearances through the night (on the second or third time saying "Hi, I'm Carl-Einar Hackner. Still.") and I would have been happy to see even more of him, his Stevie Wonder impersonation, his 'bandana' trick and jaw-dropping harmonica melodies. The mere thought of him or one of his gags and I break into a grin whether I like it or not.

Saying that, the closing act of David O'Mer also provokes involuntary emotions. His bathtub acrobatics were easily the most impressive, sensual act and I think he held the full, undistracted attention of everyone in the Spiegeltent. Aside from those in the front row trying to shield themselves from his water sprays, that is. The pure strength and exquisite movement. The rubber duckie and scrub brush. Oh yeah, and that chiselled topless body and smouldering confident looks.

It's a tough competition but I think being doubled over in tears of laughter, Carl-Einar wins this one by a slim margin. Magic! La Clique wasn't quite what I had expected but boy, those expectations were blown well away.

Scotty the blue bunny outside the Spiegeltent, Hyde Park

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