Dîner en Blanc Brisbane 2014

I have wanted to go to the Dîner En Blanc for years. I’m a lover of all things French, elegant, picnics, theming and, of course, food, so I knew that this would be an event that I would just love. I couldn’t make the weekend last year, so as soon as the event was done, I signed up to the waiting list and forced a bunch of my friends to as well.

What is le Dîner en Blanc you ask? Well, it’s kind of a flash-mob turned picnic which is a highly coordinated event where you book tickets, turn up at a pre-assigned pick-up point, jump on a bus and head off to a secret location where you dine at long communal tables in public places. Oh, and basically everything has to be white. It’s more than just a picnic, it’s an elegant outdoor dinner party that pops up out of nowhere and disappears just as thoroughly at the end.

I thought it sounded like the most brilliant fun. But, scared away by the long list of rules and the need to cart tables, chairs, food, sort out how much wine you’d drink and get yourself to the pick-up zone, my friends dwindled away and I resolved myself to not going. Until the week before when one of my co-workers came and invited me to fill her sisters’ place.

She’d already booked a basket for two and pre-purchased the wine, but we planned for me to bring a few things along. In typical Mel-style, my few things blew out into lots of things (I should never go to a supermarket with an event in mind and no list), and I easily filled the basket with goodies.

When the day arrived, we taxied to our pick up point at Reddacliff place in the city, where already, a crowd of people dressed in white had started to gather. We checked our names off the list and stood around people watching. It was great. One of the most fun parts was the ‘civilians’ milling around, wondering why people were all dressed in white — I even heard a lady ask someone if we were doing a performance piece!

I’m sort of in the middle of this picture – big dress, red hair!
Photo by D. Vogelsang Photography 

Once we were on the bus, everyone started making guesses as to where our secret location would be. As we headed towards Roma Street Parklands, I was convinced they’d driven us past a pick-up point to confuse us, but then we headed into the park. I must admit, I was slightly disappointed at that point, but once we’d collected our baskets and chairs, we headed through the tunnel and into what I can only describe as wonderland.

I’m behind the lady in the foreground. This was the wonderland discovery moment!
Photo by D. Vogelsang Photography 

We followed our table leader to our assigned position, and got busy setting up our chairs and tables, saying ‘hi’ to our new dining mates and laying out the food.

 

The food in the basket that my friend had pre-purchased was lovely and we possibly didn’t need a lot of my other stuff. There were meats (not for me), cheeses, crackers, a lovely fresh baguette, Pepe Saya butter (which I lost my S***) about, much to my friend’s amusement (until she had some on her baguette). I’d bought along some seasoned smoked salmon, more crackers, homemade mini quiches (which didn’t even make it onto the table!), chocolates and white Tim Tams.

Next year I’ll have white macarons

After we’d eaten for a while, we went for a wander. Walking around the site was pretty amazing. There were so many people who had gone to a lot of effort with their table decorating, some of them even going so far as to erect scaffolding and wrap things with battery operated fairy lights. We decided that next year, we really need to up our decorating game!

A sea of white

Back to our table for dessert and I bought out my pièce de résistance; Eton Mess in mason jars. This was the perfect picnic dessert because it actually didn’t matter how much the meringue and fruit and cream smushed together, it just got tastier. The weather was perfect; cool and comfortable, which meant the cream didn’t have time to run away or curdle. People up and down our table were definitely jealous, and I was proud that I’d managed to whip up a dessert in less than fifteen minutes. I did cheat and buy a lot of my stuff pre-made, including the meringues (which were mini, which meant I kept a few spare so we could add them in at dessert time to ensure we got some crunch). But, while I like to be a purist in many respects, I’ve started to realise there comes a point where home-making everything and making everything perfect gives me a lot of stress that I probably don’t need.

Mason jar Eton mess – not pretty but very tasty

One of the highlights of the evening was being rebellious and getting quite a few people up and down our row of tables to help us start a napkin wave. The napkin wave is the traditional start to the night and is done at sunset, but we’d had some confusion earlier on and there were two waves! Our table leader was MIA and so we decided to start one of our own. I’ve never started a Mexican wave before, but this was something similar. It started with our table and spread through the park like wild fire. It was ridiculous, and people at our table (not us, oops) did get in trouble for it, but it was so funny!

The naught napkin wave

Another of the evening’s highlights is the sparkler wave. The table leaders hand out sparklers and then, coordinated, everyone at the dinner lights theirs. But our leader was still MIA and we had to sit out most of the sparkling, instead, ours were handed out just after and we had a lone, sparkling table after everyone else was done.

 

This was one of the things I was the most disappointed about. I know the leaders are volunteers, but ours not being there for a great deal of the dinner definitely took some of the ‘sparkle’ out of our experience. The other thing I was disappointed about was the music. It was a DJ, and under most circumstances, I’m happy to get up and have a dance to a mix of party tunes, but for an elegant soiree where we’d been told to dress “classy” and bring “quality” food, the music was a little too mismatched. A band would have been better, a swing band or a jazz band would have fit the theme a little more. Even a chanteuse or singer songwriter group would have been better than the mix of 80s, 90s and today they played.

Photo from The Weekend Edition’s photobooth (taken by Emily Nelson)

When we’d finished our wine (and some other people’s wine too), had some pictures and another walk around and with our table leader off dancing (I assume), my friend and I packed everything up and slipped out of the park before the official end.

It wasn’t a perfect night, but it was a really, really good one. We’re definitely going to go again next year, and attempt to talk more of our friends to come along. And with more time, I think I can perfect my menu without needing to buy the basket from the actual event.

If you want to go next year, make sure you follow along the Brisbane Dîner en Blanc Facebook page, as that’s when you’ll hear when the waiting list for tickets opens and closes, what the date will be and all the other important announcements. I’m already writing up a list of my top tips and hints, which I will release close to next year’s event to help you get organised!!

I will be uploading some more photos (along with the long-awaited Cake Expo pictures) to my Facebook this week, so keep an eye out there.

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