Last Friday night, after the headiness of five Melbourne Writers’ Festival engagements in four days – plus two celebratory occasions – my wife and I went out to Melbourne restaurant Prix Fixe. Now, Prix Fixe is a fine dining establishment at any time, but when we saw its August menu we simply had to be there. Chef Philippa Sibley had always adored CS Lewis’ Narnia books and decided to construct a dining experience around them.
When we arrived, we found that the front door of the restaurant had been transformed into a wardrobe door. Stepping inside, we were greeted by fur coats overhead – and by friendly staff. Thus our Narnia inspired evening began.
The food was all inspired by good English cooking, in the best traditions of Uncle Andrew and Professor Kirke. Before the menu proper, we were offered Coffin Bay oysters. I succumbed and had three, imagining myself to be in an Edwardian oyster house. They were superb, fresh, briny and brilliant.
To begin our Narnia dining, we had a delightful cream of celery soup, with Stilton ice-cream and candied walnut crumble. A miracle of myriad flavours. Then came ‘A Winter Picnic’, a plate with an assortment of tit-bits: a Scotch egg, potted shrimp in a glass, and two delicate cucumber sandwiches. Each of these was a rather superior version of the traditional namesakes, and each was delicious.
Then came ‘Tea with Mr Tumnus’, a Phillipa Sibley version of traditional English fare: lamb suet pudding, minty peas and carrots. This was hearty, rich, full of flavour, and melt in the mouth. Marvellous, marvellous stuff.
Before dessert, an optional cheese course was available: ‘English cave aged, cloth bound Cheddar, pickled quince with oat cakes’. I was sorely tempted, as I love a good cheddar but, alas, dessert beckoned. At this stage, it was one or the other, but not both …
Dessert had to feature Turkish Delight, didn’t it? The White Queen herself would have been proud of the ‘Turkish delight, pistachio, white chocolate’ confection that was put in front of us. It was cold, sweet, floral, aromatic and heady. Swoon-inducing stuff.
All night, as we ate, we reminisced about the Chronicles of Narnia, and how food was an essential part of the stories. From the kitchen of Mrs Beaver to the dining tables of the Dufflepuds, food and eating played an important part in the worlds Lewis created.
The food at Prix Fixe was most certainly better than the food of 1950s England when the Chronicles were published, but it did share some of the magic and mystery that those cherished books had.
A sumptuous night.