The End of the Road for 2014

January 15, 2015

Otway shiitake, eggplant and white miso, plated beside Hapuku and crisp skin

As a Brit, I can clarify that the stereotypical English staff party tends to only really have one theme: alcohol. “Man points” tend to be handed out to those that act the silliest or make the most awkward comments, and a generous round of applause is given to those that manage to do both these things, but are ‘smart’ enough to drink the exact amount that ensures they have no recollection of the night before.

So you can imagine my joy when I heard that the theme for this year’s Christmas party at The Lab was ‘Luxury’, centered on a dining extravaganza at The Age’s Restaurant of The Year, Brae.  The whole concept sounded unexpectedly civilized.

First appearances really do matter, and obviously not wanting to disappoint Brae, we began our journey in style, as 4 classic Ford Mustangs roared up to the office.  Many boyhood dreams were fulfilled as we cruised towards the Otways in our convoy of classic cars.  Roofs were pulled down, sunshades went on, and a perfectly timed Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Chain’ blared through the speakers. 

Matt, Neale and Paul enjoying the ride

Mik, Sam and Amelia in action

Lisa and Paula: as the number plate suggests, this was awesome!

The centerpiece of the day’s opulence was the 7-course meal with paired wines, that Brae delivered over three hours. It saw us questioning how we could possibly be eating a ‘barbequed not barbequed wallaby’, wondering how the oysters had the texture of ice cream, and curious as to how crispy parsnips had made their way into our desserts.

LEFT: Turnip and brook trout
RIGHT: Crayfish and new potatoes, flathead roe, milk and mustard

This confusion only added to the true delight of the experience though; the food was delicious, but more importantly it was fun. Amongst all the whimsy came a service that focused on attention to detail - chef de rangs gave faultless summaries of the ingredients and preparation techniques used across the dishes. But Brae’s overall selling point was that it came with no air of pretension. It perfectly married a formal dining experience with an inviting, informal atmosphere, a rarity with restaurants of this standard.

Formal yet fun

Leaving the Brae cottage

Maintaining such extravagance, our ride back to the city was in a rather flamboyant stretch Hummer. The casual cool of the Mustangs was now a distant memory, as several champagne bottles were popped and our transport transformed into a mini disco, complete with light-up dance floor and rap soundtrack.

Amelia, Sarah and Sam enjoying the stretch Hummer disco

The Hummer dropped us off in the CBD and as the early hours approached, I realized that even on the other side of the world, and no matter what theme you put it under, it’s still all about celebrating the end to a great work year with the people who've helped you through it, whilst having a healthy dose of fun in the process. However, my first taste of Australian staff parties suggests you do it with a bit more style and grace than my fellow Brits.

In absentia: Lisa, Paula and Sarah Bustos

Big thanks to everyone who has joined us on the ride this past year, we hope you all had a fabulous end to 2014.