Emily rallied the troops, and Cindy, Michael, Kristy, Toby, Lidia, Craig, Bec, Ballarat Mike and I all answered the call (Lisa was far too busy and important being an authoress and had to decline. She was missed but the literary world will be the better for it). We travelled to Hepburn Springs to stay at Continental House, a vegan life sanctuary guest house run on the guiding principle of Ahimsa (look it up) by the lovely Zalan and specfically for a Saturday night banquet that I prepared for with an extra-horrendous gym session. That was definitely not ahimsa on my legs but I was prepared to sacrifice for the legend of the Conti House Vegan Banquet.
I'll indulge in a bit of judgmentally Judgy McJudging here: I was really glad that we missed the second and fourth Saturdays of the month when the banquet is all raw. Much as I think that my gizzards would benefit from an increase in raw, now was not the time. Definitely not. Under any circumstances. Nuh-uh. I'm done now.
Conti House is adorned in op-shoppery that is clean and serviceable, although having to unplug the only light in the room I shared with roomie Lids so that I could use the only power point to charge my phone was a little bemusing. The rooms are small but sweet, with walls thin enough and curtains scanty enough that any thoughts guests may have of nocturnal naughtiness should be shelved (not me and Lidia! Just sayin' eh bro! And for the record poor Buzz was left in Melbourne by himself).
And to dinner. We all arrived early, champing at the bit and with very rumbly tummies (or mine anyway), and took advantage of the non-alcoholic sparkling ... actually I didn't. I prefer to leave space for real calories.
The soup was a pumpkin an orange creation accessorised with corn chips, whole tomatoes and in my case, a great big kaffir lime leaf, which took Kristy and I a while to discover as the source of the limey-ness. Being a person incapable of cooking any soup that doesn't bring to mind words such as 'hearty', 'steaming hot', 'chunky', 'farmhouse', 'full of lentils', 'very wintery' and 'really not soup but a dish with a bit extra juice', it was good to discover a delicate and well-balanced mix of unusual flavours with this one.
The main feast was served onto groaning tables, and in an outstanding show of constraint we all (except Craig) lined up formed a queue around the table that involved only minimal pinching, grabbing, swearing and under-breath mutterings.
My plate was bright and colourful, filled with a variety of food that was a credit to Zalan and the other Conti staff. I'll stick to my highlights for the sake of brevity, but there was not a single serve that wasn't excellent and enjoyable.
A creamy chickpea curry had a the soft mouth feel and gentle spices that you would expect from a gentle korma. A seriously fresh tabouleh made me want to purchase some burghul instantly - it had all the hallmarks of a home-made, well-seasoned salad. A squash and pumpkin bake was spicy and Italianesque, providing a great contrast in texture with its gratin-y top. Two dips - beetroot and a roasted capsicum that had us all guessing in a most embarrassing non-foodie way - encouraged me to use my fingers to lick up the residue and thereby, hopefully, avoid ever having the misfortune of winning Ladette To Lady. The best, however - it was raw. I suck it all back. The slices of thick, creamy, fresh avocado floated my boat and then tipped it over.
Didn't it leave lovely colours on the plate?
The desserts were fascinating. A banana soycream with perhaps almond meal on top of stone fruit for me, and atop an avocado cream for Kristy - unfortunately Emily and Michael revealed their antipathy to bananas (losing my respect utterly in the process!) - were really cute and I happily put all of mine away. Avocado for dessert - now that's a chef!
Conti House was a blast. Retro to the maxest, a rocking banquet, and some have-to-be-seen-to-be-fathomed hedge at the entrance - gold.
One word though - the Sunday morning yoga goes for almost two hours. Not one, two. Before breakfast. It finished at 11am. Participators were hungry; non-participators were pawing at the floor.
The shenanigans of Sunday are to come.