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Suburban dinner event signals danger for the Fringe brand

A dinner posing as one thing but altogether another (serving suggestion only; there was no pork roast…).

I’m not sure what the Italian word for ‘hype’ is but I do know when an ordinarily glorious cuisine such as Italian is preceded by fan-fair but dished out sub-par and unsuitably bland.

Being of Italian decent, I had high hopes for the La Dolce Vita Long Table Dinner, a culinary event (and I use those two words loosely) that was part of this year’s Fringe World in Perth. Why it made it onto the Fringe calendar I’m not sure, but being snuck into the program might have been a mistake for organisers.

The blurb for the dinner promised “an unforgettable dining experience … savor [sic] sumptuous and bountiful platters of authentic Italian cuisine … just like Nonna makes!”

Given La Dolce Vita’s decadent title, you’d think you’d be in for a night of exotic tastes and flamboyant performances…

In reality it was set up like grandma’s birthday reception with more bright light than a needle factory, a ‘degustation’ overloaded with carbohydrates, and bland wine options – with a token Aperol cocktail each guest had to line up for which was more bitters than sparkling.

Yes, the ricotta-stuffed ravioli looked somewhat appetising but one raviolo hardly hit the spot. The rest of the ‘banquet’ consisted of cold cuts (well, mortadella and a little salami), arancini (which we actually missed out on), a slice of Margherita pizza with hardly a hint of mozzarella, a sloppy risotto (in which we each had to dip our own forks, ie: no serving utensils), meatball spaghetti (Heinz could have done better), dry chicken cutlet, and stale-tasting cannoli that hardly warranted being called ‘sweet’.

In further attempt at hyperbole, the organisers promised “a cast of professional musicians and dancers in lavish costumes [to] present a spectacular, dazzling array of Italian entertainment”. And, being Fringe-related, they could really have gone to town on this – perhaps presenting some fabulous tango, a tarantella for patrons to get involved in, or even some mock opera singing for a laugh.

But, no, all we got was an accordion player flanked by two showgirls, the three coming too close to our ears when all we wanted was a waiter to bring us a little side sauce for the chicken cutlet.

Given La Dolce Vita‘s decadent title, you’d think you’d be in for a night of exotic tastes and flamboyant performances. And knowing the broad brilliance of Italian culture, there is no excuse not to provide even a fraction of this.

For $60 a head, guests deserved much more, especially ones who have been dubbed cherished ‘family’ by the event’s main operator, Nella Fitzgerald.

But the worse damage done is that to the Fringe brand.

Fringe World Perth has worked hard over nine years to build an event that celebrates multiculturalism, diversity and unparalleled performance art, increasing its volume of acts annually to the point that some 700 productions filled this year’s program. But when quantity begins to supersede quality in an area as open to critique as the Arts, artistic types can certainly smell the burning money.

Connecting itself to any ol’ suburban event promising an extravagant dinner and a show (but failing to deliver quality on either front) could be dangerous for Fringe, which prides itself on its artistic integrity and promise of things exciting and new.

Indeed, I was told that some sort of a fete was happening outside the Bassendean sports hall we had dined in, and I did see several strollers for three and dudes in Hard Yakka shorts licking ice cream. Perhaps this proximity to the long table dinner event lent it a little artistic gravitas. But they should have at least let us know in the program that the real celebration of sorts was actually happening next door.

★★★

Antonino Tati

 

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