I can’t remember the last time I obsessed so much over one day’s weather forecast. Cloud cover, wind speed and direction, and precipitation percentage predictions were of crucial importance for last night’s event. At a certain point in the late afternoon I gave up worrying about it, as the conditions were changing so fast, and the rain at that point was so heavy, that I settled into a philosophical mood and just said to myself “Que sera, sera”. As we left it had stopped raining but the sky above our garden was still ominously dark.
We met friends at the metro station and made our way to the stop nearest the Belgian Royal Palace, the scene of that night’s dinner. As we emerged into the open air again, miracle of miracles, the sky had completely cleared and was a spotless, deep blue. In fact the light was so blindingly bright that we regretted not bringing sunglasses. We walked to the location on the pavement just between the park and the palace, checked in, and made our way to the reception area. We were here for Dinner in the sky.
I have to admit that when my wife first proposed that we eat dinner while strapped to a table hanging from a crane 50 metres above the ground I wasn’t too keen. I have an occasional fear (well, maybe fear is too strong a word. Let’s say “healthy dislike”) of heights, depending on the situation. Generally if it’s something that is supposed to be still but is actually slightly wobbly, I’m a little disturbed, and I can’t look down or up or I’ll get dizzy and fall over. And yet she managed to
bully talk me into it. In fact, by the time we arrived at the venue I was quite looking forward to it.
We’d booked for the first week, chosing the Royal Palace as opposed to one of the other three locations offered in Brussels as we thought that this one would offer the best views across the city. When we booked we didn’t know which of the starred chefs would be preparing our meal that night, but were happy to discover that it was to be Pascal Devalkeneer, as we’d enjoyed our recent meal at his restaurant Le Chalet de la Fôret.
We got there early and sipped our complimentary champagne while watching the previous sitting hanging over our heads. The host explained that due to the weather they were running a little behind schedule.
At one point they came back down to earth to remove the plastic rain sheets, and the clear the table ready for dessert.
In the meantime we sat in the lounge and perused the menu, which came adorned with a quote from Baudelaire. Pretentious, moi?
Amuse-bouches were also served on the ground. This was vitello tonnato (veal and tuna) or, more accurately, a vitello tonnato mousse.
Salted cod with coconut and curry sauce. This starter is brought to you by the letter ‘C’.
The previous diners finished their meal and disembarked (“de-tabled”?), and the crew set about preparing for our group. This took a little longer than planned as, just as the table was being shifted slightly to make adjustments, it set down on one of the power cables, sending up a small shower of sparks. Then all the lights went off, both at table and in the lounge. After about fifteen minutes of running back and forth and behind the scenes jiggery pokery the power came back on and we were allowed to board. The weather had changed again by this point, becoming rather cloudy, but at least the rain held off.
We were gently but firmly strapped in. So firmly, in fact, that it was almost impossible to lean forwards out of the chair. Fortunately everything was within arm’s reach, and we were afforded a little room for manoeuvre by the chairs which rotated 180° so that we could better admire the view.
At around 9:45, an hour and a quarter later than scheduled, we lifted gently into the sky. Here’s the view of the reception/lounge and planked launchpad. That’s my foot at top right.
Due to the fact that a little wind had picked up we didn’t go all the way up to the maximum 50 metres, stopping at 25 metres, but that was plenty enough for me. Once in the air I was a little more nervous than I’d expected to be, and spent much of the time sitting as still as possible, moving slightly only to take photos.
The table rotated slightly once we were in position, varying the view.
The centre of Brussels, including the Hôtel de Ville in the Grand Place.
The Royal palace and, behind it at right, the Courts.
And then Pascal and assistants set to work on our starter.
Brittany lobster with morel mushrooms and beans. A lovely creamy sauce, some of which ended up on our shirts as we couldn’t lean forward enough to place our mouths directly over the plates. I was still a little stiff at this stage, and while I was ok if I looked at the horizon, any time I had to look down at my plate I’d catch a glimpse out of the corner of my eye of the traffic speeding past below my feet.
The main course: a tender rack of lamb, paccheri (large pasta tubes) filled with minced lamb shoulder, and artichoke.
I started to relax a little, helped no doubt by the regular wine refills.
Here’s a brief iPhone video to give you a sense of the motion of the table.
At this point we descended to unload the dinner plates, and then we went back up again for dessert, a sumptuous raspberry macaroon.
The wind had dropped away again and, at the chef’s request, they took us up to 40 metres. Although it would have been nice to go up earlier and take advantage of the sunshine it was nice to end the meal in the dark, and it wasn’t at all cold up there.
It was a pretty intense and memorable experience and well worth it, despite the delays. I still feel a little dizzy even now just looking at the photos, but it didn’t hamper my appetite or, ultimately, my enjoyment.
Dinner in the sky originated in Belgium and is now available in nearly 40 countries, so there’s probably one near you. Give it a try.
Thanks to Daring Simon! http://simonlitton.wordpress.com/