A High Tea in Wonderland @ MIF

Manchester International Festival.What an amazing event, just perfect for this amazing city I live in. Every two years Manchester is taken over by an fantastic array of contemporary artists, that are given the freedom to create memorable, epic pieces of WOW. Whether it be song, dance, theatre… or food?!

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to be able to work on one of Manchester International Festival’s most talked about shows. A High Tea in Wonderland. This was where one of the best chefs in the North, Mary Ellen Mctague, got to show off her amazing cooking skills in a whirlwind of cooking dreams.

2015 is the 150th Anniversary of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll and to celebrate Mary Ellen wanted to take you on a journey down the rabbit hole…

Mary Ellen creating a High Tea in Wonderland - Image courtesy of MIF

Mary Ellen creating a High Tea in Wonderland – Image courtesy of MIF

Firstly there was the venue.. Manchester Museums Herbarium , this is a behind the scenes at the museum venue, not usually open to the public. It is home to over 650,000 plant specimens all neatly ordered in a Victorian era fashion and stored in big green boxes covering all of the rooms. Perfect for a stroll though a warped reality.

“Little Alice fell 
d
o
w
n
the hOle, 
bumped her head
and bruised her soul” 
― Lewis CarrollAlice in Wonderland

Guests were greeted by the white rabbit and took high tea in a playground of fallen crockery and curious curiosities. Whilst the rabbit chatted away and soothing classical music played the guests nibbled their way through a delightful miniature menu, unaware of the rabbit hole they were about to fall into.

A High Tea included;

A High Tea in Wonderland MIF

A High Tea in Wonderland MIF

Corned beef and pickled cucumber on white sourdough
Potted mackerel, roasted celeriac and beetroot puree on rye bread
Potted cheese and slow roasted shallots on black pepper oat cakes
Rhubarb and custard tart
Raspberry macaroons
Sticky ginger cake
All washed down with a beautiful cup of jasmine tea.

When they had finished they were encouraged to take an “Acid Tab” and a line of birch oil infused truffle and lead by the white rabbit into the Mushroom Room….

“Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality.” ― Lewis CarrollAlice in Wonderland

This is where their senses start to be played with.

A nice cup of tea you say, or is it mushroom consomme?

Mushroom room A High Tea in Wonderland MIF

Mushroom room A High Tea in Wonderland MIF

From the mushroom room the white rabbit leads them to the Eat Me room where the caterpillar is waiting, puffing on her pipe and questioning their sense of reality
A delicious sweet treat macaroon

Or Not

Bite Me A High Tea in Wonderland MIF

Bite Me A High Tea in Wonderland MIF

Beetroot macaroon filled with whipped chicken liver parfet, port reduction and topped with betroot salt BITE ME

“Oh dear, I’m late! For a very important date! No time to say hello, goodbye! I’m late! ― Lewis CarrollAlice in Wonderland

Hello Mad Hatter. Goodbye White Rabbit

Enter the room of the Cheshire Cat (goodbye white rabbit)
Rabbit pie and Cheshire cat make a great combination in this flame filled experiment room.

Cheshire Cat fire A High Tea in Wonderland MIF

Cheshire Cat fire A High Tea in Wonderland MIF

“Oh, you can’t help that,’ said the cat. ‘We’re all mad here.” ― Lewis CarrollAlice in Wonderland

Rabbit Pie A High Tea in Wonderland MIF

Rabbit Pie A High Tea in Wonderland MIF

As every good subject should know The Queen never likes to be kept waiting so the guests are quickly lead to meet their Queen. Who as usual is not in a good mood, demanding that the guests “Paint her roses red”.

 

The Queen of Hearts A high Tea in Wonderland MIF

The Queen of Hearts A high Tea in Wonderland MIF

Her subjects also get to eat an almond sponge topped with a rasberry and balsamic vinager mousse and a white chocolate playing card. They also get to paint sugar encrusted fresh rose petals with strawberry paint and  are lulled into a sense of security by the Queen soothingly playing the cello atop of her bed of roses. The guests have just enough time to eat their amazing sweet treats before the Queen has had enough and demands that they leave immedialty with the hoot of a bugal.

Queen of Hearts  High Tea in Wonderland MIF

Queen of Hearts High Tea in Wonderland MIF

“What a strange world we live in…Said Alice to the Queen of hearts” 
― Lewis CarrollAlice in Wonderland

And just like that the guests are whirled down the back turret stairs of the museum and spat back into reality blinking and wandering if it all really just happened.

Well done Manchester International Festival, Mary Ellen and everyone else who made the event possible, we all need a sprinkle of an alternative reality every so often.

Photographs of the event are courtesy of Louise Hogg. Thank you for your shots! Follow her here.