Crown Oaks Lunch – Palladium

It’s a little bit funny, because I expect that not many people do write-ups on these events. I’m far too lazy to check, though. Today I was privileged again to be invited to another fancy Spring Carnival shindig – the Crown Oaks Luncheon, held at Crown Palladium.

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The first thing you can’t help but notice is that this is a BIG room. The ceiling is stunning, of course. There were over 1000 people at the luncheon – tables of 10 packed pretty tightly together and there were at least 113 of them (I know that because somebody at table 113 won a door prize) but I’m not sure exactly how many more. The floral centrepiece was stunning and I could smell it as soon as I sat down – apparently, they were designed in a way that they could be broken up and each of the guests at the table could take a bunch of them home when the waiters brought tissue paper round at the end (isn’t that a FANTASTIC idea, rather than wasting them at the end of the function?) but unfortunately I had to go back to work and didn’t stay long enough for that.

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First of all, the majority of the 1000 people in attendance were women, so there was a sea of beautiful headwear, of course. Secondly, yesterday in the Melbourne Cup (the 155th anniversary) Michelle Payne became the first female jockey EVER to win ‘the race that stops the nation’. So naturally, she gave an opening speech, and I can barely describe the atmosphere on the room when she was cheered onto the stage. One thousand (if not more) women, all cheering for this small female victory in what is a predominantly male-dominated sport. She was a modest, gracious, and sweet speaker, with a sense of humor, stating how the international jockey’s all thought it was some sort of joke that there was a strapper with Downs syndrome (her little brother) drawing the barrier for a female jockey – and yet she won! It was easy to love her and her victory, I have never before felt such a tangible sense of pride, joy, love and support from so many people at once, it was truly breathtaking.

Racing has been getting a pretty bad rap the last few years, for various points (some more valid and truthful than others, it would seem) relating to animal cruelty. But I think if a race can be great, yesterday’s cup was that. The one horse who was injured is being treated and retired with grace, a woman won for the very first time, and it also showcased the marvelous ability and care of people often viewed as disabled. It was absolutely a record-setting day and even though I am not a race goer or follower it was so, so obvious by the atmosphere in the room. Many guests were moved almost to tears by Michelle’s wonderful speech.

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As someone who is not really ‘in to’ the races, not a member of the VRC or any other club, it’s a great novelty to go to an event like this and admire the impeccable outfits of the ladies in attendance but one thing really struck me. The race goers, these ladies-who-lunch are aging. There were of course numerous women of my peer group there, but the vast majority of the thousand odd were certainly on one side of a line, and I’d say that line would be around 50-55 years. They are elegant ladies, clearly having spent years learning to ‘put themselves together’ (rather a lost art, I think… I tried it for a while but gee it’s a lot of work!). And it was lovely to see them all there, with their friends, having a fabulous girls day out. But I wonder, what will this room look like in 5 years, or 10, or 15. Will it still be so full? I somehow doubt it.

There are a number of factors there – one, the ‘political correctness’ of racing. But mostly, the immense expense associated with these sorts of events. Regular race going is a pricey business, with dresses and millinery and pearls and transport. The value of today’s luncheon was, I believe, $270. Other than an elite few, or those who (like me) were sponsored through some work associations to attend, I’m not certain who in my generation would go to an event like this. Likely, if they’re going to go, they’ll save it for the actual race days. However, it’s possible (I do enjoy a good speculation session) that as races become less politically correct, the spring fashion lunches could take on a new/life entirely of their own, and the ladies lunches exist in and of themselves, with less and less link to racing and more to the carnival of spring fashion. But I digress.

For once, I was a good little blogger! I actually managed to remember to take some photos of my food, but not before I’d started the first cut. After my experience at Flemington I wasn’t sure what to expect, except that I was fairly confident Crown would put on a better show than Peter Rowland (if only because, from what I’ve heard, anyone sub par would probably not survive there). Somebody else had booked my ticket so I hadn’t nominated no-seafood, so I was appreciative of the staff’s efforts to get me the vegetarian option instead of the salmon for entree, although it did take a while. I’m not usually a big fan of tofu (particularly cold) but the dressing and seasoning were pretty good in this case!

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For the lunch main, there was no alternate drop – we all received this single point rack of lamb with spicy cous cous, carrot puree and greens. It was nicely pink on the inside and warm, not an easy feat I can imagine when feeding some 1000-1200 (or more??) people at once! Enough meat to be filling, too. Cous cous at functions can tend towards the bland side and I’m pleased to say this wasn’t the case here. It was perfectly light and fluffy and had pleasant pops of fruit throughout… I want to say raisins based on the taste but I don’t remember SEEING raisins so I’m not entirely sure what it was!

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Dessert again seemed to follow the deconstructed pattern with miniature meringues. Included in this modern eton mess were strawberries, small meringues of various flavours, cassis curd, a rather sour vanilla cream, lemon gel and strawberry sorbet. It was quite nice but it was a shame that there seemed to be no consistency to each one, they were all just kind of thrown into the bowl. Most had sorbet in the middle, mine was haphazardly off to the side and nearly falling out of the glass.

There was substantial excitement during the dessert course as our table was drawn not once but TWICE from the door prize barrel! Sadly, I was not one of the winners but it was still a fun little rush.

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Another thing to note which is pretty random I know, was that I was pleasantly surprised to find Palladium *SHOCK* actually has adequate bathrooms. It amazes me how rare this is. As you can imagine, with over 1000 people the line for the ladies room was some 40 people deep, however it progressed quickly. Such an important factor that so many architects seem to over look, and yet can lead to disaster.

After lunch it was time for the main entertainment – now, this was meant to be Guy Sebastian but there was a ‘transport issue’. I had a little giggle at this, as I just imagined him being accidentally left on the side of the road somewhere like some old luggage… apparently it was a flight booking issue, but I am far more amused by my version.

While I was fairly impressed by a full size stage suddenly opening in what had previously looked like a normal wall, I am sad to report that this is where the event was massively let down. The stand in, Anthony Calleja (similarly of reality TV fame and various lesser known records) came on stage all equipped in leatherette pants and glittery tie… and completely ruined the mood. After Michelle Payne’s lovely speech and the IMMENSE cheering and pride that rippled through the room, I felt certain that most of the ladies there would be inspired to go out and kick some goals. I’m always an advocate for women in business but it certainly supercharged me for women in everything. But… for some reason, Calleja decided that it would be appropriate to make the following jokes to a room of 1000+ ladies.

“… had a few glasses of champagne? That’s great, the drunker you are, the better we sound… I love playing to a room full of ladies, isn’t it great? It’s like Housewives of Melbourne on steroids! I hope there’s a bit of a scrag fight later!!”

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Suffice it to say… the room did not laugh. I’m more than certain that a large number of people within the room probably fall into the category stereotyped by Real Housewives of Melbourne so I’m sure the humor would have been lost on them. But really? A scrag fight? What was he thinking? Way to paint a sour note across the girl-boss bubble. He’s been performing for 11 years so you’d think, after that much time, you’d learn to tailor your content a bit to suit the audience. And if not, hire a damn writer. I really don’t care that this was a very last minute gig for him, it was just unimpressive to say the least.

As a final note- I was pretty blown away that the goodie bag at this particular event was an actual bag. Proudly donated (?) by Antler, it states ‘custom’ so I’m not sure if it’s part of their usual range. It’s a PU bag, but thick and seemingly good quality. We were also gifted with a vase, a small bottle of sparkling, tea, coffee, Voss water, manuka honey face mask, and a few brochures and discount flyers. The Longines catalogue is practically a book – sadly not one I can afford to browse. It was really lovely and totally unexpected to receive such a generous gift (well, to me at least! Perhaps those who go every year know to expect it). The bag is also highly functional, with two open compartments and two zippered ones inside, as well as a detachable long strap (I love a well divided bag).

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So I guess that wraps up my review of yet another event that I probably didn’t belong at!

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