Well, sort of.
If I had the money, I would but alas, I’m just a mere mortal so I have to contend with eating at those places every once in a while when funds are available. I did eat dishes produced by the chefs of the above restaurants, though, so technically I’m not lying. How on earth did I do it? Well, let me introduce TASTE OF MELBOURNE. It was held this weekend at the Royal Exhibition Building and follows the successful model they have in London – stalls set up by Melbourne’s acclaimed restaurants, fresh produce, tasting booths and demonstrations. For $25, you get entry to the event and you can buy a book of “crowns” that you can exchange for sample-sized dishes there ($1 = 1 crown. Dishes range from 8-14 crowns). I booked my tickets online prior to the event to avoid queues and got for $50, entry to the event plus a book of 30 crowns thus saving me $5 or so.
We bumped into Guy Grossi of Grossi Florentino fame who was awesomely down-to-earth and even though he was a very busy man, he chatted to us for a bit before inviting us to his cooking demo which he was rushing off to. Naturally, I couldn’t decline a personal invite from the man himself!
Armed with a bunch of lame-o jokes, uber-elite kitchen equipment and some helpful hints for making pasta, he worked his way to a simple pasta dish using broccoli leaves and pork belly.
George Calombaris from The Press Club! He’s got an awesome book out (‘The Press Club’) and is probably my fave chef on Ready Steady Cook (okay fine, only because he’s from Melbourne, heh). Like Guy, he was awesome to chat to… even though he kept insisting that Libby is a Greek name for some reason (?). When I told him that I wasn’t Greek, he shrugged and said that there must’ve been some Greek in me. I wasn’t sure if that was meant to be dirty but let’s hope not! Oh, and while George was signing my book as well as chatting away to other people, some guy yelled out, “Hey George, can you do this to Peter Everett next time you see him!” while making hitting motions. Haha yes, I second that too.
Okay, now to the most important part: THE FOOD! Now, Adam and I both had a book of 30 crowns each which we were planning to use very wisely. I had bought a dish and a drink 30 minutes into the session when I realised that my book of crowns went missing! Frantic attempts at retracting our steps and searching for the book proved fruitless, no doubt that some lucky fcker found my book with 18 crowns still in it and went straight to the Nobu stand. Anyway, so I’m standing there in the middle of the building chucking a fit, obviously in a shtty mood and not realising that Adam had ran off. Moments later, he came back with a new book of 30 crowns which he bought for me in order to make me feel better. I felt bad that he had to spend money to do that but aw, what a darl! As for the fckwit who took my book of crowns, I hope you get food poisoning!
Anyway, back to the food!
We first stopped by at the Interlude stand, a restaurant that Adam and I went to earlier this year. While the lunch we had wasn’t the best, I was impressed at the lengths that chef Robin Wickens went to in order to make his food interesting using the most unusual combination of ingredients. In fact, the lunch might not have been fantastic but nevertheless, my visit left a lasting impression on me… and made me want to his their dinner degustation later down the track. The first thing on the Interlude sign simply read “Bacon and Eggs.” Initially, I scoffed and asked myself why on earth they’d serve bacon and eggs when we could easily get them at Maccas or the local cafe?! But aha! They weren’t your usual bacon and eggs! Nosiree!
Dish #1 “Bacon and Eggs” from Interlude. Okay, the name of the dish may have been misleading as there is obviously only one egg but let’s not get technical about it okay? The large puffy egg was slowly cooked in a bacon consumme, with little bits of crunchy rice and tomatoes floating around. It was a very interesting – and yummy – dish, the only thing missing was a piece of toast to slurp up the runny egg yolk!
Dish #2 Hellenic Republic lamb souvlaki from Press Club. Ladies and gents, presenting the most awesomest souvlaki in the whole wide world! I swear, it was AMAZING! A steal at only 10 crowns, you got a chiko roll-sized meal of puffy bread (I dunno what it’s called but it wasn’t pita nor Turkish bread), with bits of marinated lamb and the usual trimmings – onion, garlic sauce, tomatoes etc and yes, you are seeing fries! I don’t know what made this taste so damn good – I don’t think it’s the potatoes – but I’m willing to find out. Yes, it may have been small and for $10, you can get a huge monster of a souvlaki at Lambs or any other souvlaki joint, but they would never be as good as this. There is no prizes in guessing which prized restaurant I’m going to book for my next “up-market” restaurant adventure…
Dish #3 Porcini and sage Risotto from Grossi Florentino. I usually shy away from risotto when it comes to eating out, mainly because it’s something that anyone can make at home and also because it’s pretty boring to eat when you’re out. This risotto, however, was anything BUT boring… which is not surprising seeing as it’s apparently a signature dish at Grossi Florentino. Yes, it does taste better than it looks. Although I’ve been to the Cellar Bar, I’m yet to visit THE Grossi Florentino but one day…
Dish #4 Wagyu Burger from The Botanical. This was Adam’s favourite from the festival. It may have been small but it was mightly impressive. A thick chunk of wagyu sat atop a sourdough bun filled with the most basic trimming – a few shreds of lettuce, some onion and relish. What really made it stand out from other burgers though was the dab of wasabi paste on top of the wagyu. I had no idea that there was wasabi in it and because I’m not a fan of it, I naturally cried my eyes out when that nail varnish taste hit my tongue. Adam, on the other hand, relished it.
Dish #5 Glass noodle salad from Longrain. Another restaurant on my to-go list. I had initially planned on booking my birthday dinner there but apparently they don’t take bookings and I didn’t want to risk missing out on a table when I rocked up there with my entourage. Longrain is yet another restaurant that serves Asian-influenced food cooked by a white guy. Like Gingerboy, they also do it well but I think there is less of a “Western” influence from what I ate. The salad consisted of cold bean thread noodles tossed with chilli jam, peanuts and mint which gave it a very Thai-slash-Vietnamese flavour. Two hefty Crystal Bay prawns played sidekick to the salad as did the lime wedge provided. While it was light and yummy, Ads and I both agreed that this dish could easily be made at home if we tried.
Dish #6 Saddle of Highland venison tataki on soft parmesan polenta from Jacques Reymond. Yep, deer meat. For those curious, it tastes a lot like beef but unlike beef, it doesn’t have as much fat which gives beef that flavour. Those beans might look a bit off-putting but this dish actually tasted alright. The creamy polenta… the soft seared venison … the sweet tamarind and soy dressing… all topped with a crispy parmesan slice. Mmmmmm!
Dish #7 Swimmer Crab Chowder from Stokehouse. Last dish folks! I wanted something hearty to top it all off before leaving the building. I guess we could’ve gone for dessert as our last dish but none of us aren’t really dessert people so we went for another savoury. Stokehouse was our final destination and crab chowder won over the wagyu meat pie from Circa @ The Prince because we already had a wagyu dish and because Adam’s already been to Circa. As Randy Jackson would say, this dish was aiiiiight, y’know? Just aiiiight. A rich stew of crab was topped with breadcumbs, chives and “Spanish pepper” creme fraiche. I don’t know what made the creme fraiche peppery, or even what made the pepper “Spanish” because it taste like any other creme fraiche. It had the potential to be a great dish and I am by no means bagging it – it tasted just fine – but perhaps it wouldn’t have hurt if it was a little more tasty.
So there you have it: Taste of Melbourne 2008! As Guy Grossi said to us earlier, “I’m glad that Melbourne got the event before Sydney did because we are MORE CULTURED THAN THEM” and even though some Sydneysiders might want to disagree with Guy, I’m just glad that we were able to experience this festival as it definitely beats many of the shows/festivals I’ve been to. They’ll most likely do it again next year but for those of you reading this on Sunday morning and looking for things to do, go check it out (last day!). And save me a cupcake too – when I went back there after having the chowder, they were all gone. Sniff.