March is one of my favourite time of the year, not because AFL season is about to rev up and not because I love going out of my way to find a deliciously crunchy-looking leaf to step on but because the Melbourne Food and Wine festival comes to town. I would normally be on the phone at this time, trying to score some tables for the express lunches that a lot of top restaurants are offering. Unfortunately, I was not able to squeeze in even one lunch this year due to work and uni commitments. Thankfully, I was able to fit in Cumulus Inc’s Annual Oyster Master Class night which Linda, Dave and I attended on Tuesday night. We paid $75 each for the privilege of listening to Steve Feletti from the Moonlight Flat Oysterage talk to us about all things oyster, from production trends to the art affinage (finishing), which made for an interesting evening. I would like to spend the next few hundred words or so extolling the Master Class but first, dinner.
So I met Dave at Cumulus Inc for dinner prior to the class. He, having arrived early, was already in the finishing stages of his grilled veal backstrap with green bean salad, anchovy dressing and glazed shallots so unfortunately I didn’t get to try any of it. My attempts to order the roast quail with turnips, dukkah, purslane and pomegranate backfired when I was told that they had run out of quail so I frantically chose something random from the menu … the mustard-crumbed pigs’ tail, garlic snails, pickled shallots and watercress.
Okay, so the dish may have had some “weird” ingredients but it wasn’t actually all that bad. The pig’s tails (divided into three perfect, crunchy cylinders) consisted of shreds of tender meat, which had a slightly less gelatinous texture to that of an ox tail. It was coated in a crispy, crunchy crumb coating similar to that of a schnitzel. The garlic snails, which were slightly tougher than mussels but had a more subtle taste, added a lovely textural contrast to the dish. There were bits of congealed fat tissues in the tails which I refused to eat as I hate the texture but apart from that, it was a successful dish.
Dave ordered a plate of lemon curd madeleines ($2.50 each) for us to share. They were as good as I remember though Dave reckoned the lemon curd this time around was not as creamy as last time. On that note, I would like to once again thank Dave for shouting me dinner *big smile*
Having finished our dinner just after 6pm, the scheduled start time for the class, we hurried to the adjacent Arc One gallery where tables and chairs were set up for the guests.
We started off with a glass of Henriques & Henriques Monte Seco Extra Dry which was a crisp, light , citrus-y and very fun dry aperitif to kick off proceedings – I likened it to Jessica Wakefield in a bottle (without the whoreish tendencies).
We drank it with smoked eel and parsnip on skewers, which were marinated in some sort of smoky, miso sauce. Delicious.
We also nibbled on slices of bread and raw radishes, the latter being a bit of a WTF choice according to most of our table.
Olives were also provided to snack on while Steve did his talk.
We each got to keep a shucking knife. I will never have to buy pre-shucked oysters ever again!
After Steve’s talk, we were all given a plate of ten different oysters. Starting from the lemon and moving clockwise, we were advised to taste each oyster, try to get a feel for it and try to guess what sort of oyster they were. I was hoping that Steve would actually tell us the names of each oyster at the end of the session but he was happy to just wander around each table and give hints (but not answers to all ten of them, dammit!). So yes, the names of the oysters are the product of our eavesdropping Steve as he went around to each table combined with my own research, hence why they may/may not be 100% accurate. Please feel free to correct if you notice any obvious mistakes.
From the crispy, breezy pacific oyster from Coffin Bay to the creamy, buttery texture of the Petit Clair de Lune, we all learnt that seasonal influences, different production methods, water temperature and location can significant alter the oyster’s shape, taste and texture. I couldn’t decide which oyster I liked best: the Rusty Wire (“best of the day” oyster), which was initially salty and slightly acidic on the tongue before the fleshy scallop-like sweetness hits you, or the Moonlight Flat Angasi, a not-so-plump bivalve with a flesh that had a subtle honey taste.
Accompanying our oysters were three more drinks: a bold Domaine Bernard Defaix 1er Cru Les Les Vaillons Chablie 2008, a bone-dry Oakridge Blanc de Blanc 2006 (Chardonnay) and a toasty Coopers Extra Stout. To me, the last drink initially sounded a bit WTF especially in the context of pairing drinks up with oysters. It was then explained to us, though, that oysters used to be eaten as tavern fare, accompanied by stout. So there you go. I’m not a fan of stout on its own but it went extremely well with the oysters. The other drinks did too as a matter of fact but I think my favourite was the Chablis. Dave made a remark on how it smelt like something he had at Hako (?!) and indeed, it smelt a LOT like mirin but I really enjoyed the sexy, spicy, intense taste which I likened it to drinking cinnamon-flavoured latte in Winter.
Giving new meaning to the term “food pr0n.”
I love Dave’s tasting notes:
After Steve’s presentation, we were free to roam around the gallery to look at the art works on display as we finished our drinks. There was also a table where we were free to practise shucking oysters with our new knifes under the guidance of Cumulus Inc chef, Andrew McConnell and his friendly assistants. According to Steve, the secret to getting those pesky little things to open was to wiggle your knife at the opening rather than stab at it (or you risk hospitalisation). Once you hear a ‘pop’, you’re pretty much done. Much more easier said than done.
Pop a napkin over it for extra grip.
It took me a while to get the shell to open but I surprised myself by managing to shuck it successfully (and glowed when one of Andrew’s assistants called me a “pro”). Steamed oysters with ginger and soy at my place this Winter, anyone?
Linda gives shucking a go.
Hahaha oh, Dave…
The girls with Andrew McConnell.
We all agreed it was a marvellous night (though Dave and Linda did comment on how draining it was listening some of Steve’s explanations on production methods). If you’re planning to go next year, I would strongly advise you to have a nibble beforehand as the oysters will not fill you up. I highly recommend it for any oyster fiends – a very informative and entertaining session. A word of warning though: you will never go back to pre-shucked oysters ever again!