Event: Taste of Melbourne 2011

Royal Exhibition Building
Nicholson St, Carlton
September 15th – 18th 2011

If you’re a food wanker, someone who wishes they were a food wanker or someone who gets sucked into these marketing exercises that organisations such as Brand Events arrange, then you would have no doubt been to the Taste of Melbourne festival over the weekend. Now in its fourth year, the festival celebrates all that is glorious about Melbourne’s foodie scene, with a focus on top restaurants offering sample-sized dishes for punters to try in exchange for ‘crowns’, which are vouchers that you can buy on the day.

After being underwhelmed last year, I had originally decided to flag this year’s event. However, after being bribed with complimentary tickets in exchange for some services rendered for my friend, Mitch (no, not that kind, you sicko), I knew I couldn’t let those tickets go to waste. After spending most of my weekend treating Martin, who was in town for a few days, to food, booze and shopping, I decided that Sunday afternoon would be the perfect time to cap off what would have been yet another epic weekend in Melbourne for my other half. So after enjoying bún bò Huế at Dong Ba for brunch, followed by a bánh mì (him, not me), we made it back into the city and trammed it to the Royal Exhibition Building where the festival was held.

 It was 2:30pm by the time we rocked up, so the building was still packed with heaps of foodies, their partners and hundreds of DSLRs snapping away. The number of participating restaurants may not have increased from last year’s total, however there seemed to be more going on in terms of demonstrations, produce stalls and more importantly, alcohol-tasting stalls. Can’t argue with that. After making a visit to the exhibition’s ‘bank’ to purchase a $50 book of crowns and grabbing a rather awkward-looking rectangular show bag with a free copy of The Age, we followed our noses along the food trail.

The first stall we stopped at was that of George Calombaris’ latest venture in Kew, St Katherine’s. I chose to buy a serving of ‘KFC’ (‘St Katherine’s fried Lilydale chicken’) purely because of the name (12 crowns) over the Turkish lamb dumplings. In hindsight, however, I should have got the dumplings. While there was nothing wrong with the chicken, which arrived freshly hot from the back kitchen as opposed to having sat on the bench, it wasn’t mind-blowing either. Martin likened it to a dressed up chicken karaage which I had to agree with – our six or so battered chicken pieces were coated in a mixture of mayonnaise and smoky BBQ sauce, with the latter tasting a lot like ponzu sauce. It was something that we could have either made at home or ordered for $7.50 at a non-descript Japanese restaurant. Not worth 12 crowns.

We got thirsty. Thankfully, an army of alcoholic beverage stands were located conveniently next to the St Katherine’s stand. We sampled some Patrón tequilas while we received a history lesson from the dude manning the stall. Yes, he said, tequila comes from the agave plant and not the cactus. Fools. Then it was a quick swivel to the right where we feasted our eyes on the green fairy in the form of a a wormwood shot and a lovely green citrus-y punch. I was taking my time with my shot while Martin was getting impatient so he dared me to scull the rest of it off. Not one to back down from a challenge (and a drinking one at that), I downed my shot in a matter of seconds and from that point on, the remainder of the festival became one hazy mess. Bear with me, please.

Choosing to eat a sweet dish may have seemed rather odd at this stage but Martin couldn’t help but drool over the plates of pistachio panna cottas that were sitting prettily at the Sarti stand (10 crowns). I enjoyed this dish immensely at last year’s Taste so I wasn’t terribly surprised when I saw that Martin had a similar reaction to the dish. We both savoured the lovely not-overly-sweet vanilla-based panna cotta, which contained hints of nuttiness which was beautifully contrasted with the ruggedly salty pieces of caramel popcorn.

 The famous wagyu burger from The Botanical. Having already tried it before, I gave it a miss this year. But damn, they were adorable.

Creamy Beechworth honey is Chris Judd.

And so is this cube sushi-maker thingimibob. I would have bought a cube myself but shucks, I ought to start learning how to make PROPER sushi rolls first…

The guys from Tripod Farmers in Bacchus Marsh were spruiking a new salad green: the wasabi salad. Having tried the next new rocket leaf at the Good Food and Wine Show earlier this year and deciding that I loved it, I was pleased to see the guys make an appearance at Taste. They know it’s not easy convincing people to eat their greens, so they were giving away cups of parmesan, pear and wasabi salads. They were delicious, and I’m looking for a place that stocks this stuff as we speak (PS. They sell them at South Melbourne market and Toscano’s).

Jindi, the cheesemakers, were holding free cheese matching sessions which was something I would have attended but for the line of people wanting to get in. Instead, I settled for some camembert cheese samples. Yum.

Hop, Holland, Hop!

We earned another round of drinks, this time cold ciders from the Rekorderlig bar. My apple and blackcurrant cider might have tasted like diluted apple and blackcurrant juice (booo), but I loved Martin’s Winter cider which was essentially an apple cider infused with cinnamon and vanilla. Too bad they’re phasing it out, though *sad face*

Before we knew it, it was one hour until the end of the festival. We quickly hurried downstairs to grab the last few spots at Sensology’s cocktail-making demonstrations – but not before being tempted by food. Discounted food. We decided that we couldn’t go wrong with Tobie Puttock’s Kitchen Cat‘s pulled pork paninis which were normally 12 crowns, but were out the table at 2 for 8 crowns. What a bargain! Having tried pulled pork at Trunk Diner a month or so ago (and liking it), and then eating it again at Birdman Eating only a few days ago (and not liking it so much), I was curious to see how Kitchen Cat’s version would fare. Given that the rolls had been sitting around for a while, the pork was starting to dry up and cool down which didn’t make them fun to eat. I loved the crusty ciabatta and the addition of sauerkraut (which I would have normally turned my nose up at), which cut through the sweetness of the pork nicely. I wouldn’t say that it was as good as Trunk Diner’s pulled pork, which still managed to retain its tenderness despite being left in a brown paper bag for several hours, but it didn’t completely suck either.

More bargains were to be held at Mezzo Bar & Grill‘s stand. They were offering a deal where you could grab whatever two dishes you wanted for 12 crowns, a steal given that the dishes we grabbed were 12 and 10 crowns respectively. First up, we had the pizza ‘lunga with smoked mozzarella, cured ocean trout, rocket and candied walnuts. Translated to ‘long pizza,’ this dish was essentially a rectangular piece of crispy flat base decorated with salt-cured ocean trout, and lots and lots of fresh rocket. The result? A very salty dish. Ideally, the peppery rocket leaves would have cut through the saltiness of the fish but the leaves itself were drizzled in a heavy mixture of olive oil and salt so it was essentially like eating salt on top of salt. As for the candied walnuts and smoked mozzarella? There were none.

Their Sher wagyu meatballs, Sicilian couscous and salted ricotta dish fared a little bit better, but by not much. Again, it was salty but thank goodness for the tanginess of the tomato stew (was that the Sicilian couscous? I don’t know) and the sumac-dusted rocket leaves which provided some much needed relief. But still, it was just too much saltiness even for a salt-lover like myself. Hell, I’ve already been to Mezzo Bar & Grill but if I was someone who had never been and decided to taste those two dishes at the festival, I would not have bothered making a booking.

By the time we had declared ourselves full, the festival was about to close. Sadly, we could only watch as the last participants finished up their cocktail demonstrations at the Sensology stand. For 10 crowns, I would have loved to learn how to make my own cocktail and drink the fruits of my labour. What a shame.

Oh, who am I kidding? I only wanted to attend the class to perve on the hottie cocktail demo dudes!

To allay our thirst for a final drink, we stopped by a stand that was manned by a friendly yank who was one of the owners of the Fee Brothers beverage mixer company. I can’t remember the name of the chap who chatted with us, but he proudly showed us his range of flavoured bitters from rhubarb (which rhubarb-hating Martin admitted to not hating) to peach.

We enjoyed our ice, cold bitters as well as the dude’s friendly nature that we ended up getting sucked into buying a bottle of bitters each, a cherry one for Martin and a peach one for myself  ($30 for the two bottles). I guess we all know what I’ll be drinking this summer…

To be honest, I wouldn’t have paid admission to get into the festival as it was essentially the same old stuff as last year’s so thank goodness for the complimentary entry tickets. The dishes we had weren’t overly brilliant or anything (except for the panna cotta) and there were more food wankers this year than in previous years, thus alleviating the fun factor just a little bit. That said, I had a better time this year. Better produce stalls, more sampling and best of all, lots of bargains to be had on the last day meant that our crowns went a long way. Compare this to last year’s event when we were continually buying books of crowns and spending a motherload of money, but still going hungry at the end of the night and you’ll see that it often pays to rock up on the last day. Whether I’ll go again next year will depend on how busy I am (it’s not an event that I’ll ditch other commitments for), what restaurants are being featured (if they feature the same old restaurants and/or lots of restaurant that I’ve been to, then I am less likely to go) and whether Essendon is playing a finals match on the weekend.

13 Comments

  1. Haha, oh dear, it looks like you were missing some cous cous under your Sher wagyu meatballs!! They must have put some rocket on top to compensate, as the dishes I saw (and the one I ate) certainly didn’t have rocket, and definitely had a nice bed of cous cous! What did you think of the panna cotta? My partner and I both thought it tasted nice, but a bit artificial with a marzipan after-taste (I hate marzipan, haha).

    1. I know! I’m sure the meatballs would have tasted a LOT better with the cous cous, what a shame 🙁

      I thought the panna cotta was lovely – I do love marzipan though 🙂

  2. Definitely only worth it if the entry is free. Vast majority of the exhibitors are the same as Good Food & Wine Show, but there’s about three times as many of them at that show, and it’s only $18 to get in on the door. That being said, had the slow roasted suckling lamb from Sarti – I thought it was great, boyf thought it may have been the best lamb he’s ever had! Other than that, not too much inspiring. Had the lamb dumplings at St Katherines – flavour combo was interesting but overall a bit average…

    1. Damn, I missed out on the suckling lamb from Sarti. Ahhh, next time.

      I’m now glad that I gave the lamb dumplings a miss, but eh, the fried chicken at St Katherines wasn’t that fantastic either…

  3. But if you have the cute cube sushi maker, doesn’t that negate the need to learn how to make rolled sushi? WIN.

    Also, I have no real desire to go to any of these events. Not enough desserts, ever.

  4. lol again eh?

    Last year was OK, and yes, underwhelmed!!! Gave it a pass this year…

    Mmmm Rekorderlig mmmmmmm strawberries…

  5. Seriously this entry is too funny! hahaha… Loved that you took shots of nothing that I took! So nice to see different perspective pictures. I completely missed out on those cube sushi thingies

  6. As you’re a food blogger I’d be very interested to hear your version of a ‘food wanker’ and how you consider that tag not applicable to your good self? Just curious where the line gets drawn? I mean, maybe someone on the dole in Woop Woop could find your reviews a tad wanky? It’s all relative.

    In his blog, journalist Ed Charles (albeit tongue firmly in cheek) lists “11 ways to spot a food wanker”, at number eleven he details the following dodgy restaurant behaviour…

    “11. Take photos of your food
    This is the most highly suspect practice of all. But at least you’ve learnt enough the switch the flash off and open the aperture for guerrilla restaurant photography. The fact is that your friends are all feeling a bit embarrassed about it and would love it if you would just put it away…I’ve been told. ”

    🙂

    1. The term ‘food wanker’ can mean different things to different people, from someone who ONLY eats at hatted restaurants to someone who just enjoys food. As someone who puts themselves in the latter category (yes, I go to hatted restaurants but I don’t restrict myself – I like suburban cafes, takeway stores and local restaurants that serve homely meals just as much as say, lunches at Jacques Reymond), I do NOT actually consider that tag inapplicable to my ‘good self.’ I’m someone who loves her food (ALL food) and someone who enjoys sharing her love of food to fellow food-lovers (or wankers, even)… and if that makes ME a food wanker, then so be it. After all, I might be one but I also know not to take myself seriously.

      Haha yes, I’ve read Ed Charles’ article and I admit to being guilty of a few of those heinous crimes, particularly #11. While it’s true that a lot of my dining companions have felt slight embarrassment whenever I’ve whipped out my DSLR, they also happen to be the first to view my blog as soon as I’ve published a new entry – hah! As for people who take photos of food using flash, well, they’re just rookies, mate.

      🙂

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