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It’s a busy time in my life for me, with many changes about to occur in the next twelve months. Soon I will be licensed to drive a manual car (‘about time, too,’ as Marty would say), preparing for graduate job applications and either inspecting houses in Melbourne, apartments in Brisbane or Canberra, or preparing for a semester in the states (depending on several circumstances). This week, I’ve started my application for Australian citizenship, thus potentially creating new travel and employment opportunities for me in the not too distant future. How exciting!
Thus, it seems fitting that I would be blogging about the equally (and to some, even more) exciting changes that have been taking place at the Arts Centre. As someone who isn’t down with art and culture, I must admit that I saw the Arts Centre as a place where my high school had its annual speech night and a place where Macbeth is played every couple of years. But as a foodie destination? Not in a million years.
Thankfully, the centre’s chief executive, Judith Isherwood, is hoping to change the public’s perception of the centre’s culinary offerings. With a strong team lead by newly-appointed executive chef Sean Keating (he of Matteos and The European) and Michelin star chef de cuisine Jan Gundlach (Bakkarat in Hannover, Germany), there will be a shift from patrons munching on overpriced potato chips, Maltesers and boring lagers to artesan chocolate bars, canapé boxes and Yering station wines. In addition, all catering and dining operations will be conducted in-house while cooking master classes, high tea afternoons and food festivals will be offered later on.
To commemorate this new direction, the Arts Centre held an evening celebration called ‘A Gourmet Tour in Five Acts’ where a few bloggers such as myself attended. The format was a fun, interactive tour where we were shown various parts of the centre while being treated to five different courses (or ‘acts’) at each stop.
Unfortunately, I ran late that evening so I missed out on act one, which consisted of three little dishes. According to Thanh, however, the Victorian duck breast, five spiced and compressed watermelon ensemble really wasn’t that great. I wouldn’t have minded trying the spring lamb only because I wanted to know what ‘garlic milk’ tasted like.
Act two was staged at Bar Mezz, a bar located on the mezzanine level (what, can’t you tell?). The two chefs in charge are Brazilian and Korean respectively, which explains the fusion-style tapas menu. Our first dish here was epically called ‘sushi royale’, which was a Scotch glass filled with beetroot-cured ocean trout, wild rice salad, avocado mousse and ocean trout caviar. Think of it as a deconstructed sushi. While I liked the concept, it did lack in taste so I ended up not eating much of it.
The next dish didn’t fare any better. Again, I liked the sound of this dish on paper – rare yellow fin tuna, trofie, shiitake, spring onion, red wine and vinegar powder – but it didn’t really win me over. I think it was the undercooked pieces of trofie (pasta) and the overpowering vinegar powder that spoilt it for me.
We were then led to the ANZ Pavillion, a function room with a beautiful domed ceiling, where the food, thankfully, was better. In there, we received little pots of creamy chicken and saffron soup topped with a sour cream pastry pillow. It was a dish that packed a punch despite its size and something that I’d be trying to replicate at home once the temperature goes below 15 degrees again.
I also thought the orecchietti dish was wonderful. While the pasta may have been a little undercooked, I did like the earthy and creamy porcini and Swiss brown mushroom sauce. It was super tasty and probably my favourite dish for the night.
We then wandered into another room, where we were given a box of canapés. The box, created by Nic Poelaert, is part of the centre’s signature series and will be sold at the foyer bar. My favourite bit was the ham and cheese ‘sandwich’, which had smoked ham, gruyere cheese and smoked tomato chutney all compressed into a little bite-sized piece of cuteness. The steamed bread, yoghurt, radish and cured king fish played tribute to the now-popular Chinese ‘bao’ while the puffed rye bread pillow oozed a creamy river of goat’s cheese and thyme when bitten into. To finish things off, we had the pear and frangipane tart which was beautifully moist and sweet.
The box retails for $16.50 and while it won’t fill your stomach up, it’s definitely worth buying if you want something a little bit different. That said, I’m hoping that they change the items around a bit for I wouldn’t be buying the same box every time I went to see a performance at the Arts Centre.
Our final act was an epic dessert finale, thus it made sense that we would be consuming it on stage. Yep, on stage.
The last time I was on stage at Hamer Hall was when I was in year eleven and singing some song from Fame with the rest of the senior school. I remember sweating like a pig not just because I was sharing a stage with 800 other girls, all wearing winter uniforms in the middle of summer but also because we were going to get our report cards at the conclusion of the night and I knew that my parents would not be pleased with my maths methods mark.
Thankfully, there were no fellow schoolgirls and no Mr Ross in sight – only a beautiful glass table filled with pretty sweets and desserts. And flowers. Don’t forget the flowers.
We sampled some lovely chocolate truffles.
Meanwhile, people were wincing at the chocolate-covered garlic skewers. I didn’t dare take one after seeing people choked on their garlic but my fellow food-bloggers convinced me to take one so I did.
It was the strangest thing I’ve ever consumed.
To whoever came up with this idea: You’re not Heston. Chocolate and garlic don’t work. Don’t be serving this to patrons, yo.
The white chocolate and salmon roe blocks were another unusual combination (methinks the dessert person was trying a bit too hard) but the effects were not as weird as the garlic and chocolate. To put it nicely, I didn’t choke on it.
At this point, the centre’s culinary consultant and Michelin star-winner Jan Gundlach appeared to create a beautiful deconstructed pavlova on a sheet of glass. Once he was finished, we were encouraged to grab a spoon and dig in. It was wonderful.
Oh, Mr Hart!
But back to more weird shit, wasabi and chocolate. Sigh…
This concluded our night at the Arts Centre. Like the world of art and culture, there were some hits and some misses on the night. That said, it was a fun night and a good chance to catch up with fellow food bloggers and meet new people. I also appreciated the show bag that came with some other items from the centre’s signature range (coffee and chocolates), which I didn’t get to take a photo of as my parents devoured them all before I got to (I’ve been told that the Yarra Valley chocolates were nice though).
I do support the Arts Centre’s new strategy and hope that, in time, things will get better. I also look forward to coming back to try Trocadero and Saké restaurant and bar, two restaurants at the centre which have just opened. After all, this show must go on, right?
Disclaimer: libishki attended as a guest of Arts Centre Melbourne.