Event: Damian D’Silva Lunch

Held at: Tonka
20 Duckboard Place
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9650 3155
http://tonkarestaurant.com.au/

Disclaimer: Libby dined as a guest of Singapore Tourism and Adhesive PR.

Despite being a food-loving Indonesian, I must admit I don’t know a great deal about Singaporean food. Why bring the whole Indonesian thing into the equation? Because Indonesians love Singapore (and why wouldn’t they? It only takes an hour to fly from Jakarta to Singapore) and because every other Indonesian I know is an SQ KrisFlyer card-toting teeny-bopper. So in theory, I should know a fair bit about Singaporean food… but I don’t.

Despite having been to Singapore a few times, I can’t say that I’ve experienced the best of what Singapore had to offer in terms of food either. The first few times I went, I was too young to appreciate it all. The last time I went, I was only there for a brief stopover and didn’t venture out of Orchard Road (or Sephora, for that matter).

So when the lovely Larissa from Adhesive PR invited me to a media lunch that was being prepared by Immigrants Gastrobar owner Damian D’Silva, I knew I had to be a part of it.

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The lunch was held at Adam D’Sylva’s fine-dining Indian fusion restaurant, Tonka. I’m not exactly sure how Indian fusion works but I guess I’ll find out next time – that day we were there to try Damian’s cooking which had been inspired by Singapore’s rich cultural diversity. That meant that we’d be sampling food that had hints of Chinese, Malay, Indian, Eurasian and Peranakan in it.

Another thing that sets Damian’s cooking apart is that he tries to recreate recipes that have been passed down from generation and generation. Think stuff that your hypothetical Singaporean grandmother used to cook. Sadly, not a lot of Singaporean chefs cook this sort of food (‘heritage food’) so I really admire Damian’s vision to showcase these dishes to the masses.

Ayam bakar
Ayam bakar

After being poured a glass of wine (Clos Clare Riesling 2013 for me, thanks), we got straight to business. The dishes were brought out at once and the idea was to spoon everything onto a plate with rice. The ayam bakar (literally ‘grilled chicken’ in Malay-slash-Indonesian) was slathered in a fragrant spicy marinade before being grilled on charcoal, giving it a lovely smoky flavour.

Otak-otak (fish cake)
Otak-otak (fish cake)

Now, I’m used to otak-otak that has not only been wrapped in banana leaves, but is firm yet squishy. However, Damian’s version was soft and airy – in fact, the waiter described this dish as ‘fish mousse’ though a ‘seafood mousse’ would have been a more accurate descriptor – each cake also had a bit of prawn and squid in the mix.

Pucuk kledek masak lemak
Pucuk kledek masak lemak

Behold the sweet potato leaves. ‘Masak lemak’ means to ‘cook in fat’ and by fat, they mean coconut milk. You don’t tend to find sweet potato leaves in grocery stores here but they’re commonplace in Southeast Asia – I, for one, enjoyed them on the side on several occasions during my stay in Jakarta over the summer. They’re like spinach, but with a slightly sweeter and more bitter taste. Mix them with said coconut milk, chillies, shallots, shrimp paste, candlenuts and prawns and you have a winner.

Pickles
Pickles

Yep, pickles.

Hah, I must have been off my A-game when it came to taking photos that day. Or perhaps I had too much wine. Oops.

Sotong masak hitam
Sotong masak hitam

The squid cooked in its own ink was a popular dish that afternoon. Unlike most of the dishes we enjoyed that day, this one was very simple and didn’t contain a helluva lot of ingredients. Just squid and ink. Delicious.

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This is how we do itttttt…! (yep, with fragrant turmeric rice)

We were pretty much unbuttoning our jeans at this point so you can imagine how horror when the waiter asked us what we thought of the starters.

‘What, there’s still more food to come?’ we cried.

‘Oh of course, you guys haven’t had your mains yet!’ he cheerfully replied.

Seriously, FML.

Singgang (fish stew), debal (Eurasian devil curry)
Singgang (fish stew), debal (Eurasian devil curry)

The singgang is a Eurasian fish stew, using sai toh (wolf herring). Damian cooked with about seven different ground spices and our friend, coconut milk. The debal was another Eurasian dish. Unlike most curries, this one wasn’t spicy at all but it was still very hearty. The potatoes probably had heaps to do with it too.

Beef rendang, sambal belimbing, sambal buah keluak
Beef rendang, sambal belimbing, sambal buah keluak

Being Indonesian, I love a good beef rendang. Damian’s version was cooked with coconut juice, giving it a sweeter flavour than what I’m used to. On the other hand, the juices made the beef cheeks oh-so-love-me-tender. Then we had the sambal belimbing, or chilli star fruit. I’m not a fan of star fruit on its own (it’s not sweet enough to be enjoyed as a fruit, imo) but it worked well as a spicy savoury dish.

Meanwhile, the sambal buah keluak was the dish that divided the table. The buah keluak refers to the nuts grown from the Kepayang mangrove tree in Malaysia and Indonesia. The dish itself was very nutty and somewhat bitter with a hint of sweetness. While most people on the table weren’t huge fans, fellow food blogger Heidi loved it. Me? I wouldn’t eat it on its own but spread over everything else, absolutely.

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My second plate of savouries.

Kueh bengkah (tapioca cakes)
Kueh bengkah (tapioca cakes)

My mum makes an Indonesian version of this at home so I was excited to see these presented to us. They were deliciously springy and warm, with a lovely coconut flavour.

Palm sugar tapioca balls
Palm sugar tapioca balls

I’m pretty sure there is an Indonesian version of this too – think little tapioca balls sweetened with palm sugar and then covered in freshly grated coconut. This would have gone down well with some coffee but unfortunately, I have an on-and-off relationship with coffee (on that day, it was definitely off).

Our amazeballs lunch definitely opened our eyes to a culinary side of Singapore that most of us had never seen before. Hell, I thought Singapore was just chilli crabs, kaya toast and bakwah but oh, how wrong I was! Mad props also go to Damian for being so hospitable and for lugging 65kgs of ingredients into Melbourne, via customs, just so he can prepare all these amazing dishes for us to enjoy.

The Singapore Tourism Board has also launched the Singapore Celebrity Concierge, a first-of-its-kind VIP travel service. Check them out here.

Event: Smith & Daughters First Look Feast

175 Brunswick Street
Fitzroy VIC 3065
+61 9939 3293
http://www.smithanddaughters.com/

Disclaimer: Matt and Libby attended this media preview dinner as guests of Smith & Daughters and Curated Control.

I haven’t been attending many foodie events in the last month or so due to work commitments, entertaining interstate and overseas visitors and general exhaustion. There’s that, plus wanting to spend more time being a recluse at home watching True Detective and eating Red Rock Deli potato chips.

But then I received a press pack in the mail – there was an invite to the launch of Smith & Daughters, a new bar-slash-restaurant in Fitzroy, printed on wood as well as a bottle of homemade apple jalapeño sauce. Apple jalapeño?! SOLD!

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Smith & Daughters is the funky, tattooed and totally hipstered Latina love child of Shannon Martinez (former head chef of The Sweetwater Inn, South and the Gasometer Hotel) and Mo Wyse (Collingwood People’s Market). I didn’t know it at the time, but I later found out that Smith & Daughters did ‘plant-based Latin cuisine.’ Vegan food? In Hipsterville? Being a city-slicker and carnivore, I had to admit that I feeling like a Collingwood supporter at half time in round one but I need not have worried – we had a fantastic meal.

Wine Republic sangria; Sailor Jerry piña colada
Wine Republic sangria; Sailor Jerry piña colada

While every second male had a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer (hah!), I went straight for the Sailor Jerry piña colada. It was definitely the best piña colada I’ve had – the fresh coconut water really made the difference and there was none of that fake superficially sweet pineapple taste. The sangria was also delicious; it was sexy and bold with bursts of fruity fun.

Oyster mushroom and white bean ceviche
Oyster mushroom and white bean ceviche

Our first starter was the vegan ceviche which packed a lot of punch thanks to the awesome flavours of the tomatoes. I did feel that the oyster mushrooms disappeared in there somewhere though, disappointing given how much I love mushrooms.

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The ceviche was served with tostones (twice-fried smashed plantain chips). They were beautifully golden and crispy, thus making them an excellent alternative to potato chips.

Tuna and green pea croquettes served with caper aioli and lemon
Tuna and green pea croquettes served with caper aioli and lemon

These insanely crunchy croquettes were probably my favourite thing that night. The béchamel filling was insanely creamy and the fake tuna, well, tasted like real tuna. We honestly wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference. This is a dish that I really want to introduce my very lactose intolerant and sea creature-loving marine biologist friend to – they would seriously freak him out.

Tamales
Tamales

What are these babies? They were corn husks filled with masa, mushroom, nopales (Mexican prickly pear cactus) and grilled corn before being steamed. They were then served with fresh lime and hot sauce, making it dish that wasn’t for the faint-hearted. They were also pretty filling; I was full by this stage – and we had not had our ‘mains’ yet.

Pazole
Pazole

Pazole is a pre-Columbian soup from Mexico. It traditionally contains pork but this version had sautéed oyster mushrooms, lime and pickled purple cabbage while crispy tortilla chips provided some texture. It was very earthy and hearty – definitely a good one to order on those frosty cold nights.

Chiles rellenos
Chiles rellenos

The Mexican char-grilled peppers were also one of those ‘OMG, I can’t believe these are vegan’ dishes. They were stuffed with a cream cheese and chorizo filling (obviously both were fake), then battered and fried. A spicy tomatillo sauce then completed the well-endowed package.

Paella
Paella

Our final savoury was Shannon’s secret paella, a fourth-generation family recipe. I loved the crunchy bits of rice and the aromatic vegetable saffron stock but not so much the mock prawns, sausages and scallops. Unlike the tuna in the croquette, you could tell that these weren’t the real thing – most of us on the table didn’t like the mushy texture of the faux meats and felt that the paella would be better off without them.

Tarta de chocolate Azteca
Tarta de chocolate Azteca

I’m not normally a fan of chocolate desserts but I was impressed by the Aztec chocolate tart. The sweet date filling balanced out the chocolate’s bitterness and the small serving size was perfect, given its intensity. There was also enough caffeine in the tart to sedate my Supercoach rage after releasing that I forgot to select my emergency players for the round. Yep.

Quince-filled Spanish donut
Quince-filled Spanish donut

I love donuts as much as Homer Simpson does and these mini Spanish donuts definitely did not disappoint. They were crispy on the outside and the insides gave way to a lovely fluffy texture and a tart quince jam filling.

So there you have it: excellent vegan food and non-annoying hipster dining companions in one funky little package. While Smith & Daughters won’t have me ditching meat for the rest of my life, it has definitely got me interested in trying more vegan-only restaurants. I’m also excited about the idea of taking my sceptical meat-loving friends to this joint and ordering a few dishes off the menu without telling them that the meat is all fake – however, I may ask them to hold the ‘meat’ when I order the paella.

Smith and Daughters on Urbanspoon

Event: Queen Victoria Night Market

Cnr Queen and Thierry Streets
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9320 5822

Being Asian, I love markets more than I love bubble tea.

In particular, nothing gets me more excited than hearing the buzz and seeing the vibrant colours and smoke of a night market (except for maybe Bradley Cooper).

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One of my favourite things to do during the Melbourne summer is to visit the Queen Vic Night Market after work. And luckily, my office is within walking distance of the market – this means that it’s so easy for me to grab some work friends and head there for an early dinner and drink or two before heading home to the ‘burbs. The atmosphere (and prices) may not be as amazing as the night markets you get in Asia but it’s great nevertheless.

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This post will cover several visits I made during the summer of 2013/14 (just in case you happened to freak out upon seeing how much food is on this post!). And in most cases, we rocked up just after 5pm. This is why the market doesn’t look too busy in most of the photos – this is a good thing for us as most of our group are claustrophobic. If you like crowds, though, then you’ll be sweet after 5:30pm.

Filipino skewers
Filipino skewers
Porchetta (Italian roast pork)
Porchetta (Italian roast pork)
Kotthu roti
Kotthu roti

One of my favourite stalls this year has been Lankan Tucker, not just because I had only discovered Sri Lankan food a few months back but because they do Sri Lankan street food really well if my Burgher friend Pete is to be believed.

I enjoyed their kotthu roti, a dish that contains chopped up wheat roti, meat (in this case, it was chicken) and vegies. Think noodles, but with roti. Definitely a great dish to start off with if you’re a Sri Lankan food newbie.

Pan rolls
Pan rolls

These pan rolls were also delicious. Filled with mince and vegies, they reminded me of the Dutch rissoles my mother sometimes makes at home.

Burger buns at the game meat stall
Burger buns at the game meat stall
Ostrich burger
Ostrich burger

Yes, ostrich burger. The ostrich meat itself tasted like emu, but not as stinky and definitely less gamey. It was an interesting experience but at $12 a pop, I’m better off sticking to beef burgers.

Souvlaki skewers and chips
Souvlaki skewers and chips

Good ol’ Hasan food.

Gua bao
Gua bao

I was excited to see a Taiwanese snack stall but unfortunately, the gua bao there weren’t as good as the ones served at Taiwan Café, Food Republik et al.

Jamaican jerk chicken and festivals (cassava dumplings)
Jamaican jerk chicken and festivals (cassava dumplings)

The jerk chicken is worth a try (even if it’s just to giggle at the dish’s name). Unfortunately, I found the chicken to be very dry when I had it and the spices weren’t as vibrant as the chicken at Jamroc (one of the few things I miss about the Gold Coast).

Takoyaki seller
Takoyaki seller

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I wouldn’t recommend the okonomiyaki or takoyaki here – they were soggy and pretty bland.

Vanilla ice cream sandwich
Vanilla ice cream sandwich

Profile pic, Pete!

Profitjes
Profitjes

One does not go to a market without buying a plate of Dutch pancakes.

So there you have it. Melbourne’s Queen Vic Night Market. Obviously there’s heaps more to see but that’s just a small snippet of what you can find. There’s live music and non-food stuff for sale too. I’ll probably try and squeeze in another visit before they stop doing it; after all, I still need to try the camel burger.

Queen Victoria Night Market runs every Wednesday from 5pm until March 26th 2014.

Event: Pidapipó Gelateria Pop-Up Store Launch Party

222 Faraday Street
Carlton VIC 3053
+61 422 004 750
http://www.pidapipo.com/

Disclaimer: Libby and Dave attended this event as guests of Pidapipó.

Happy New Year, my dear readers!

I hope everyone had a great start to the year and if you’re like me, you would have made vague promises to ‘get hot abs’ and ‘show all them haters’ without actually determining how you’re going to achieve said goals.

Or you could visit every new gelati store that’s opened up in the eastern states of Australia.

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Like moths attracted to light, the hipsters and wannabe-hipsters rocked up to the launch of Melbourne’s newest gelataria, Pidapipó, one Thursday afternoon. I remembered it being a super hot day (does 40 degrees sound about right?) so the event could not have come at a more perfect time.

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With Carpgiani Gelato University-trained owner Lisa Valmorbida behind the wheels, it was all systems go as soon as the doors opened just after 5pm. Walking into the brightly coloured ‘gelato test lab and store’ and being confronted by stainless steel tubs (pozzetti) full of gelati and hot gelati scooper dudes was pretty much my idea of fun on a Thursday arvo!

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There was a lot of this.

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And this.

Yuzu and Vietnamese mint
Yuzu and Vietnamese mint

With fellow bloggers Daisy, Ashley and Aaron rounding up the food blogger quota, we were able to sample a decent range of flavours between the five of us. We loved that Pidapipó went wild with unusual flavours like the very refreshing yuzu and Vietnamese mint sorbet and the vibrant mango milk…

Pistachio, rockmelon and chocolate
Pistachio, rockmelon and chocolate

… but we also appreciated the fact that they also paid homage to tradition by doing flavours such as pistachio and chocolate very well.

Virgin Mojito, hazelnut and gianduja
Virgin Mojito, hazelnut and gianduja

My favourite flavour, however, was the creamy hazelnut which was packed full of nuttiness minus that nasty sugar rush at the end. Sadly, the two flavours that I was most excited about – salted caramel and pineapple – were not available that day but hey, there is always next time.

At Pidapipó, $4.50 gives you one scoop while $7 gives you three. All the flavours we had were light and not terribly heavy on the sugar, including the chocolate one, which always earns a thumbs up in my books! I guess the only thing I have to sook about was that the combination of hot weather and too many people in the one store meant that the air got so warm that the gelati melted very quickly. This meant that I wasn’t able to enjoy my gelati fully. But given that Melbourne doesn’t look to be warming up any time soon (summer? what summer?), perhaps now’s a good time to duck down to Pidapipó for some pineapple gelati.

Pidapipó on Urbanspoon

What I Learnt About Food Blogging at Eat Drink Blog 2013 (And About Perth In General)

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Last month, eighty food bloggers from around the country descended in Perth for Eat Drink Blog, an annual food bloggers conference. I was stoked when I first heard that this year’s conference was to be held in Perth. It gave me an excuse to stock up on Corica apple strudels, perve on FIFO workers and FINALLY visit the other side of Australia.

And learn more about food blogging, of course. So with that in mind…

Here are the top 10 things I learnt about food blogging – and Perth  – during my two nights there:

1. Perth is the only city in the world where planes can land in the CBD. Not particularly interesting to most people but hey, I’m a bit of an aviation geek (blame my dad).

2. There are no Krispy Kreme donut stores in Perth! Being an east coast ignoramus, I assumed that Krispy Kreme stores could be found all over the place. WRONG! No wonder why there were more boxes of Krispy Kremes than passengers on the QF481 flight from Melbourne. I shouldn’t smirk though – I was the loser carrying four boxes of Corica strudels back to Melbourne that Sunday afternoon!

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3. There are a LOT of food bloggers in Perth. For some reason, I was under the impression that most of Australia’s food bloggers lived in the eastern states (with the majority coming from Melbourne and Sydney). However, I was surprised to find that a good portion of conference attendees were locals. And that’s a great thing.

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4. You should NEVER tell food blogger to ‘stop taking photos of chocolate, salted caramel and peanut butter cupcakes.’ Unless you want all eighty of them to turn sharply towards you and give you a greasy that could slaughter a lamb.

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5. When it comes to taking food photos, Simon Park from The Heart of Food says context is important. It’s all well and good to take a photo of a bowl of bacon candy using your super slick EOS 5D but what would make the photo more interesting is if you had someone in the background looking like they were about to attack the candy. Or something like that.

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6. You can never go hungry at a food bloggers conference, especially if lunch is being catered by European Foods Wholesalers. They are an amazing local business and not only do they import a lot of cool food from Europe, they also put on a mean catering spread.

I enjoyed everything from giant Scotch eggs and truffled aioli to smoky pork hock terrine to heirloom tomato salads with basil pesto and marinated buffalo Mozzarella. If I wasn’t so set on having an Asian banquet wedding, I’d happily get these dudes to do my wedding catering (somehow).

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7. Lining up for food at a buffet spread at a food bloggers conference is very different to lining up for food at Smorgy’s (vale). YOU HAVE TO WAIT FOR FRIGGIN’ EVERYONE TO TAKE PHOTOS OF THE FOOD BEFORE THE LINE ACTUALLY MOVES! Thankfully, everyone at this conference was a food blogger so there was an unspoken air of understanding.

8. Polka dotted-attire seemed to be popular at the conference. In fact, I saw more polka dots than I saw ‘hot lawyer’ and ‘#EDB13’ mentions on Twitter that weekend.

9. The PR and ethics panel starring Phil and Cynthia sparked more fervour than a Collingwood supporter watching their team being only a goal behind in the last 2 minutes of the fourth quarter. ‘To work with PR or NOT to work with PR?’ would be the #1 question on any food blogger’s mind, just ahead of ‘Canon or Nikon?’ Ultimately, I don’t think it matters whether you work with PR or not. But if you do, you MUST disclose it on your blog. Don’t be the asshat who attends freebie events and dinners but does not let his or her readers know that said event or dinners were freebies – and THEN go around Twitter etc, telling people that you don’t accept invites and that people who accept invites suck. PEOPLE WILL FIND OUT.

10. Perth is full of amazingly nice people (and I’m not just talking about the conference organisers and attendees, and my friend Dave either). It is also home to some pretty cool restaurants (24-hour pho restaurants and Marmite chicken, anyone?). That said, getting decent coffee on Sunday mornings is more difficult than trying to get the elderly luddites in my workplace to stop complaining for ONE DAY.

The conference organisers did a fantastic job and whichever city gets the gig next year will have a tough act to follow. I’ve been grateful for the opportunity to learn, to make new friends and go to Scarborough Beach on a 37-degree day without being attacked by sharks. Plus, Perth itself is fantastic. The city is only a four-hour flight away from Jakarta so the next time I book a flight up north, I’ll make sure I’ll stop in Perth for a couple of days.

Event: Nespresso Crealto Dinner at Vue de Monde (Melbourne, VIC)

Vue de Monde
Level 55, Rialto Towers
525 Collins Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9691 3888
http://www.vuedemonde.com.au/

Disclaimer: Peter and Libby attended this event as guests of Nespresso and Weber Shandwick.

It’s not every day you receive an email from a PR company acting on behalf of Nespresso, inviting you to an industry dinner event at one of Australia’s best restaurants. Watching your colleague eat raw meat and then seeing their reaction when you tell him that it was, in fact, wallaby is also something you don’t see every day.

Then again, Vue de Monde is not exactly your ‘every day’ restaurant.

My first visit was almost four years ago to celebrate an anniversary with an ex-boyfriend. I must admit that I cringed when I re-read the entry – was I really that twattish back then? Wait, don’t answer that. In any case, I might have been on the Jacques Reymond>Vue de Monde fence that time but things can change in four years. In that time, Vue de Monde moved from Normanby Chambers to Rialto, head chef Shannon Bennett revamped Vue’s direction (and menu) and I lost two dress sizes. All in all, it looked like things changed for the better – and we were about to find out that night.

Crealto Nespresso Martini
Crealto Nespresso Martini

Pete and I might have felt slightly out of place with our bummy office attire but we were nevertheless greeted with warm smiles and espresso martini cocktails as soon as we stepped in.

Salt-cured wallaby
Salt-cured wallaby

‘Would you like some wallaby?’ asked the waiter, shoving a tray of what looked like dabs of dark, raw meat in our faces. For some reason, Pete heard him say ‘val-la-wee’ rather than ‘wallaby’ so he eagerly swallowed a piece, thinking that it was a fancy name given to a raw beef canapé or something like that. Thus, you can imagine his surprise when I was like, ‘Have you had wallaby before?’ (‘THAT was wallaby?’)

Oyster wrap
Oyster wrap

The oyster wrap was essentially puree was wrapped in a gelatin casing, making this canapé a visually interesting one – I was thinking ‘fancy oyster dumpling’ here. Also not pictured was the smoked eel with white chocolate, which sounded WTF to begin with but actually tasted really nice. I loved the beautiful contrast between the malty white chocolate crust and the smoky eel meat.

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We were then shown to our table which was decked in some pimpin’ Christofle cutlery and beautiful people including two fellow bloggers, Catherine and Amy.

Throughout the dinner, Vue Head Chef Shannon Bennett told us why we were all congregated in this little room, 55 storeys above ground level. Bennett, along with Tetsuya Wakuda, had been appointed as a Nespresso Culinary Ambassador for Australia. I didn’t know this beforehand, but apparently Nespresso is used in over 700 Michelin-stared restaurants worldwide. This makes them a pretty big deal. Once Bennett finished talking about how fantastic Nespresso was (and about truffle farms), it was back to the food.

Echire butter
Echire butter

I love butter but ARTISAN FRENCH BUTTER?! Oh, Lordy! Needless to say, I applied this stuff liberally all over my bread.

Duck, leek, Gascony
Duck, leek, Gascony

Our entrée was the duck, which was tender and flavoursome. And while I’m normally on the anti-Chardonnay brigade, I thought the accompanying 2010 Tarrawarra ‘Reserve’ Chardonnay was smooth and peachy rather than EW GROSS OAKY. Each drop had a bit of zest which meant that it cut through the fatty duck meat beautifully.

Barramundi, Crealto, potato, squid, mustard greens
Barramundi, Crealto, potato, squid, mustard greens

We had barramundi for our main – and it had coffee in it! Well, not a lot. In fact, I couldn’t taste it. In any case, the fish was pefectly cooked and I loved how the other elements – all cooked beautifully – did not overpower the fish. And while I initially thought it was odd that we were given a glass of red to go with the fish, the very fragrant 2010 Bannockburn Pinot Noir added a bit of pizzazz to this dish.

Aussie-style petit fours
Aussie-style petit fours

We were then instructed to wander over to the dessert buffet table on the other side of the room for dessert. A very impressive Australia flora-themed ensemble greeted us, enticing us to sample the Aussie-style petit fours which were all inspired by the lollies Bennett enjoyed as a child.

Next to the dessert table, a guy was brewing cups of Nespresso Crealto Grand Cru for guests to try. I actually wanted to go to sleep that night so unfortunately, I missed out on trying the coffee (never mind that I had an espresso martini earlier that night, hah). I suppose I could have gone for the decaf version which was also available but sif anyone can be bothered with decaf coffee anyway.

Clockwise from top: chocolate mousse with jam ‘lamingtons’, salted caramel slice, musk ‘eucalyptus’ leaf, berry and cream tarts and gin penny jujubes
Clockwise from top: chocolate mousse with jam ‘lamingtons’, salted caramel slice, musk ‘eucalyptus’ leaf, berry and cream tarts and gin penny jujubes

I was really impressed with how creative the desserts were. Even the boring caramel slice got a bit of a makeover with a bit of saltiness thrown in the mix. If I had more room in my stomach, I would have also grabbed a lemon meringue tart which received lots of praise from my fellow diners but on the other hand, I was just as happy with my lamington.

If a French cuisine purist rocked up to this dinner, they may cry ‘SACREBLEU!’ on what seems like a rude Aussie assault on French food. However, I reckon Bennett nailed it. The food is cooked and presented perfectly as always but you also can tell that Bennett has applied a more confident and relaxed approach, resulting in dishes that are more enjoyable to eat. It’s amazing what four years can do.

Vue de Monde on Urbanspoon

Event: World Dinner – Flavours of Old Ceylon @ Tusk Gallery (Melbourne, VIC)

Tusk Gallery
81 Burwood Rd
Hawthorn VIC 3122
+61 3 9077 2389
http://www.tuskgallerycafe.com.au/

Disclaimer: Peter and Libby attended this event as guests of Tusk Gallery and Undertow Media.

Growing up, I had quite a few Sri Lankan friends. Back then, I wasn’t the foodie that I am now so I never wondered why there were so many Sri Lankans in my school but barely any Sri Lankan restaurants in Melbourne. Hell, I only know one Thai person so what’s with all these suburban Thai restaurants?!

Recently though, I had a few conversations about Sri Lankan food with my part Dutch-Sri Lankan friend Peter. Wanting to know more about this mysterious cuisine, I asked him what he knew about it and whether he ate it a lot growing up. Sadly, he wasn’t particularly useful – all he could tell me was that Sri Lankans cooked a lot of curries and sweets with peculiar names such as ‘love cake’. Thus, when Roxanne from Undertow Media contacted me to see if I was keen to sample some Sri Lankan food at Tusk Gallery, I happily accepted.

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As part of Good Food Month, several restaurants have been offering special set dinners under the ‘World Dinners’ banner. Tusk Gallery is one of the participating restaurants and their ‘Flavours of Old Ceylon’ four-course set dinner serves as a great introduction to Sri Lankan cuisine. This was perfect for a newbie like me and a fake Sri Lankan like Pete.

Hoppers: lamb and prawn
Hoppers: lamb and prawn

We began with some hoppers, which are pancakes made with fermented rice batter and coconut milk. They can be eaten plain or filled with anything from egg to honey to curries. Tonight, we were given two hoppers each. One had coconut sambol (chilli grated coconut) in it, while the other had meat (curried lamb for me, curried prawns for Pete).

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We did the whole switcheroo-slash-mix-and-match thing so that we could sample both the lamb and prawn ones – both were delicious. In particular, the lamb curry was more Indonesian rendang than any Indian curry in that it was very rich with spices, but not a lot of heat. The best bit, however, was eating the hoppers themselves once they had soaked up all the curry sauces.

Kothu roti (or ‘chopped roti’)
Kothu roti (or ‘chopped roti’)

When the waiter mentioned the name of this dish, I automatically assumed that we’d get a curry and roti-type dish so imagine my surprise when I saw a bowl filled with chicken, fried egg and vegies, garnished with micro herbs. I couldn’t see them at first, but there were also little bits of roti in the bowl. The type of roti used here is Godhamba roti, a dense roti that’s been chopped into little pieces using metal blades. It’s kind of like eating fried noodles – but with roti. Very delicious.

Lamprais
Lamprais

Then we had lamprais. No, not lampreys, Sir Tyrion. Lamprais. Pete said this was a Dutch Burgher dish that he’s enjoyed from time to time. I was actually excited about eating this dish because there is a very similar Indonesian dish called nasi bogana which is native to my mother’s hometown Tegal, Central Java. This then sparked a discussion about Dutch influences on both Sri Lankan and Indonesian food.

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What both dishes have in common is first and foremost, the banana leaf that holds everything together. The fillings, of course, aren’t identical but very similar – rice, egg, sambal, curries and whatever else you feel like. While the Indonesian version has coconut-flavoured rice, the lamprais rice here is perfumed with onions, spices, stock and ghee.

Meanwhile, the chicken curry here was flavoured with cinnamon, cardamom and cloves rather than curry and chilli. This meant that it was not heavy, yet it still remained flavoursome. The fried ball you see on the left is a frikkadeller, a Dutch meatball. This Dutch ball got me excited (snigger, snigger) because again, there’s an Indonesian version of this called the perkedel – the same thing, but with mashed potatoes as well as meat.

Wattalapam
Wattalapam

Our dessert was the traditional wattalapam, a coconut pudding made with coconut milk and cardamom, cloves and nutmeg. Pete wasn’t familiar with this dish but Wikipedia told me that it’s a Tamil Muslim dish that’s popular in South India and Sri Lankan. Either way, it was a very lovely end to our meal – I thought of it as a Sri Lankan panna cotta.

Although Pete insisted that this wasn’t a true Sri Lankan dining experience per se (by that, he means that Sri Lankans generally don’t ‘do’ restaurants – street food and home cooked meals are the way to go), he still thought our meal was great. I had to agree and hey, c’mon, we were in Hawthorn after all. Our waiter was friendly and the food came out very quickly even though the restaurant got quite busy just as we left. The Flavours of Old Ceylon dinner was a great way to introduce the uninitiated to Sri Lankan food in a homely and intimate setting and based on my experience, I am keen to try more Sri Lankan restaurants.

Postscript: Tusk Gallery are offering the Flavours of Old Ceylon dinner for two more nights this year. Details: $40 per head, 28-29th November 2013, any time between 6:00 pm – 10:00 pm. Book now to secure your place!

Tusk Gallery on Urbanspoon

Event: Gelato Messina Sweet Degustation Evening (Melbourne, VIC)

Gelato Messina (Melbourne)
237 Smith Street
Fitzroy VIC 3065
http://www.gelatomessina.com/

Disclaimer: Daisy and Libby attended this event as guests of Gelato Messina and Kate & Co.

It may not be gelati weather in Melbourne just yet (this is the bit where I start chucking tantrums and throwing stuff all over the place), but you can’t keep ice cream lovers away tonight when Gelato Messina’s first Melbourne store finally opens.

I, for one, am pretty excited about this. Not just because we’re stealing yet another one of Sydney’s culinary icons, but because I friggin’ love Gelato Messina’s offerings so much – and this is coming from someone who’d rather starve all day then eat a motherload of sugar. Thus, I was delighted to be one of the lucky few to attend Gelato Messina’s ‘Sweet Degustation Evening’ earlier this week. Fellow blogger Daisy was there too and because she loves her desserts you can just imagine how excited she was!

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The Smith Street store is bright and spacious, thus providing a great backdrop for what was to be a night of fresh flavours, great company and lots and lots of sugar. Co-owner Nick Palumbo explained that the reason why they chose Fitzroy as the location for the Melbourne flagship store was because it reminded them of Darlinghurst in Sydney, ‘junkies and all.’ But in all seriousness, I think they got it down-pat – it’s close to the city and it’s gritty yet respectable (in most cases anyway).

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In addition to being able to entice customers with WTF flavour combinations (white chocolate potato chip, anyone?), Gelato Messina is successful largely because they use good quality ingredients in their gelati – and local ones too, where possible. Their dairy is from Warrnambool while fruits are seasonal and organic. And although their pistachios come all the way from Italy, they have the D.O.C. stamp of approval.

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There was free-flowing Prosecco all evening but I was good and stuck to one (don’t worry, I made up for it in ciders the following evening during our embarrassing ninth place performance at trivia).

G M & T: Cucumber sorbet, Gin & Tonic jelly, rose and juniper cremeux
G M & T: Cucumber sorbet, Gin & Tonic jelly, rose and juniper cremeux

Our first course was a spin on the ol’ classic Gin & Tonic drink. There were some mixed reactions all around, with a lot of people on the other side of the room saying that it was ‘a bit strange’ and ‘too bitter.’ However, I quite liked it – I almost felt like I was drinking an actual G & T, and I found the cucumber sorbet very refreshing.

Foiedlepop: Foie gras gelato, cherry sorbet
Foiedlepop: Foie gras gelato, cherry sorbet

When I saw the words ‘foie gras gelato’ on the menu, I was shocked – more shocked than yesterday’s Dutch parrot incident at work. However, that feeling turned into delight when I bit into the icy pole that was made up of a foie gras-infused vanilla body and sour cherry sorbet coating, tied together effortlessly with hints of beetroot. It was ah-mazing. Unfortunately, I couldn’t say the same thing about Dutch parrot but that’s another story for another time (and not for this blog).

What’s Up, Doc: Carrot gelato, candied heirloom baby carrots, pickled heirloom baby carrots, mandarin jelly, orange blossom crème Chantilly, thyme honeycomb
What’s Up, Doc: Carrot gelato, candied heirloom baby carrots, pickled heirloom baby carrots, mandarin jelly, orange blossom crème Chantilly, thyme honeycomb

There were more vegies in the next course, this time the humble carrot. There were heaps of elements in this plate and the whole idea was to grab as much of it as possible into one spoon and savour all the flavour combinations, spicy, sweet and sour. Unfortunately, my spooning abilities leave a lot to be desired so I was nibbling each bit separately – I still enjoyed this dish though.

Pork Crackling: Apple & black pepper sorbet, pork floss, malt pop rock feuilletine
Pork Crackling: Apple & black pepper sorbet, pork floss, malt pop rock feuilletine

Pork and ice cream? What the hell? Gelato Messina is famous for its extreme flavours (JUST IN CASE YOU COULDN’T TELL!) and this was a pure example of a crazy idea that was executed very well. I love meat but I was glad that the pork only made up a small portion of the dish – in pork floss form – while the centrepiece was a beautiful ball of apple sorbet. The long strip on top was a malt pop rock feuilletine which, to me, tasted like a sweet rice bubble strip. And the coolest thing about it? The pop rocks represented pork crackling. Man, that’s clever…

East Meets Chock: Lychee sorbet, white balsamic gel
East Meets Chock: Lychee sorbet, white balsamic gel

We were told that the ‘chock’ thing was a nod to the gelato’s Italian origins. To be honest, I had never heard of the term ‘chock’ so I took it to mean that it was some sort of Sydney thing. Anyway, EMC was pretty much a palate cleanser course to prepare us for ‘dessert.’

I don’t like the smell of vinegar so I’d have to say that this was my least favourite course. It tasted beautiful and I was glad that the lychee flavour dominated the vinegar but the smell, as subtle as it was, just put me off a little bit.

Banana Split: Banana gelato, salted caramel Chantilly, freeze-dried raspberry crunch, peanut butter powder
Banana Split: Banana gelato, salted caramel Chantilly, freeze-dried raspberry crunch, peanut butter powder

The Banana Split was intricate in its presentation and taste. All the flavours – sweet, tangy and salty – contributed to this dish in equal parts, making it the highlight of the night so far. We also thought the peanut butter powder (which resembled pork floss in texture but definitely not taste) was a cute addition.

Donuts à l’Orange: Donuts, duck fat caramel, blood orange and fennel sorbet
Donuts à l’Orange: Donuts, duck fat caramel, blood orange and fennel sorbet

Donuts! Cooked in duck fat! Duck fat caramel! Oh my! Our last course sounded like something you’d see on the menu at Vue de Monde, yet I think it felt right at home here. I’ve had Gelato Messina’s blood orange sorbet on its own before, but it was nice to see fennel mixed in today as the sweet anise-like notes drew out the caramel flavours.

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We all received the Gelato Messina cookbook to take home, which I thought was a love touch. Given that I don’t have half the ingredients required to make one batch of ice cream, you won’t see me replicating any of the recipes any time soon (one day though…). We were also lucky enough to be treated to a tub ice cream to take home and even though I haven’t touched my tub yet, I’m pretty sure my people at home would have enjoyed the apple pie, Bounty and mango & coconut sorbet with pandan jelly ice creams.

Given Melbourne’s recent winds and rain, it’s hard to imagine that summer is less than three weeks away. It’s definitely not gelati weather at the moment, but I’m fairly confident there’ll be a queue at Gelato Messina tonight when the doors open. No doubt I’ll go there several times this year myself but for now, doona, laptop and apple pie gelati sounds good to me.

Gelato Messina Fitzroy on Urbanspoon

Event: Ciders and Sliders @ Huxtable (Taste of Melbourne Preview Dinner + GIVEAWAY!)

Huxtable
131 Smith Street
Fitzroy VIC 3065
+61 3 9419 5101
http://www.huxtablerestaurant.com.au

Disclaimer: Libby attended this event as a guest of Huxtable, Hot House Media and Taste of Melbourne.

There always seems to be a food festival in Melbourne, so much so that Spring Street should pinch the ‘Festival State’ slogan from South Australian number plates. As some of you may know, Taste of Melbourne descends upon us this weekend and amidst a flurry of marketing and PR activities, there will be lots of good food from some of Melbourne’s hottest restaurants for patrons to enjoy.

One of the participating restaurants at Taste is one-hatted restaurant Huxtable, the monster that launched three burger offshoots, Huxtaburger. Huxtaburger may be big in Melbourne (by the time this post goes live, their third store in Prahran would have probably been opened) but it doesn’t mean that Huxtable doesn’t hold its own.

I recently attended Huxtable’s Ciders and Sliders event, a Taste of Melbourne preview dinner. The whole point of this event was to sample some of the dishes that Huxtable will be serving to the masses along with some of their signature dishes. Huxtable chef Daniel Wilson kindly took time out of his busy schedule to talk us through the menu as well as tell us what’s in store next for the Huxta-brand.

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Accompanying our meal was a selection of Rekorderlig fruit-flavoured alcohol (sorry, I just can bring myself to call a drink that’s pumped with E preservatives and citric acid ‘cider’). Given that there were six of us on the table, there were probably about 42 glasses of Rekorderlig at one stage. Eeek.

Jalapeño and cheddar croquettes
Jalapeño and cheddar croquettes

I love croquettes more than Stevie Janowski loves Kenny Powers so I was delighted to see these jalapeño and cheddar croquettes appear first. They were creamy with just the right amount of spiciness from the chopped peppers.

Kataifi-wrapped lamb puttanesca
Kataifi-wrapped lamb puttanesca

The kataifi-wrapped lamb puttanesca were also delicious. I always associate puttanesca with pasta so I had no idea how it was going to work when I saw the description of the dish on the menu. Essentially, it was pretty much lamb cooked in puttanesca sauce and securely bundled in crispy Kataifi strings.

XO buns with spanner crab and Thai basil mayo
XO buns with spanner crab and Thai basil mayo

My favourite starter, however, was the XO buns because well, who doesn’t like XO sauce? The soft – and slightly sweet – buns sandwiched a generous dollop of spanner crab and Thai basil mayo mixture. If I was to criticise this dish, it would be that I couldn’t really taste much XO flavour – that, or I was already slightly drunk on my third glass of Rekorderlig alcopop.

Mini Huxtaburgers: beef and wallaby
Mini Huxtaburgers: beef and wallaby

The burgers – from Huxtaburger across the road – were obviously the highlight of the dinner (not including the company, of course). We indulged in their signature beef burger, the Huxtaburger, and tried their wallaby burger for the first time.

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I can’t remember whether this is the beef or the wallaby burger but I suppose they look the same anyway. Either way, both are burgers so delicious that I can eat them time and time again. On this note, the team at Huxtable are selling something called a ‘Douche Burger’ just for the Taste of Melbourne festival. I’m not sure how many Crowns (Taste of Melbourne ‘currency’) this burger will be worth as it contains wagyu steak and foie gras but I’m willing to part with my Crowns just because the name won me over.

Korean BBQ pork ribs
Korean BBQ pork ribs

These Korean BBQ pork ribs came highly recommended and I can certainly see why. The ribs were cooked dry-style, but they still remained beautifully sticky and the spicy kim chi-like flavour shone through the tender meat. Accompanying the ribs was a decent slaw and some gherkins.

Mount Zero grain and broccoli salad
Mount Zero grain and broccoli salad

The Mount Zero grain and broccoli salad was probably the only healthy thing on the menu that evening. However, healthy at Huxtable doesn’t mean boring for the salad was bursting with fresh flavours and probably contained enough nutrients to fill me up if all I had for lunch was that.

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We never got through all 42 glasses – I certainly didn’t drink all that was plonked in front of us – but we managed to plough through all the insanely delectable food while listening to stories about junkies passing out across the road.

Although Huxtaburger will always hold a place dear to my heart, Huxtable is up there with one of the better restaurants on Smith Street. I will certainly return for those ribs and that salad. Now allow me to awkwardly segue to Taste of Melbourne, which is happening this week.

GIVEAWAY TIME!
As you now know, it’s a festival that features Melbourne’s hottest restaurants all in one spot. The entrance fee is $30, or you could enter my giveaway for a chance to win a double pass to attend Taste of Melbourne this weekend (you’ll save yourself $60). I have four passes on me now, so there will be two double pass packs to give out.

To enter:

1. Follow me on Twitter (@libishski) if you haven’t already done so; and
2. Post a comment below. If you are already following me on Twitter, please mention it in your comment. You can write about anything, but no falling donkeys please.

Terms and conditions:

1. All entries must be received by Wednesday 13th November 2013 at 12pm AEDST (i.e. tomorrow!).
2. Please provide a valid e-mail address (and one that you check regularly) when you comment. I will be contacting the winners immediately to ask for their best mailing address.
3. Winners will be drawn at random.
4. If you have won and I have not received a mailing address response by Thursday 14th November at 4pm, I will ask you to collect the tickets from a mutually arranged spot in the Melbourne CBD.
5. The prize includes two (2) entry tickets to Taste of Melbourne. The prize does NOT contain Crowns, the vouchers you need to exchange for food and drink.

Taste of Melbourne details:
Where: Pelican Lawn at Albert Park Lake (off Aughtie Drive)
When: 14-17th November 2013

Session times:
Thursday 14th November: 5.30pm – 9.30pm
Friday 15th November: 12.00pm – 4.00pm and 5.30pm – 10.00pm
Saturday 16th November: 12.00pm – 4.00pm (I will be at this session, come say hi!) and 5.30pm – 10.00pm
Sunday 17th November: 12.00pm – 5.00pm

For full details and prices on all events and activities, go to http://www.tasteofmelbourne.com.au.

Huxtable on Urbanspoon

Event: Chan’s Dumpling Festival 2013 (or I AM A GUINNESS WORLD RECORD HOLDER!)

Disclaimer: Libby and Daisy attended this event as guests of Chan’s Yum Cha at Home and Spice & Soul.

After delicately stuffing my face with barbecued meat for breakfast, I made my way back into the city for my second Melbourne Food & Wine Festival event of the day, Chan’s Dumpling Festival.

Now, rocking up to two massive foodie events on the day isn’t something I’d normally do, especially given how busy I am these days and especially given my limited stomach capacity these days. However, no self-respecting dumpling lover was going to miss this event for the world – especially since I got given two complimentary tickets (RRP $20 per head) by the kind folk at Spice & Soul. And to sweeten the deal, we had the chance to break a Guinness World Record – that sounded good to me!

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With Melbourne’s sunshine and clear blue skies and the beautifully green Treasury Gardens providing a perfect backdrop, the dumpling festival began in the morning of March 3rd. When I arrived, there was entertainment in the form of dancing, music and activities for the kids.

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Family-owned Australian company Chan’s Yum Cha at Home were the ones who were going to supply the thousands of dumplings for this event. If you’re not too familiar with them, this is probably a good thing as it’s never a good idea to eat too much frozen supermarket goodies. That said, Chan’s actually churn out decent yum cha delicacies that I wouldn’t mind buying from time to time. At the very least, their dumplings are a lot better than the ones I once ate on a boat cruise on the Gold Coast (which you’ll hear ALLL about in the not too distant future).

But anyway, back to the event.

Our host Dani Venn (apparently she was on Masterchef… I wouldn’t know as I don’t watch it) gave us a brief run-down of the event. The whole point of the event (besides to have fun under the sun and to promote brand awareness for Chan’s Yum Cha at Home) was to break the world record (which was around 500 people) for the biggest outdoor yum cha.

There were 20 tables set up, each designed to sit 40 people; given that all seats were sold out, the organisers were very confident that we’d smash it. In the end, 771 people showed up though 21 of them were given the big DQ (probably including the wannabe cougar from Brisbane and her kids who were absent for half the lunch). Still, that meant that 750 people were eating dumplings which meant that we pretty much in the home stretch before we even began our first course.

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Oh yeah, there was dragon dancing and a bit of wushu. While the dragons added to the lively vibe of the festival, I did find it hard to hear what Daisy and our table mates were saying above all the noise (or maybe I’m just getting old, owwww dear!)

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Our first course (out of five!) was the hargow (prawn) dumplings. They are pretty much everyone’s favourite dumplings so I was glad to see them come out first. For frozen supermarket fare, they tasted almost like the real thing.

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Next, we had some deliciously crispy prawn toasts. A huge plate of them was placed on the table and we were free to grab whatever we could handle (I ate two). An official then came around to count how many we ate for recording purposes.

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We then got a plate of two vegetarian dumplings and three prawn and ginger dumplings. The vegetarian dumplings would have been bland if they weren’t accentuated by the sweet carrots and shiitake mushrooms and while the prawn and ginger dumplings didn’t rate as high as the hargow dumplings, I thought they were still alright.

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The weakest course was the fourth one, the BBQ pork buns. Daisy and I found them too ‘dough-y’ and I thought the filling was too sweet.

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The chilli sauce did make them taste bearable though.

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You couldn’t finish off a dumpling festival without a serve of suburban Australia’s favourite dessert: banana fritters and ice cream. The lady finger banana fritters were still warm and crispy when they arrived at our table and the Bulla-supplied ice cream (in their cute little tubs) still frozen, a testament to the very good logistics ability of the crew that served this final course.

There were several things that I reckon could have been done better. The wait between courses was way too long (more than half an hour for some) and while we were told that there WOULD be a wait, I couldn’t blame people for leaving halfway. Additionally, our tea didn’t arrive until well after the fourth course. Meanwhile, some tables got theirs at the start while others missed out completely (I guess we should be so lucky?).

Despite all that though, I still thought the event was a roaring success given that it was the first time they’ve staged it. Even though Daisy and I were separated from all the other food bloggers that attended, we still had a great time. We enjoyed the sunshine, we got to meet some lovely people (a couple who gave us parenting advice – no, don’t get any ideas!) and we got a giggle out of seeing a handful of people pour soy and chilli sauces into tea cups to dip their food in. I definitely wouldn’t mind going again next year; in the meantime, I know I’ll be steaming up some Chan’s hargow dumplings this winter.