Monday, March 16, 2009

Helping hands and second helpings

You can count on a big weekend to hit the wallet hard but there's always some redemption in knowing that money has gone towards serious eating, drinking, partying and all round good times. Oh, and keeping the economy afloat, of course.

The Sound Relief concerts happened on Saturday just passed and I was happy to see blue skies in the morning, which turned into a grey, humid sky as I headed to the Sydney Cricket Ground in bumper-to-bumper traffic. The weather continued its swinging mood throughout the day in such extreme fashion that I saw many a sunburnt yet drenched concert-goer by the end of the night. A sight indeed.

Front standing section crowd at Sound Relief, Sydney Cricket Ground

The first downpour at 4pm-ish

It was a great day out despite being soaked to the bone midway through the night but as someone pointed out: "At least you can tell your grandkids that you danced in the rain to The Presets in the middle of the SCG." Minor comfort as water dripped from my shorts.

Giant yellow ballons which popped with yellow
confetti showers for Coldplay's

Coldplay opened the concert and set the bar so very high that it was virtually impossible to match. The showmanship of Chris Martin is incredible: from his backing vocals for John Farnham's performance of 'You're the Voice', to his sprint offstage and over a few fences into the crowd followed by a commendable, out-of-breath effort to finish 'Fix You'. And he seems such a nice, decent guy too - a little too nice to be a rockstar even.

Strange to start the day with a highlight but great to hear new material from Wolfmother, Little Birdy, Eskimo Joe and Jet throughout the rest of the day and night. Admittedly, getting drenched and not caring during The Presets is up there with the day's highlights too.

And then, of course, there was the second helping of the Taste of Sydney Festival on a hot Sunday afternoon. What a way to spend a cruisey Sunday, and with even bigger crowds than Thursday evening, a lot of people were of the same opinion.

James Squire tent and seating at the Taste of Sydney festival, Centennial Park

We wasted no time in securing prime seats in a strategic area - that being the Longrain cocktail lounge with its shabby chic white wicker chairs and cushions. Nothing like kicking back in the sun with a Ping Pong. Okay, yes - this can be improved with some fabulous finger food.

Antipasto plate featuring Pino Tomini-Foresti's cured meats,
labneh and marinated olives from Bird Cow Fish

Spying an antipasto plate nearby, I head on down to Bird Cow Fish for my own plate of porky goodness. My eyes widen at the piles of thinly shaved cured meats and it takes plenty of willpower to not sneak a slice before returning to the lounge.

It's a stunning array of prosciuttos, salamis and olives, only missing some crusty bread alongside. The soft, fatty one at the top of the picture wins in a unanimous vote. The salamis are mild with a hit of spiciness in the red version. The olives are juicy and redolent with rosemary flavour, even the mini baby-sized ones. The dish, needless to say, doesn't last long.

Yamba prawn, peanuts, lime, ginger, roasted coconut, chilli
and caramel on betel leaves from Sailor's Thai

And from one favourite appetiser to another, the betel leaf offering from Sailor's Thai. A rather small portion of a prawn sits atop a melange of ingredients including peanuts, Spanish onion and coriander. I normally make a mess of myself and my food when it comes to betel leaves, although this version doesn't threaten the leakage of juicy sauces. It's a touch too nutty for my preference but the expected flavour hit doesn't disappoint, with a bit of fire from the enclosed chillis enhancing the just-cooked texture of the prawn.

We reluctantly leave our prime lounge space in search of more food and drink. The sun was particularly strong forcing most to seek shelter in the shadows of stalls and tents. It was difficult not to be tempted by some of the sweets on offer but I'm proud to say that discipline prevailed and I didn't ruin my lunch appetite. Much.

Cupcake offerings from Sparkle Cupcakery

Lemon meringue from Healthy Feast

The sight of muddling and the sound of shaking is enough to send us racing towards the Think Spirits stand where bright red bottles of Pama Pomegranate Liquer are displayed at the bar along with a menu of classic cocktails with the fruity red bent. A pomegranate caipirinha is the order and I'm pleased to see that there's no skimping on alcohol or ingredients here.

Pomegranate caipirinha with Pama Pomegranate Liquer
from Think Spirits

The result is a beautiful icy drink topped off with fresh pomegranate seeds and a smile from the bar tender. Yummy and sweet - the caipirinha that is. The pomegranate flavour is distinct but subtle - I can envisage it straight with lime and soda although bottles aren't for sale at the stall.

A good walk around the stalls has us hankering for 'real food' again, believe it or not. By this time all the restaurant stalls are packed with hungry-looking queues and satisfied-looking consumers, all and sundry looking warm as the menu cards come in handy for fanning overheating faces.

Pastrami of kingfish with smoked oysters and a cucumber
and apple salad from Danks Street Depot

The hay-steamed ham from Danks Street Depot sounded just a little too odd yet pedestrian, so we sampled their seafood offering instead. It's a visually fun salad of thinly sliced cucumber, radishes and green apple with a light, sweet dressing. Plump smoked oysters sit alongside slices of kingfish that had a flavour coating which I found all too subtle and almost non-existent amid the other ingredients.

I had wanted to try the lamb dish from Assiette but the queue was astronomical. Patience is a virtue, I suppose, just not one I have in leaps and bounds when I'm at outdoor festivals unfortunately. Instead I scoot on over the Restaurant Balzac, the choice there made simple by the fact that I didn't think sitting down with a knife and fork would be likely and a companion's comment of "Peas? Eww."

Wagyu beef bourguignonne with truffled cauliflower
and onion rings from Restaurant Balzac

Looking a lot like a deep fried spring roll this golden roll was boiling hot and bursting full of tender, succulent beef. The creamed cauliflower was an ideal condiment but I actually thought this could have done with a bit more seasoning. Nonetheless the amazing contrast of crunchy pastry with fall-apart beef filling has changed my outlook for spring rolls forever.

Etli borek - Home made filo rolls filled with braised veal shank, currants
and pinenuts, served with pomegranate and
yoghurt sauce from Ottoman Cuisine

The queues at Ottoman Cuisine were Assiette-long, but when we saw the happy campers leaving with their choices we thought a bit of a wait might be worthwhile. We come away with another spring roll-like dish, again filled with the tenderest of beef but with a completely different flavour profile. Definitely a more complex mix of spices and flavours that you would expect from Turkish cuisine, I was a huge fan of the yoghurt and pomegranate sauce in lifting the dish to another level.

Unsurprisingly we were getting full by this point though I was adamant that I wasn't leaving without trying Justin North's wagyu beef burger. Firstly, I've never understood the reasoning behind using wagyu for a burger pattie or sausage - it seems such a waste. And secondly, there was such hype around this mini burger that people were hunting it down across the festival. The stall was going absolutely gangbusters with front staff doling out the impressive burger non-stop to the waiting hordes.

Gundooee organic grass fed wagyu beef burger from Plan B

This was a burger like no other. It was cute for starters, like a proper burger shrunken in size but retaining a thick meat pattie. The bun was a bit chewy but it was all about the meat. The pattie consisted of rare cooked meat, not minced, that melted away in the mouth to carnivorous bliss. I didn't really need the cheese or tomato, or even the bun. Dreams of a Big Mac version of this might be a little indulgent, but a girl can dream.

Completely and utterly sated and laden with somewhat heavy bags of produce, we seek refuge in one of the only ways we know how.

Sagatiba cachaca cocktail bar

The vibe at the Sagatiba cocktail bar is all big Brazilian beats and beckoning bar boys. I think the bar was designed with the feminine drinker in mind with colourful flower motifs and girly cachaca concoctions: think lychee and strawberry, watermelon and ginger, and the like. Cocktails in hand we head to the Gourmet Traveller stall where we plop down onto smart white leather lounges/day beds and resist the desire to lie down for a nap.

It feels oh-so cosmopolitan in the slick black and white interior and we must have looked the part too, making a short cameo in a sponsor promo video. Typical girls laughing with cocktails shot - darn it, I'm a cliche.

After a well-earned rest at the GT lounge sipping cocktails, conversing about life, random people spotting and generally enjoying ourselves, our appetites reappear, admittedly a little worn and weary. We've still a handful of crowns (there may have been some slightly overzealous refuelling) and there's one more must-do dish on my list, which turns out to be one of my overall festival highlights.

It's getting towards the end of the day and overall festival so the mood among exhibitors is decidedly jovial. The front staff at Centennial Parklands Dining inform us that the marshmallow is the best dessert on their menu and that the chef makes it best after he's had a few drinks - which it seems he has.

The chef reappears from the kitchen without his cocktail but with a plate featuring a white rectangular block and sliced strawberries. He proceeds to pull out a blowtorch for theatrics to which we have front row seats.

Goat cheese marshmallow from Centennial Parklands Dining
gets the blowtorch treatment

The top surface gets browned, bubbly and caramelised, and is followed with a serving of basil granita, much resembling mushy pie peas.

Goat cheese marshmallow with strawberries and basil
from Centennial Parklands Dining

It's a stunner of a dessert but there's a bit of hesitation before tasting the marshmallow. I'm made guinea pig and take a mouthful of foamy, frothy white fluff. The burnished top crackles softly, giving way to rich, cloudy sweetness. And then the goat trots into flavour, unabashed and distinct. It's a little mind blowing and tooth aching. The sweetened strawberries provide some solidity to the dish, combining well with the marshmallow and granita separately. I don't much like the granita with the marshmallow - the texture and flavour don't quite go - but I like the refreshing, icy herb hit on its own.

Crowns yet to spend and Jonah's yet again is the place for sweet delight. This time I let a companion have the cheeky fun, although not before head chef George Francisco personally demonstrates his wobbling skills for us.

Vanilla panna cotta with lavender honey and fresh
pomegranate from Jonah's at Whale Beach

It's as good as I remembered it although extremely light and subtle compared to the marshmallow. It's one of those dishes that I think I could just eat and eat and eat, it's so light and possibly construed as healthy. Relatively speaking.

Dark chocolate tart, end of season berries, marscapone
sabayon from Berowra Waters Inn

Like I said, relatively. The chocolate tart from Berowra Waters Inn is the food-ification of evil. Dark chocolate filling, thick and creamy marscapone with a few colourful poached berries to give the illusion of innocence. Evil I tell you. Breaking into the tart, it's actually not that bad. The filling is not thick and heavy as anticipated and is stronger in chocolate bitterness than sweetness - just the way I like it. The tartness of the berries is perfect contrast; however I find the tart casing a little too thick and heavy after the day's eating. Don't start me on the sabayon.

We can barely waddle around the festival anymore for all the eating we've done and the amount of purchases made. Despite closing offers (think half price oysters and bread and butter puddings) we concede defeat before the official closing at 5pm and make our lazy, full-bellied trek out of Centennial Park. It's been a fantastic culinary experience, both for the mind and stomach, and I can only smile at the sign that professes its longing to see me next year. Till then, Taste, till then.

1 comment:

chocolatesuze said...

"And then the goat trots into flavour" hahaha you crack me up!


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