Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Taste of Melbourne

Taste of Melbourne, Royal Exhibition Building 27-30 August

I'm running a bit behind on posts, but I'm still sort of digesting from my recent Melbourne weekend and none more so than from the Taste Festival held at the Royal Exhibition Building.

On the Sunday - the last day of the event - while the presence and aromas of food and booze was immediately distracting, I took a quick moment to look around at the beautiful building in which we were feeding.

Royal Exhibition Building, Melbourne

It's definitely not Sydney's Centennial Park, but a pretty sight all the same. Being the chilly Melbourne day it was, we were all glad for the elegant yet oddly modern roof over our heads. It was moderately busy, but not quite as the Sydney Taste Festival earlier this year, and less buzzy. It was pleasing to see a lot of local produce and producers, although there were quite a few stalls from Queensland and Tasmania too.

In hindsight, I've realised that we went the wrong way about the building, coming across a lot of wine firstly, only to stumble upon most of the produce later.

Chandon bar

That's my excuse, anyway, for the first Crowns spent on a bubbly rose from the Chandon bar. Besides, I needed something to wash down yummy samples and distract me from the sweets and chocolates straight up.

Cheeses from That's Amore Cheese

Cupcakes from babycakes

Macarons from Babycakes

Chocolate brownie gift boxes from Dello Mano

I thought this was a fantastic idea - but maybe a little skewed in opinion as a brownie addict. Luxury brownies, as gifts. Moving well beyond cupcakes, perhaps the not-so-humble, rich fudgey brownie could be the next big thing in food gifting. Individually foil-wrapped portions that keep longer and travel much better than cupcakes. And the packaging is just all style.

Chocolate sculpture from Sisko Chocolate

Seating was a little more abundant than at the Sydney event, but with one of us darting off to restaurants for food every few minutes, it didn't matter a great deal. My first dish was a quick and easy decision - made so much easier having been right across from the Nobu restaurant stall, checking out and sampling spice mixes.

Black cod with miso from Nobu

Much anticipation comes with the most expensive dish of the menu - Nobu's signature black cod with miso relieves me of sixteen Crowns. Saying that, the plating of the dish is pretty impressive and till even now I'm not quite sure what the red ball thing is - a pickled something with a seed, so plum or berry of sorts, perhaps. The cod itself was infused with miso and a fresh, sweetness; the flesh flaked away with ease and, as is often the case, the charred bits were the best.

Baked crab shell served with Portuguese sauce (left) and pan grilled beef eye
fillet marinated in mustard, served with Szechuan sauce from Silks

The baked crab shell from Silks (another restaurant at the Crown complex) is a drawcard as the promise of fresh crab is just too good to pass up. But this particular rendition is dominated by a floury, curry-like sauce, and very little crab to show for it. I guess it's not all about looks and image.

The pan grilled beef eye fillet looks very promising, and generous too, with its bundle of sugarsnap peas on the side. Overall, the dish was a little bland, seemingly lacking both mustard and Szechuan flavours. The meat itself ranged from medium-well to medium-rare, the latter much more pleasant and digestible.

Slow cooked cuttlefish with chorizo and chickpeas from MoVida

The rollercoaster start stabilises a little with two dishes from MoVida. I guess one can expect a little consistency from one of the best restuarants for tapas in Australia. The cuttlefish stew was perfect for the chilly day; the seafood itself almost as tender as the chickpeas. The tomato-based sauce was undeniably flavoured of the sea, and the rare piece of really good chorizo brought delight to whoever could find a piece. If only we had a bit of crusty bread and loads more of that chorizo, we'd be very happy campers.

Braised beef with Spanish paprika, saffron and potatoes from MoVida

The similarly, but deeper, hued beef dish from MoVida was heartiness food-ified. A generous serving with creamy mashed potatoes, the huge hunks of meat were spice heavy but perfect on the flavouring. The meat itself probably could have done with a bit more braising as they didn't quite break up with a fork. Polishing off this dish, shared as it was, called for a rest.

Which meant getting up and sampling more food and booze around the building, including full sized scoops of Maggie Beer's quince and bitter almond ice cream; biltong from Jim's Jerky; pretzels from Bretzel.com and the gorgeous St-Germain elderflower liquer.

And not so much because we were getting remotely hungry again, but more so for the jolly-looking Jacques Reymond cheerily chatting to his front of house staff that we just had to go visit the Jacques Reymond restaurant stall.

Seared Hervey Bay scallops, Thai style Sher wagyu beef, crispy
Asian salad from Jacques Reymond

It looks good. It looks really good. So much that I contemplate scoffing the two scallops alone, although I'm spotted carrying the goods so it's just the one mouthful. The wagyu pairs ever so nicely with the salad, evoking distinctly Asian flavours but not so distinctly Thai. But the scallop is peerless - cooked to a stupendous perfection that makes nothing in the world matter for a few seconds of chewing. Now that's value for Crowns.

Natural oysters with romesco sauce and lemon from Oyster Little Bourke

On a bit of a seafood run now, we seat ourselves in a noticeably quieter setting towards the front end of the show and continue to taste. The natural oysters from Oyster (cheeky) are fresh and briney - the romesco sauce proving a little obselete. In fact, I'm not even sure if the capsicum-strong sauce really matches with the oyster.

Seafood 'hotdog', corn relish, avocado from Oyster Little Bourke

Curiosity gets the better of us all in the case of the seafood hotdog. It certainly resembles its namesake, but the seafood sausage is a bit of a puzzler. To be sure, there's white fish pieces and other seafood bits in it but overall, it tastes a little too fishy in that even the corn relish can't hide the flavour. I can't say that I'd go for seconds.

Cured kingfish and scallop salad, served with tamarind, lime, ocean trout pearls
and micro leaves from The Court House

After spying a nearby diner's scallop dish, I go out in search and return with a different scallop dish - oops. But there's not really any complaint after tasting the cured kingfish and scallop. The garnishes play a nice supporting role, but the summit of each mouthful is actually the poppingly fresh ocean trout pearl, followed closely by a fiery chilli kick.

Tempura of quail breast, tajine flavours, whipped Persian fetta
from Jacques Reymond

Another sumptuously pretty dish from Jacques Reymond, the quite-meaty quail is as tender as anything but - don't hurt me - tastes a lot like chicken. Understandably, it's all poultry but I just felt that something this pretty and delicate and expensive shouldn't remind me of KFC. The whipped fetta doesn't add a great deal but the black rice sitting beneath the quail breast had an enticing texture and flavour.

Mixed berry and passionfruit cocktails from Sagatiba

At some point someone mentions dessert and it's like we've just remembered that we need to save a bit of room for sweets. Nothing like a rum-spiked cocktail or two to cleanse the palate - the passionfruit is my pick of these sweetly, coldly numbing, mildly attention-seeking drinkies.

Royal Exhibition Building, Melbourne

We kick back momentarily, hoping that the appetite for sweets will kick in. It's a lovely building although the layout for the festival is a little tight and not as free flowing as hungry foodies would really prefer. The atmosphere is a touch lacking, but definitely not due to the hoardes of chefs and staff running about bartering food and booze with each other. It looks like a party for these guys.

Vanilla panna cotta served with slow cooked quince from Fifteen

The silky smooth panna cotta is an easy entrance to desserts. I wasn't a big fan of the stewed quince, but the vanilla is subtley omnipresent in the lightly creamy pudding.

Milk chocolate delice, coconut and basil, salted caramel
popcorn from Verge

Admittedly, I was hanging out for a chocolate fix and I landed a stunner. I was immediately sold on the "salted caramel popcorn" but this gorgeous array was seriously stunning in its parts. I'm not so sure about the mixture though; in theory, coconut, basil and chocolate sounds good but I much preferred eating the foamy coconut cream on its own; and then the basil jelly and micro leaves; and then a mouthful of the lush chocolate slice. And, saving the best till last, the crunchy, sweet and salty popcorn - I can definitely imagine a large sized box of this stuff for the movies.

And with that, it signalled the end of the festival and the Melbourne trip, really. We'd had a taste, or several, of restaurants and produce of the city and now all we wanted was a day bed. And scallops. And some more of that popcorn. And faster metabolism. And more time to check out more of the great restaurants in Melbourne. Till next time.

No comments:


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...