Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Your very own Aria

No, not your very own elaborate Italian melody – but your very own two-hatted, modern Australian restaurant-catered fare at your next function or event.

Aria Catering launch party
Acclaimed chef Matt Moran and business partner Peter Sullivan have officially launched Aria Catering; the catering venture formed out of their successful Sydney restaurant and existing Sydney Opera House functions arm, Opera Point Events.

"People have been asking us for ages to cater for special events and private functions, but we’ve been blown away by the increase in these sorts of requests over the last twelve months," said Moran, Aria co-owner.

Harbour view
This means for your next occasion soiree, lunch, dinner, or indeed any meal, at home or a public venue, or indeed private residence, you can feed your guests with canapés and full menus, as well as wine lists, designed by the Aria team. There’s no standard menu – every event will get its own menu based on what is in season, the occasion, theme and so on.

Strickland House, Vaucluse Road, Vaucluse
The Aria Catering launch party was held at Strickland House, a sprawling 1850s villa in Vaucluse with killer harbour views.

View from Strickland House

Back view of Strickland House
We headed first to the serenely stunning gardens for canapés and drinks to start, the grassy space almost as big as the house itself in area.

Taittinger champagne
Taittinger champagne and Echolen wines circulated the grassy gardens, while for some, the views competed with croquet for attention.

Along with great white tables, there was a fabulous garden party feel about the evening with both Moran and a selection of Aria Catering’s canapés doing the rounds, courtesy of former Aria head chef and current Opera Point Events head chef Simon Sandall (who will be heading up the Aria Catering kitchens).

Crispy scampi with aioli
We first descend on a wooden tray of crunchy, golden scampi stuck down with aioli. One of my favourite shellfish, the scampi were wrapped in strips of spring roll pastry and deep fried to form crunchy, golden, fan-tailed morsels.

Grabbed by the real scampi tails, these explosively crunchy and delicately encased scampi were a cracking start to the night, the shellfish maintaining some natural sweetness though less firm than a prawn (but I still prefer my scampi raw). The micro coriander furthered the Asian touch.

Smoked salmon and cream cheese terrine
Next to approach us were cubes of strikingly layered smoked salmon terrine. All-sorts cubes of smoked salmon, cream cheese and nori seaweed, topped with salmon roe, were an interesting take on same-old smoked salmon canapés, a little salty and possibly nice with thin crispbread.

Lobster tail with artichoke
The decadence continued with lobster tails and artichoke served on a silver spoon. The firm slices of lobster tail appeared to have been lightly broiled, served without a sauce to let the quality of the ingredients shine. I wish I was able to hunt down a few more of these for more rigorous tasting.

Duck and pea pithiviers
Puffed, golden brown pastry rounds signalled a more filling item in the duck and pea pithiviers. The pastry flaked away to reveal a duck crammed package, richly savoury and dotted with sweet green peas.

Quail ballotine with foie gras
The quail ballotine may not have been in the running for prettiest canapé of the night, but it was certainly a meaty mouthful with foie gras filling, wrapped in thin prosciutto and topped with a dab of sweet raisin-ish sauce.

Cherry tomatoes with cream cheese and pesto
The most visually stunning prize would definitely go to the cherry tomatoes. The cooked and half peeled cherry tomatoes were stuffed from the bottom with cream cheese and a basil pesto; the latter superbly fresh and overall, a clever twist on a classic Italian insalata caprese.

I found the ideal way to eat these was whole and without the slightly tough tomato skin, though they were still a little juicy and drippy – keep away from white tops and dresses.

Seared scallop with chorizo and tomato
I was excited to see more silver spoons coming around on long wooden boards, each with a plump, seared scallop sitting on a vivid dice of tomato and chorizo. The saucy accompaniments surprisingly did not overpower the scallop, which was beautifully cooked and sweetly luscious.

Lamb croquettes with sauce gribiche
The panko crumbed croquettes seemed fresh out of the fryer, still crisp and hot, the crunchy golden crumb hiding an all lamb affair – a little gamey, or lamb-y as I called it – and ideally paired with a creamy sauce gribiche.

The balcony and garden
There was certainly no shortage of canapés, or bubbles really. My heels seemed to be sinking into the grass even more than at the beginning, so I was rather glad to see Moran take to a microphone for the only formal part of the evening before moving out of the garden.

Matt Moran says a few words
He was brief in introducing Aria Catering and thanked those involved in the venture and the launch party. Of course, news from the man himself about the new catering business was exciting, but I admit that I was more excited by the announcement that there was more “entrée style” food inside the house, with rooms set up in themes of more substantial fare.

Seafood display
Jaws dropped at the sight of the seafood 'room', quite the feature piece, perhaps more aptly called “the gigantic pot of ice, oysters and other seafood”. Piled high with ice, the display held an awe-inspiring array of oysters, Alaskan king crab legs and a whole salmon which didn’t really seem intended for eating (lest we grab a bite then pass it around), along with cheesecloth wrapped lemons and sauces.

Oysters, Alaskan crab and salmon - oh my
The (not Sydney rock) oysters covering the ice were fresh, plump and subtly creamy, served with a choice of soy, cocktail and red wine vinaigrette dressings, the latter being my favourite. It took willpower to move away from the display, if only to put the oyster shells on nearby plates for disposal and come back.

Oysters, crab legs and more
No one seemed sure if the Alaskan king crab legs were meant for eating or display, like the fish, although later in the night, encouraged by Moran, a few took crab legs into their own hands.

Cured meats set-up
The cured meats section was also pretty amazing – whole legs of jamon and salamis were strung up above a slicer, and long, wooden boards of capocollo, jamon and biltong, aside huge pots of cornichons and pickled onions.

Biltong, salami, jamon and more
The darkened biltong was by far the softest version I’ve ever tried, almost like a well done steak; perhaps not dried as far as other versions, but also not quite as tasty.

Slicing the jamon

Slicer for the capocollo

The jamon, cut by hand, was bright red, chewy and salty, but no match for the fat streaked capocollo, sliced paper thin with figs and peach segments, almost melting on the tongue with its fatty pork shoulder goodness.

Sourdough bread

Cheese, figs and breadsticks
Next to the meat set up was a huge, rather lonely wheel of parmesan cheese, with sourdough breads, breadsticks, grapes and figs; the cheese conveniently pre cut and quite strong and sharp in flavour.

Asparagus and French mushrooms risotto
And then there was the freshly made risotto, with asparagus, French mushrooms, piled onto a wooden board which was a little unusual. With freshy shaved parmesan cheese on top, it was an intoxicating aroma that drew a crowd around.

Adding cheese to the risotto
The texture of the rice was spot on, possibly just a little over al dente which I don't mind at all, with measured creaminess although a bit too salty for some palates.

View from inside Strickland House
Oh what fun it was to meander from room to room, picking up bits and bobs, eating and then moving to the next bit or bob. I don't think I've ever seen an event catered this way (usually just canapés, buffets or alternate drop three courses). Not only is it novel and exciting, but it's also a great way to get people circulating the rooms, chatting to others and appreciating all the space and not just a dining table.

Beetroot salad with Old Telegraph Road cheese
There was also more food doing the rounds, with waiters ferrying around risotto as well as entrée style salads. This pretty, colourful arrangement featured baby beetroots and possibly even baby turnips (bad memory) with a soft, white, curd-y cheese by Old Telegraph Road.

Seared tuna with seaweed salad
The roll of seared tuna was served on a plate made for the outdoors and a glass of bubbly or wine. I'm quite surprised that I've not seen this before but it's ingenious - no more awkward juggling of glass and finger food; you can have your fish and eat it, and then follow it with a sip.

The barely seared tuna was served with a dab of a ponzu gel; the citrus flavour made for the red raw tuna. The thin circle of daikon beneath was acting more like a suction cap on my portion while the salad was eaten with some difficulty given the toothpick-like cutlery.

DJ and pianist
We'd barely begun to chill in the room with both a DJ and pianist and limited, enviable seating when I spied dessert platters doing the rounds. This was in addition to the never-ending Taittinger and ever-so-helpful waitstaff who kept bringing me fresh glasses as I seemed to misplace my others.

Chocolate coated ice cream pops
Taking me right back to my childhood were (dry ice) smoking plates of ice cream pops, in neapolitan flavours at that. Small balls of ice cream, dipped in respectively coloured chocolate and frozen hard, these were a delight in so many ways - cold, crunchy, sweet and nostalgic.

The vanilla was definitely an ice cream of quality, as too the chocolate while the strawberry tasted a little more artificial despite being my childhood favourite.

Pineapple tarte tatin
The toasty looking pineapple tarte tatin were small in size, yet still such a rich experience. Flaky puff pastry held a ring of caramelly pineapple, sweetly spiced and quite divine even without the addition of whipped cream. This was light years better than any apple tarte tatin I've had - I'm afraid I might only eat pineapple versions from now on.

Dessert platters
There were also tiered platters of desserts, petite sized sugar hits that wouldn't look out of place at high tea. I'm not sure if I'm proud that I had at least one of each, though I was definitely happy after it. The mini pavlova would have to be the favourite of the lot. Topped with diced mango, it was a sweet, chewy summer explosion in one bite.

The little cheesecake and chocolate ganache squares were decadent and thankfully small, while two types of mini macarons - strawberry and something purple - were a little softer than I'm used to but easy enough in two mouthfuls.

The aftermath of the seafood display
It was getting late on a school night when I managed to get myself out of my seat post desserts and another glass of bubbles, with the crowd thinning a little (not lots) and the oyster coverage on the ice having thinned much more. I wonder who's job it was to empty the giant vessel out of seafood and fishy ice water, or if some machine was needed.

Snaps with Matt Moran (centre)
Moran was still circulating, probably taking in the awesome launch party and likely positive responses to Aria Catering already. I desperately needed to leave, before I was tempted to eat another mouthful or put that salmon and some crab legs in my handbag.

Jamon - it's time to go
It had been a seriously awesome night, with much generosity in the food and booze department. It was a real taste of what it could be like to have my own little version of Aria - and I liked what I saw and tasted.

Many thanks to Aria Catering and Starr Public Relations for the invite to the launch party - hope it all goes as well as the launch.


Simon Food Favourites said...

wow, some of those canapes look seriously yummy. i might have to consider them for my next dinner cocktail party so i don't have to cater myself. great idea but i wonder how expensive it would end up being :-)

susan said...

what an amazing array of canapes! nothing like the usual sort that goes around. I would be in heaven with all that seafood. So jealous!

Zina @ tastedbytwo said...

Would you look at that seafood display! It looks like the Aria crew has gone all out on this party. I could gobble up a whole plate of those scampi tails...

Jen (jenius.com.au) said...

I'm blown away by the canapes and the whole seafood set up! What a launch party it must've been!!

Tina said...

Hi Simon - Indeed, I wonder...

Hi Susan - It certainly was seafood heaven!

Hi Zina - Scampi, scallop, lobster, oysters; I still want more of it all!

Hi Jen - Yep, the seafood was a jaw-dropper :)

Anonymous said...

I am in awe of the seafood display. I wish I'd received an invite.

Monica ^o^ said...

wow Tina ! Lucky you , all those foods looked so pretty and delicious, especially the cute cherry tomatoes ^_^

the ninja said...

Mmm that's a big pile of aphrodisiac.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Great report! I had to miss this event as I was away and I was wondering what I missed! Some rather tasty food it seems!

Tina said...

Hi bunny - It was pretty awesome...!

Hi Monica - They were particularly pretty :)

Hi ninja - Didn't think about it that way... but yeah...!

Hi Lorraine - Thanks :) You missed a pretty cool night...

Jobe said...


I honestly didn't think anyone threw parties that elaborate anymore. Kudos to them for trying to blow everyone out of the water.

Good reporting, Tina.

Tina said...

Hi Jobe - Thanks. That's exactly what I thought when I saw the seafood display...!

Forager @ The Gourmet Forager said...

It all looks amazing, but please please please let me dive head first into that oyster Alaskan crab and salmon display. Drool!

Tina said...

Hi Forager - Yes, I can imagine bathing in that and just eating the oysters around me... :)

Anonymous said...

Hi, all food are very delicious and arranged properly. This true that always try to contact with best caterers for the party to make more interesting.


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