Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Three's a charm at Taste of Sydney

Taste of Sydney 2013, Centennial Park, Sydney
Another year, another filling weekend spent at Taste of Sydney. Blessed by the weather gods this year, I was particularly looking forward to the four days at Centennial Park following a preview 'Taste safari' trip with the organisers and PR firm the week prior.

The chefs of Taste of Sydney 2013
On arrival at the Miele VIP lounge on a cloud-threatened Thursday evening, it was Laurent Perrier champagne and canapés all round as we readied for the Best in Taste awards announcement as part of the opening night gala event - a little 'Oscars' of Taste.

It was chock-a-block in the Miele tent as Kitchen by Mike was awarded the best front of house display. Popolo won third place in the Best in Taste with its pasta offering while Longrain took out second place for its rice noodle dish.

It was full attention for the announcement of the Best in Taste award which went to Taste first-timer Porteño for its wagyu beef brisket, cooked in an American style barbeque which was shipped over especially from the US.

Elvis Abrahanowicz and Ben Milgate from Porteño
Post the awards announcement and a quick bubbles top-up, we made a beeline for the Porteño restaurant stall, which turned out to be a very good idea as they queues quickly grew and stayed that way for most the rest of the festival.

It was all hands on deck with maitre'd Sarah Doyle in charge of distributing plate upon plate of barbecued goodness from the hands of Elvis Abrahanowicz and Ben Milgate.

BBQ wagyu beef brisket with BBQ sauce and pickle from Porteño
The best dish of the festival as deemed by the judges, Porteño BBQ wagyu brisket comprised a few slices of fat-streaked beef, smoked to a point of redness and fall-apart tenderness.

The rich meat was set off perfectly with a subtly smokey BBQ sauce and a pickle, while the crisp and creamy coleslaw mound beneath was a total highlight for me.

Chorizo with chimmichurri from Porteño
I couldn't resist Porteño's chorizo dish either; something I had in mind to try on my next visit to the Surry Hills restaurant.

The chubby and chunky pork sausage burst with flavour and spiced juiciness, and was served a with fresh and herbaceous chimmichurri that was a meat-eater's match.

Jackie M and Poh Ling Yeow at Malaysia Kitchen stall
We scurried towards the unmistakeable spice smells of Malaysia Kitchen feature, where Jackie M, Poh Ling Yeow and a Malaysia Tourism official launched their first year of participation in Taste of Sydney.

A demo kitchen was set up aside stalls selling Malaysian sauces, pastes and snacks, while a different pop-up restaurant was featured every day.

Poh Ling Yeow demonstrates Hokkien noodles in the Malaysia Kitchen feature
Poh did a quick demonstration of Hokkien noodles in a dark soy sauce, which had the tent area salivating at the aromas and queuing for the subsequent samples.

Dilmah tea lounge
Dilmah had quite the luxurious tea lounge on site where free cups of tea were offered alongside a high tea experience.

Biota Dining chef James Viles in the Dilmah Chef's Skillery tent
Also a new feature of Taste was the Dilmah Chef's Skillery which was presenting chefs in a number of up-close sessions demonstrating a particular skill, with a few tea leaves thrown in, of course.

Bowral's Biota Dining chef and director James Viles was good fun to watch as he torched tea leaves to make a smoked tea butter, churned with a KitchenAid and 45% fat content cream from his local dairy farmer, and strained through a (brand new) blue Chux wipe and served on a river stone.

Croquette - Southern crayfish with paleta and Biota garden onions
Biota had a restaurant stall popping-up as part of the Destination Dining feature which this year featured three regional NSW restaurants.

Viles' passion for his sustainable practices, and a few pre-event tweets, had me excited for his croquette offering. The crunchiest golden crumb you ever did see, or hear, held fluffy potato-ey innards with sea-sweet Southern crayfish flesh.

And while it was the crayfish I was most excited to try, I was blown away by the creamy white onion purée served beneath the three croquettes which had sweetness and heat in equally thrilling parts.

Roast Murray Valley prok salad, crisp rice, mint, chilli and peanuts from Longrain
We shuffled next door to the Taste-seasoned Longrain guys whose Thai salads are a never-fail. The topping of triangles of pork crackling bode well for the roast pork salad, with the amazing crackling balanced with fresh flavours of mint, lime and a fair whack of fresh chilli.

Chia seeds with a Nudie crushie

Pasta from Pasta Gallery

Chocolate, yuzu curd, miso butterscotch from Three Blue Ducks
While there was a suitable amount of tasting to be done across the exhibiting stalls, not even including the dozens of wine stalls, we found room for dessert from Three Blue Ducks, drawn in by the promise of yuzu curd.

It was a surprisingly harmonious combination of rather diverse ingredients with just the right amount of richness: chocolate ganache, curd, cake bits, citrus segments lightening the whole lot and even honeycomb from memory.

Taste of Sydney weekend

Weekend crowds at Taste of Sydney
I returned to Taste on the weekend, where a it seems a great proportion of Sydney decided to spend a rare sunny weekend. The stiflingly hot Saturday was somewhat better than the windy Sunday, but in all, it was great outdoor festival weather, and Sydney was loving it.

Cointreau Strawberry and Mint Fizz
Having being introduced to the Cointreau Fizz recently (with Dita Von Teese), it was hard to resist an icy, freshly mixed drink in the heat.

Most irresistible was the plastic Cointreau conical flasks the drinks were served in, with strawberry and mint or cucumber and lime or a number of other flavour combination, and Cointreau and soda water as a base. I'll be able to make my own fizz in a flask at home now too.

Jackie M char kway teo demonstration at the Malaysia Kitchen feature
Over the whole festival, Jackie M and Poh were alternating demonstrations in the Malaysia Kitchen feature. I caught Jackie M doing char kway two with chicken, which she told the audience wasn't exactly traditional but "whatever" - totally my attitude to cooking.

Martin Boetz (soon to be ex Longrain) in Dilmah Chef's Skillery
I also managed to catch Martin Boetz in the Dilmah Chef's Skillery, putting together a smoking mix for a hunk of kingfish. Green tea, various fresh and dried spices, rice and citrus peel made their way into the mix, which Boetz would normally smoke in a wok.

His departure from the Longrain kitchen after 14 years (last day is 30 June) is bittersweet as he moves on to focus on his Cook's Co-op farm: a couple of hectares of land up Hawkesbury way where Boetz is growing produce for Sydney restaurants in an attempt to reconnect chefs to the land, to where food really comes from.

BBQ ocean trout with tangy Mexican street salad from Peter Kuruvita's Seafood Barbeque
Just over at Peter Kuruvita's self-named restaurant stall, the grill burners were pumping out gorgeously fresh dishes of seafood.

The barbequed Petuna ocean trout was cooked beautifully and barring a few bones, it was an excellent match to the 'Mexican street salad' which could also have been named a tropical fruit salad given it comprised paw paw, dragon fruit and grilled pineapple.

Fregola alla zafferano con ragu di Maialino - Saffron infused toasted fregola pasta,
suckling pig ragu
I made a point of trying out Popolo as it's somewhere I've wanted to visit since the restaurant opened last year. Its fregola pasta dish also achieved second place in the Best in Taste awards, probably solely for the mouthwateringly rich suckling pig ragu.

The little pasta is much like Israeli couscous, like nubbins of a thick round noodle, and perfectly textured for the meaty sauce.

Slow braised pork cheek with black fungus relish roll from Claude's
The feasting continued at Claude's where the pork jowl rolls we sampled at the preview were going like hot cakes.

Slow cooked, fatty slices of pork cheek will do that, especially when it's on a scoffable little bun with a relish of black woodear fungus to cut through the fat.

Head chef and owner Chui Lee Luk of Claude's

Twice baked cheese souffle from Claude's
There's none of Claude's chef and owner Chui Lee Luk's Malaysian heritage in the Icon Dish of a cheese soufflé though. It's pure French decadence as we attack the hot, cheesy mound, made to order on site. It's almost an unfair advantage, but it might well have been the best dish I tried at Taste this year.

Chef Mike McEnearney of Kitchen by Mike
The Kitchen by Mike stall was also doing a roaring trade in its fairground themed offerings of sweet corn on a stick and Pluto pups.

Mike's pluto pup (front) and sweet corn with jalapeno salsa (back) from Kitchen by Mike
It was definitely my first battered sausage on a stick in a very long time, and I have a feeling fairground ones aren't this good with a smokey sausage inside golden batter, and a house made to tomato and capsicum sauce - an easy dish to love despite its apparent simplicity.

Cha Begendy - Scotch fillet cha kebap on charcoal spit, eggplant and kashar puree
It was meat central at Efendy's stall, with a couple of charcoal spits fired up over the four days for lamb, beef, eggplants and capsicums.

, The Scotch fillet cha kebap was the easy choice with thin slices of the tender, fully cooked beef laid atop of a smokey eggplant purée I could have eaten by the bowl.

Deboned and roasted sheep's head with local garlic and cherry tomatoes tandir
I wasn't game or too keen on the sheep's head offering which was served deboned - although I had a funny if not ghoulish vision of sheep's skulls doing the rounds at Taste.

By all accounts, there was meat to be had in the head, in addition to plenty of roasted sheep's brain. Eyes were not mentioned.

Mussels and suckling pig on at Four in Hand / 4Fourteen

Wagyu brisket coming out of the barbeque from Porteño

Cheese plate from Salt Meats Cheese
Inside out pizza boxes from Salt Meats Cheese were the accessory of the festival, highlighting the popularity of grazing at reasonable prices.

The generous 'plate' of three cheeses came with copious amounts of thin, Sardinian style crisp bread; and while the super stinky soft cheese polarised some, the hard (parmeggiano or pecorino) was a definite winner.

The Sommelier's Natural Environment session at the Plumm Taste Wine Theatre
We spied some free seats at the Plumm Taste Wine Theatre just in time to join GT Wines' Nick Stock and a panel of sommeliers going through five wines and potential food matches.

It was a very entertaining session with some interesting new tastes and tidbits learnt. The Between Five Bells rose was a fruity, summery highlight I'll need to seek out again.

Chocolate dipped pistachio mastic ice cream from Booza
I finished at Taste with the guys at Booza who were making plenty of friends over the hot weekend weather with their unique mastic ice cream. The authentic Middle Eastern flavours were made modern with a Zokoko chocolate dip and popped on a stick; just perfect for festival strolling and scoffing.

The sesame-based halva flavour was superb although I still can't decide whether I like the rose Turkish delight or pistachio flavours more.

Taste crowds on hot and windy Sunday
As Taste continues to grow and mature, I once again departed the white tented stalls in Centennial Park pretty stuffed, wallet pretty emptied but pretty happy with the state of food and wine in Sydney and beyond.

See more photos from Taste of Sydney 2013 on my Facebook page.

The big pink Taste fork at the entrance

Food, booze and shoes attended Taste of Sydney 2013 as a media guest, with thanks to Stellar Concepts. Food and Crowns were paid for independently.


Ramen Raff said...

You have covered/reviewed the event well Tina!!

Jacq said...

Nice to bump into you there! Looks like you got to try lots of the dishes on offer - that Booza ice cream looks particularly good!

thang@noodlies said...

Great round-up.

Can you believe, I've still never been to a Taste of Sydney? I will one day, one day...

Tina said...

Hi Raff - Thanks. Was pretty full after it all...

Hi Jacq - Great to see you too! Hope Saturday's heat was bearable :)

Hi Thang - OK, that we have to rectify...! :P


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