Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Wake up and smell the coffee

The annual Rocks Aroma Festival seems to be getting bigger and bigger, and is becoming one of my favourite yearly events. This past Sunday’s event was somehow miraculously rain free, although the trip home wasn’t quite as lucky. The view from the train at Circular Quay at 1pm confirmed the massive crowds and the long straight lines at the coffee stands, plus people milling about by the water and all the way down George Street.

The Rocks Aroma Festival, George Street, Sydney
My first objective of the day was to get a coffee in my hands, and while this wasn’t difficult, it did require a good wait (though nothing compared to the wait for the ATM at Overseas Passenger Terminal). We decide on Danieli in The Continent region of the festival; not that their queues were any shorter than the others. They did, however, have freshly filled cannoli on sale, and while a bit pricey in my opinion at $4.50, it was well worth it.

Ricotta cannoli from Cafe Danieli
I chose a ricotta filling (supposedly with cherries and chocolate chips, though I might beg to differ) which was beautifully but not overly sweet; the highlight being the bubbled pastry case which was shatteringly crunchy and also fragrant with a sweet spice (nutmeg perhaps). Scoffed while waiting for our (quite good) $2 coffees, I can only hope that Café Danieli in The Rocks do these regularly and hunt them down next time.

Caffeine and sugar fuelled, we started our traipse around the harbour coffee world starting at the Grinders Coffee installation. Last year, it was the Mona Lisa – a perfect subject for the coffee colours and sepia tones of long blacks, flat whites and other milky coffees. Half way up the stairs looking down to the installation, the answer arises like the smell of coffee in the morning: it’s Marilyn Monroe – beauty spot and all.

Grinders Coffee Installation of Marilyn Monroe
From the top I can see that the detail and texture of the waves in her hair have been intricately coloured (poured?), and it’s an enchanting piece of art that makes the huff-and-puff up and down the stairs quite worthwhile.

Italian gingerbread
There was a great, large selection of stalls; many the same as last year but with a few newbies thrown in. One I was excited to see again was the Italian gingerbread and nougat stand, with their thick, golden, chewy gingerbread shapes. Electing a plain slice I can bite into the bread without the guilt of murdering a gingerbread man and enjoy the syrupy, semi-sweet, mildly spiced gingerbread a little at a time and have plenty left for morning tea the next day.

Yum cha by the Harbour Bridge
Heading into The Orient region, there’s an array of teas and chais but as for food, we headed straight for the dim sum station where a host of young Asians (entrepreneurial students?) were steaming a variety of dumplings and buns in woks and bamboo steamers. Again, an impressive selection including prawn, pork, chives, mushroom and chicken in the steamed section; BBQ pork and red bean buns, and deep fried spring rolls. We get the pork and the prawn, unceremoniously doused in vinegar sauce and chilli sauce and sit by the waterside. Yum cha on the harbour – works well except for the freezing wind – I don’t know how the outdoor diners at Doyles are doing it.

Pork and prawn dumplings from Dim Sum Station
The pork dumpling was a light mixture of minced pork and cabbage in a wheat flour pastry, delightful with the sweet vinegar, while the not-so-fresh prawns and bamboo shoots were encased in a gluggy and mushy glutinous rice flour pastry, thankfully somewhat concealed by lots of chilli sauce.

Camel rides at The Oasis
I spy the camels across the water on the southern end of Campbells Cove. This year, there are two sets of operators each with four of the comically-faced, single-humped beasts in a line. They’re always bigger than I think camels to be – bigger than a horse – and have the oddest jaw movement as they chew cud. They’d be great spokesmodels for a chewing gum brand. A deodorant brand might like to get in on the action too.

Chewing camel
The camels, and passengers, take a leisurely stroll past the diners at Park Hyatt on the wooden-planked walkway, with the rest of the crowds. The camels don’t seem perturbed by all the people nor the water, and they’re not much interested in the Opera House in the distance. They look like peaceful creatures but I wouldn’t get too close to those big chompers of theirs.

The Oasis area
There’s a great vibe in The Oasis region, as if we’ve just stumbled into a private party around the Campbells Cover corner. There’s a tented stage where music and dancing take place, although vantage points are few and far between. Plenty more stalls of sweets, food, Turkish coffee and tea including an impressive if not unusual range from iTea (think apple pie, whiskey drop and ginseng yoghurt teas). And more camels – of course.

Baklava galore
We make George Street the homeward stretch with a momentary detour to The Rocks markets. There was loads more food and ingredients down George Street although by late afternoon, many of them are low on or emptied of inventory. Freshly made crepes and waffles were drawing a crowd, while we find joy at Gelatissimo with coffee ice cream, and lemon and strawberry sorbets.

Large cupcakes from Cupcake Bakery - what an unnatural hue...
Fruit baskets by naked berry
It’s at this point of the festival, dark clouds looming over and the sun on its setting way, that I realise the beauty of the Rocks Aroma Festival: it has the best of festivals in the great outdoors, food, like-minded souls, connoisseurs even; but none of the very worst of festivals – drunken endings and general trashiness.

There was even a lingering feel, as if some people didn’t want to leave, while everyone leaving seemed pretty satisfied. Congrats to the organisers on another successful event, and I can’t wait till next year when I can wake up and smell the coffee – again.


Leona @ pigged-out.com said...

I missed the aroma festival agaiN!! i remember i wanted to go last year but couldnt make it :(...

I remember when i went years ago it wasnt as big as it is now days. The crowds are more and more hectic.

Mark @ Cafe Campana said...

Oh no I meant to go to this. It does look like fun. That cannoli is massive!

missklicious said...

I missed out on this too. Looks great though!

Helen (Grab Your Fork) said...

I didn't make it to the Aroma Festival but thanks to your photos I feel like I was there. Great to see the coffee portrait theme is continuing.

Jen said...

I can't believe I missed out on this event yet again! Fantastic review though :)

Tina said...

Hi Leona - Yeah, but I like that it's not hectic in a bad way - just super busy.

Hi Mark - It might just be the angle - it certainly didn't last long.

Hi missklicious - Twas a fun day out :)

Hi Helen - Marilyn was a hottie :)

Hi Jen - Thanks! There's always next year...!

Forager @ The Gourmet Forager said...

A coffee and that ricotta cannoli will do me just fine..

Tina said...

Hi Forager - Yes, lots more of the cannoli please


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