Friday, August 28, 2009

Food Fest: Taste of Melbourne

Last week, my flatmate J and I bought premium tickets to the Taste of Melbourne festival (Thursday evening session). Excited about the prospect of trying dishes from some of Melbourne's best restaurants, I checked out some other food blogs to see if anyone had done a review of the event from previous years. I was unpleasantly surprised to read some quite negative reviews, suggesting that the event wasn't good value for money, the tastings were tiny, that patrons left hungry or that "crowns", the official currency of the festival, were wasted. Well, I am happy to report that this was absolutely not the experience that J and I had! In fact I believe J's exact words as we left were "Best $50 I ever spent!"

We initially wandered around the building just sussing out where everything was, and had free samples of wine, cheese, bruschetta, chocolate and various condiments handed to us as we walked by. There was certainly no shortage of free samples and after doing a lap of the festival J and I were actually a bit full. So before we purchased our first meals we decided to watch one of the cooking demonstrations; we saw the James Squire Beer Masterclass.

The host, Chuck Hahn, told us a bit about the history of the brewery and his waiters came around to give us samples of their pilsner and golden ale. Then Joseph Vargetto, chef at Oyster Little Bourke, took over and taught us how to shuck oysters, and attempted to make a romesco sauce to accompany them however there was no working blender...

... so he quickly moved on to the "Popcorn prawn with citrus aioli".

Armed with a goodie bag from the cooking class and with rumbling tummies, we decided it was time to select our first dishes.

J's first dish: Baked crab shell served with Portuguese sauce (12 crowns) - Silks

My first dish: Natural oysters with romesco sauce and lemon (10 crowns) - Oyster Little Bourke

Oh, how I love oysters. These were so fresh and delicious that I actually only had the romesco sauce with one of them; I just wanted to taste that natural, salty flavour on its own.

I was also very excited to see the boys from Masterchef; this is outside George Calombaris's stand which consisted of his 3 restaurants Maha, The Press Club and Hellenic Republic, and was incredibly popular all night.

Time for dish number two...

Mine: Slow cooked cuttlefish with chorizo and chickpeas (12 crowns) - Movida

J's: BBQ Sher Wagyu steamed bun, pickled carrot, spring onion and hoisin (10 crowns) - Circa, The Prince

My dish from Movida was so smokey and rich and so not just a tomatoey stew like how it kind of looked.

At the end of the night we bumped into some people we knew; as I ate and talked I forgot to take pictures of our last dishes. J had dessert - Turkish Delight filled doughnuts with pine nut sugar and rosewater honey (8 crowns) - Maha; I don't have much of a sweet tooth and opted for another savoury dish - Steamed pork and prawn Sui Mai (8 crowns) - Silks. These looked so much more pork-y than prawn-y but the prawn flavour came through so strong. This came in a serve of 4 dumplings which I thought was quite generous.

Everything was absolutely delicious; my favourite dish was the oysters because I think oysters are actually my favourite food in the world, but all the dishes were incredible.

Happily, my experience of this festival was very different to many other food bloggers. J and I paid $50 for our tickets, which got us entry and $30 worth of crowns. Neither of us needed to go to the festival bank to get more crowns and we both left feeling really full and satisfied. The complimentary tastings, the other freebies (magazines, tea, coffee, chocolate etc) and the chance to speak with chefs and producers made for a fabulous night and its definitely a festival I'll be attending again.

Taste of Melbourne runs from 27-30 August 2009 at the Royal Exhibition Building, Carlton.

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