Monday, November 26, 2012

Taste of Melbourne 2012

Taste of Melbourne is an annual festival that brings together top restaurants and produce suppliers together. I've previously attended the festival in 2011 and 2010.  I was overwhelmed by the amount of food on offer in 2010, but didn't feel quite so impressed last year - there wasn't anything new to savour, and the layout felt awkwardly split between the two levels in the Royal Exhibition Building. 

Taste of Melbourne 2012 - Lilydale Gourmet Picnic Garden
The organisers of the event decided to switch things up (although unlikely due to my opinions) and braved the elements to hold it outdoors for the first time at Pelican Lawn by Albert Park. Slightly accessible by public transport, the festival was nevertheless lent a new breath of life by the location switch. The sprawling nature of the festival made for a more enjoyable stroll from stall to stall, and the beautiful weather and lively music had everyone in high spirits. 

Taste of Melbourne 2012
I can imagine things being fairly miserable and difficult if the weather hadn't been agreeable, but Melbourne weather exceeded expectations and the four-day festival enjoyed mainly brilliant weather. Being a food festival, the main attraction is the food of course. The currency used to purchase dishes from the restaurants and produce was once again 'Crowns' - slips of paper that were cash equivalents. Almost like monopoly money, they encourage more spending (handing over paper feels so much easier than handing over plastic) and actually make for more efficient payment and hence less queuing. My only annoyance is that they aren't refundable, and you're better of underestimating how many you need and returning to purchase more, than purchasing a lovely large wad of food-obtaining slips (as much as I'd like to do that). 

Movida Lamb Skewers
The organisers did a brilliant job this year bringing together top restaurants from the Melbourne scene; The Atlantic, The Botanical, Mamasita, Movida, The Point and Sake being of particular interest to this blogger. Restaurants each have three or four dishes on offer, generally with one being a dessert item. So much choice, but where to start? Walking around the entirety of the festival clockwise seemed like a good of a plan-of-attack as any. 

First stop, Movida, to try out the much raved about Pinchitos Morunos... 

Movida - Pinchitos Morunos 
...otherwise known as Chargrilled Moorish Lamb skewers. These looked and smelt great, perfectly smoked and flavoured yet I found the meat to be slightly stringy and chewy. Unfortunately, given the potential, I would have hoped that the quality of the meat would have been up to scratch. The more I go, the more I realise that the point of the festival is not for the restaurants to make money, but for publicity. The serves are still small, but hey, at least it's a chance to try a bit of everything. 

A little further along, The Aylesbury pop-up restaurant was serving some delicious looking prawn burgers. 

The Aylesbury - Prawn Burger
The accompanying crustacean aioli added a touch of creaminess to the sweet flavour of the prawns. I wasn't a fan of the crusty bread or the boring lettuce, but it's a burger so what else could be expected.   

A little detour to some produce stores lead to the discovery of dessert. 

Dessert Soap
Not of the edible sort however - of the body-cleaning variety courtesy of High Tea in the Bath. These are better decorated than some professional baked goods I've seen! Good enough to eat. Almost. 

Burch & Purchese to the rescue to satisfy our sweet cravings, with Pastry Chef Extraordinaire Darren Purchese on hand to distribute samples. 

Darren Purchese
Awfully nice of him. The range of desserts on hand was pretty nice as well with gourmet ice-creams being the pick of the festival. 

After getting a little side-tracked, it was back to the restaurants, and back to the seafood. The Atlantic predictably served up some delicious dishes with the Tempura Soft Shell Crab being a great pick  
The Atlantic - Tempura Soft Shell Crab
I still haven't had a chance to head to the Atlantic (after an aborted attempt due to flight delays) but this dish left me a renewed desire to visit. The jalapeno and ponzo were unexpected accompaniments that added a sharp spicy and tangy kick to the slightly salty, lightly battered and perfectly sweet crab meat. Definitely my favourite dish so far, but of the festival? Perhaps so. 

Pope Joan was up next as part of the Sustainable Pop-Up offering, and uncharacteristically, two dishes were ordered; The 'Tom Allen' and King Salmon Wings

Pope Joan - The Tom Allen
The slightly odd name suggested slightly odd ingredients and we weren't disappointed. What arrived was a crispy pig's ear and rocket sandwich. Here I was thinking that only Asians like myself would eat pig's ear, but seems like it's finally catching on with the rest of the world. The sandwich didn't have a particularly strong flavour, but was interesting and enjoyable nevertheless. 

Pope Joan - King Salmon Wings
It turns out wings are from the front part of the fish and are a tender muscle. The Crispy NZ Regal King Salmon Wings with Chili Salt was on the salty side, but definitely crispy (especially the edible fin part). These two dishes definitely piqued my curiosity on what else Pope Joan had to offer. Now to make the trek out to Brunswick East to try the full menu. 

A little further along, a coat pit caught my eye. Three little pigs went to the market...and only one came home. 

The Point - Suckling Pigs
Supposedly these roast all day before they're deemed ready to eat. We were lucky enough to witness one of these getting carved up by Justin Wise, head chef of The Point as part of the Dilmah Chef's Skillery.

The Point
The Point - Justin 
This guy has obviously carved a lot of pigs in his life - the deftness with which he used the knife was impressive to behold. Give me 30 years and I may be halfway there. Actually, make that 40.

The Point
The change of venue was definitely a great change of scenery, pace and atmosphere. I enjoyed my time there, but still wished it would leave a slightly smaller hole in my pocket. Nevertheless, Taste of Melbourne comes around only once a year and is great fun, especially if you've never been. Let's hope the weather holds out for 2013. See you then. 

Taste of Melbourne 2012
Complimentary tickets were provided by Hothouse Media. All food was paid for by myself.