Taste of Melbourne is the ultimate event for any camera toting, wine swilling, gourmet cheese sniffing foodie. Or, you know, any human being with functioning taste buds. For anybody who hasn’t had the chance to go, Taste brings together some of the city’s best restaurants to showcase their signature dishes. The festival also gives exhibitors the chance to flaunt local food, wine and produce.
This year, the annual celebration of food and drink made the move from the Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton to the lakeside location of Albert Park. G and I had purchased tickets for the Sunday session in advance, which was all well and good – except we had no idea what the weather would be like! We were so lucky in that not only did it turn out to be a beautiful, sunny afternoon – we also got an extra hour to take in the sights, as it was the longest and last session of the lot.
We thought we’d get our bearings first and take a little stroll around, so we could note down restaurants and stalls we wanted to hit up before digging in, but weakness struck at our first stop. I could already tell my book of Crowns (the unique currency used across all Taste festivals) was going to last all of five seconds. Plus, the Botanical’s menu was pretty banging. The crumbed pressed confit pork medallions with apple and fennel coleslaw (8 Crowns) was my first pick. The pork medallions were so succulent and juicy, and went down a treat with the creamy slaw. The fennel and mustard seeds gave the dish a bit of extra kick.
We also nabbed ourselves a lamb burger with truffled mayonnaise (10 Crowns). It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t a standout. The sad, lone leaf of iceberg lettuce made for a lacklustre burger. The lamb was moist and nicely seasoned, though, and the truffled mayonnaise gave us a little bang for our buck.
G and I were lucky enough to sit in on the Malaysia Kitchen presentation with MasterChef heavyweight Poh Ling Yeow. I could watch cooking shows all day long, Poh’s Kitchen included, so it was way cool to see her cook up a storm. She’s just as exuberant and chatty in person as she is on TV. 🙂
The cooking demonstration itself was really enlightening; we learnt about common ingredients used across the Malaysian cuisine as well as the different processes involved in making a kickass sambal. Poh and the Malaysia Kitchen team are all for making Malaysian cooking more user-friendly and accessible to the Australian community. It wasn’t long before her pineapple and prawn curry had the crowd oohing and aahing and clamouring for a bite!
Sensology Presents ‘The Art of Cocktail Making’
Next on the mental list of must-dos was a visit to the Sensology tent. I’ve always wanted to learn how to make a mean cocktail and I was so bummed when I missed out on this the last time I was at Taste. For just 10 Crowns, you get an exclusive look into the tricks of the bartending trade and you get to reap the fruits of your labour by taking your drink with you.
By the time we got there, we had just missed the Mojito session, so we booked ourselves in for the 1.30 Southside class. I didn’t even know what a Southside was before signing up – turns out it’s like a mojito, but with gin instead of rum.
The Sensology team really know what they’re doing! They got everyone involved and pumped up (ok, maybe it was the gin, but still, we had a blast) and the tutorial was really easy to follow.
Even though we may or may not have poured in more gin than we were supposed to, these bad boys were pretty delish!
FREAKIN’ FINALLY! This is probably the closest I’ve ever gotten to the actual restaurant – I’ve struck out every single time in the past with Mamasita. I mean, seriously, what’s a girl gotta do to get some tacos around here?! Naturally, half the festival’s patrons seemed to be gathered at the Mamasita stall, so it took us a while to locate the end of the queue and even longer to get to the front of it. But after some confusion and moving around in circles, we eventually clawed our way from the crowd victorious!
Mamasita’s famed elotes callejeros (6 Crowns) were being doled out faster than you can say olé! The street style corn was a little more on the charred side than I would have liked, but boy, was it good. The chipotle mayo and parmesan packed an amazing flavour punch that was salty, sweet, sour and spicy all at the same time.
The taco de pescado or fish taco (8 Crowns) struck me as a weird concept, but it worked. The fish was lovely and moist and complemented the red onion salsa and achiote paste rather than overpowering them.
Over the din of the crowd, the guy at the counter mistook our request for the bean taco as a request for the ‘beef taco’ – so he gave us the braised ox taco (8 Crowns) instead. I’m sure there’s logic in there somewhere. In any case, the combination of the tender meat and the zingy pickled vegetables was unreal. Not totally mind-blowing dishes, but good enough that I might just have the patience to wait around for a table at Mamasita next time I’m around. 🙂
The afternoon was absolutely flying by! We still had some serious eating to do, but not enough time do it all, so the game plan was to hit up as many stalls as we could in rapid succession. Saké was our next stop. I’m a sucker for pork belly anything, so of course, we had to give the tonkatsu cups a whirl.
The deliciously crunchy panko-crumbed pork belly went so well with the tangy miso mustard, and the addition of the purple cabbage and baby butter lettuce leaves made for a pretty picture. The asking price was a little steep, though (8 Crowns for two cups), considering they were absolutely miniscule.
We saw a few of the dorper lamb ribs with pea and mint (6 Crowns) floating around and after scanning frantically through the menu, we found ourselves at The Aylesbury.
The lamb was cooked beautifully and fell off the bone with the gentlest of tugs. The only issue I had was that the fat hadn’t been rendered down enough, which made it unbelievably greasy. Didn’t stop me from licking that rib clean 😉
In need of another drink, G and I followed the trail of ridiculously cute cocktails in conical flasks to the Cointreau Fizz tent. We got to watch the bartenders make our drinks, fancy tricks and all.
G went for the strawberry and mint variation, while I settled on the cucumber and basil. All I remember is the massive Cointreau hit! Sadly, the cucumber and basil was lost in amidst all of the alcohol.
At this point, we started jonesing for something sweet. The desserts on offer at Taste this year were off the chain – far more impressive than most of the savoury dishes, in my opinion. Round one of dessert saw us paying a visit to the Livingroom tent and treating ourselves to their warm chocolate mousse with toasted marshmallows and caramel popcorn (8 Crowns). The cup that it came in couldn’t have been bigger than your average shot glass, but given how wonderfully rich and sweet the chocolate was, I couldn’t complain. The consistency of the mousse was more like a thick Belgian hot chocolate and the gooey marshmallows were the bomb diggity.
Mr. Hive Kitchen & Bar
Mr. Hive Kitchen & Bar has been on my ‘to visit’ list for quite some time now but I haven’t had the chance to swing by yet, so I was pretty stoked when I saw them in the line-up for Taste this year. Their summer berry Eton mess (6 Crowns) was probably my favourite dessert of the day. For lack of a better description, it was like eating a fruity cloud (it sounds so lame when I put it like that) but so much better. A truly wonderful summer dessert!
Mr. Hive’s chocolate bar (8 Crowns) wasn’t actually on the menu, but I guess they had a few left over from their dessert degustation and wanted to sell them. Good thing they were, too, because it was a little slice of heaven. I’m totally itching to go to the real thing now!
The Point had run out of cheesecake (nooooo), so off to Libertine we went. Their apple and frangipane tartine, with maple and honeycomb (8 Crowns) was to die for. The puff pastry was warm and flaky and mopped up the honeycomb ice-cream like a boss.
Burch & Purchese
Our last stop on the Taste circuit was Burch & Purchese. We didn’t know that they were exhibiting until we saw some people carrying the pretty B & P bags around. Darren Purchese is the nicest guy ever! It was great to see him manning the B & P stall and chatting away with customers. I was even lucky enough to get a photo with him!
Then we did some damage! 😉 B & P’s ice-cream range is too awesome for me to put into words. I picked up a chocolate chip cookie dough, while G chose a raspberry explosion (8 Crowns each). It was like biting into a real cookie! There were actual chunks of cookie dough in the ice cream, which was unreal.
Scrounging up the last of our Crowns, we also picked up a slab of their popcorn and honeycomb rubble (14 Crowns) and a few meringue clouds (2 Crowns each) to take home.
What a way to end such a fantastic event – on a colossal sugar high! This year’s line-up of restaurants was phenomenal and the food was spectacular across the board. Even though the five hours honestly felt like five minutes, we learnt heaps and had so much fun. I absolutely can’t wait to see what Taste of Melbourne 2013 brings to the table! 😀