MFWF 2014: Blood is Thicker than Water

March 21, 2014

The Melbourne Food and Wine Festival seemed to fly by this year, but I did manage to swing by the Immersery, a couple of ticketed events and take advantage of the perennially good value Express Lunches.

A real highlight of the festival was Blood is Thicker than Water, an event shared between Cutler & Co and Casa Ciuccio, two of Gertrude’s gastronomic stars. The link to the Festival’s theme of water was, admittedly, a bit tenuous, but the food was so delicious and the wine so free flowing that any reservations soon disappeared.

The theme, as you can probably guess, was blood. All dishes involved blood as an ingredient, usually in the form of boudin noir or morcilla (I’m tempted to say these are the same thing but actually I think they’re slightly different). We began with a sit down meal by Cutler & Co (Andrew McConnell was in the kitchen but unfortunately didn’t make an appearance), served in the now disused Supernormal Canteen dining room.

I was accompanied by the charming Mr Y who, like me, had a taste for blood that night – and oh, how we feasted! First dish of the evening was blood pudding on toast, lightly grilled until warm and smokey and spicy, with a glowing piece of smoked tomato and a fresh parsley and onion salad. A bloody brilliant beginning (har-dee-har) to the meal, with sweet tomato and sharp onion cutting through the blood pudding.

All of the dishes were matched with a glass of Spanish Mencia (men-thee-yah) wine – six glasses by the end of the evening – and let me tell you I felt every one of those glasses! Mencia wines are typically described as being earthy, fleshy, bloody-meaty, full of red fruits and high in minerals. They were chosen by the team because they complement blood so well. Our entree was matched with a savoury and earthy 2012 Godelia ‘Viernes’, which was really delicious.

The largest dish we were served that night was also my favourite: canard a la presse. Smartly presented, there was a beautifully pink and tender length of duck breast and a crispy fried duck brick, with beetroot cubes, cauliflower puree and jus. Mr Y just about summed it up, ‘my God, I love duck’.

Where was the blood in that dish, you ask? The duck was served with a salad Lyonnaise, with confit gizzards, boudin noir crumb (there you go!), pickled shallots and a mustard dressing. A very meaty salad but really excellent.

The duck came with a glass of 2011 Telmo Rodriguez ‘Gaba do Xil’, which was quite acidic and almost metallic – I think I preferred the first wine to this one.

The third wine to arrive was a 2012 Guimaro ‘Joven’, which was a sweet red with tastes of cherry and plum. To finish at Cutler & Co, a culinary riot of pink lady ice-cream with blood sauce – unexpectedly good!

Because the part of the evening at Cutler & Co was finished, we were hurried down the road to Casa Ciuccio’s next door foodstore, Cantina della Casa. There, we loosened up with more (yes, more!) wine and a couple of tapas.

The Cantina is a beautiful food store and cafe, and I often stop by to get a bottle of wine when on my way to a friend’s place (lucky girl lives literally around the corner!) In addition to some great Australian and Spanish wines, they have a tantalising selection of cured meats, cheeses, anchovies and other tapas items for sale.

I noticed when we arrived at the Cantina that there was another group of Festival goers leaving the Cantina and heading for Cutler & Co, so the two restaurants have managed to fit in two sittings at the same time. Not a bad model, but I did feel that we were going somewhat backwards in terms of what we ate and the vibe of the place. The food served at Cantina was delicious, but decidedly more simple, and the atmosphere more relaxed, with everyone standing and mingling.

It was also at Cantina that we were given a proper introduction to the evening and the genesis of the idea between the two restaurant owners. It wasn’t catastrophic, but I think it would have flowed much better as an evening if we’d visited the two restaurants in the reverse order.

First tapas to be served was a bite of tortilla, a variation on the classic potato with the addition of morcilla and a dab of paprika aioli on top. Nothing spectacular but a good nibble, especially when washed down with some 2009 Pittacum Barrica.

Next up were enormous trays of morcilla croquettes with salted ricotta and some tangy sauce that I can’t for the life of me remember (aioli, again?) Delicious, though. This came with a 2011 DJP ‘Petalos’, but I hadn’t made any notes, so can’t comment on it. Keep in mind we were five glasses in by this stage, so the mere fact that my photos aren’t blurry is a miracle.

The final savoury piece was a morcilla slider, again with aioli and an apple slaw. These were delicious and chewy and I loved them, but I did think that all three dishes were a tad repetitive – morcilla, aioli and some sort of carb.

Having said that, these were really delicious and it was very hard to stop at one. The final wine we were served was my favourite from the evening, a 2011 Guimaro ‘Finca Meixeman’ single vineyard (and of course it was also the most expensive wine on the list – $85 a bottle). Simply beautiful, it really overshadowed the food.

We finished on a  sweet note with some delicate and beautifully hued beetroot canoli. I greatly enjoyed these – I think they would make an excellent dessert at any cocktail party!

The canoli and a last glass of wine concluded the Festival event; we continued to mingle a little bit and admired the cured meats on display – it was then that I spied this adorable little donkey perched inside the refrigerator – was a cutie!

Then, THEN, because we wanted to continue our chats over some more wine and a few nibbles, we sidled next door to Casa Ciuccio for the encore.

After so much meat and blood, we were still in the mood for flesh, but of a fishy kind. A plate of cured fish: tuna, trout and kingfish went down a treat, with the kingfish being a particular highlight.

The real glory came in the form of a twice cooked octopus tentacle (somewhat misleading since all octopus should be twice cooked – once to tenderise and the second time to char up), a meaty and salty hunk of tentacle which we devoured.

I’m a big fan of blood pudding / morcilla / boudin noir, and even my appetite for blood was sated after this event. Blood quotient more than replete, I felt obliged to go vegetarian for several days afterwards!

And that, my friends, is that!

Cutler & Co on Urbanspoon Casa Ciuccio on Urbanspoon