Taste of Melbourne 2013

November 30, 2013

A couple of weekends ago Mr N and I spent an evening at the Taste of Melbourne festival at Pelican Lawn in Albert Park. I’d been to the Taste of Melbourne two years prior in 2011, and was excited to see that it was bigger and better this year! Mr N and I had a fantastic time roaming around Pelican Lawn tasting yummy food, sampling beers and wine, and generally being a bit silly.

The Taste of Melbourne does have a slightly festival-like feel: people are relaxed and casual, there’s a pleasant mix of all ages, the grounds get slightly muddy and everyone is more than slightly pissed by the end of the night. It’s a good atmosphere.

We began our evening by heading straight to the Beer Tent (natch), and purchasing two glasses of Chimay Triple, a white ale from Belgium that’s made by Trappist monks. It was fantastic, and also incidentally 8% alcohol by volume, which instantly put us in a good mood!

Taste of Melbourne works as such: you buy tickets for entry, and then once inside you exchange money for their internal currency, Crowns, which you use to purchase dishes from a host of restaurants who have set up stalls around the place. There are also dozens of smaller stalls with Australian food and wine producers giving samples and selling their produce. This year’s festival boasted as head-spinning group of fantastic restaurants including MoVida, Mamasita, Albert St Food and Wine, Huxtable (and Huxtaburger), Longrain, the Botanical, the Smith, Uncle, Saint Cripsin, Tonka, Bomba, Chin Chin and B’Stilla – whew!! Taste of Melbourne is a great way to try small dishes from nice restaurants that you may not otherwise visit, and there is so much on offer it’s often difficult to decide!

We began our tastings with Albert St Food and Wine. I have to admit, I was so excited to tuck in that I completely forgot to take any photos, but here is a shot of the calamari fritto which was outstanding, served with a black aioli, coriander and green chilli. We also tasted one of their BBQ lamb belly bangos (basically a slider) with butch relish and smoked yoghurt, but we both felt this wasn’t as tasty and a bit of a rip-off for 12 Crowns.

Bomba (the new Aylesbury) was the rotating restaurant on show on the night we went. I’m very keen to visit the restaurant, especially so given how delicious these two dishes were! The Shark Bay king prawns with pil pil were fantastic, fresh and meaty and tangy, and the (rather unattractive-looking) braised pork jowl cooked in Pedro Ximinez with celeriac was beautifully unctuous, and great value for only 10 Crowns.

Huxtable was doing a roaring trade. I loved the idea of their ‘icon dish’ of cheddar Wagyu and jalapeño fondue –  Wagyu fondu for goodness sakes!! But we instead tasted both the Kataifi lamb puttanesca, a favourite on their normal menu, and the Korean BBQ pork ribs, which were pleasantly spicy and complemented nicely by a pickle.

As an aside, to all the people queuing up for over twenty minutes for overpriced mini Huxtaburgers, you can get a full one for better value at the real restaurant every day of the week! Fools…

Taste also offers a number of on-going cooking classes, tasting sessions and chef demonstrations at various pavilions set up around the grounds.  The Lurpak-sponsored cooking school was drawing good crowds, as were the cooking demonstrations.

We sat in on the Canon class with Joe Grbac from Saint Crispin, hosted by Dani Valent. Admittedly Joe looked a little uncomfortable being on show in front of so many people, but when Mr N and I ate at Saint Cripsin the following week (blog post coming soon), he seemed right in his element in the open kitchen. Joe made some hand rolled pasta and then a pork jowl dish from their winter menu. Having just polished off the pork jowl at Bomba, it seemed ‘jowl’ was the hot menu item of the day!

We didn’t get anything from the Saint Crispin stall, but I did snap a photo of their ‘snap, crackle and pop’, which we ordered and enjoyed with some wine when we ate there properly the following week!

Mr N and I spent quite a bit of time simply enjoying ourselves and wandering around to various produce stalls. Home-brew beer kits, wines, olive oil, chocolate and Mork chocolate were just some of the stalls we visited.

Taking up an enormous area in one corner of the grounds was the Tasmania Pavilion (nicely played, Tasmanian Tourism), and the promise of good wine and other produce was drawing a huge number of crowds! Inside the Tasmania Pavilion were plenty of good cool wineries, several stalls offering freshly shucked oysters, the ubiquitous Tassal Salmon, a couple of breweries, cheese and other producers.

Cape Grim Wagyu was also on offer, the sweet smell of steak permeating the air.

Mr N and I had a quick chat with the nice people at Moo Brew, which is made in Tasmania right next to MONA (in fact, it’s owned by the same person as MONA). I’m a big fan of their pale ale, and the summer ale they were pulling was also good.

There was an enormous crowd around the Bruny Island Cheese stall so, naturally, we had to get in on the action. Mr N and I will be holidaying in Tasmania early in the new year, so were were excited to get a jump-start on the foodie side of things! Their famous C2 raw milk cheese in particular was outstanding, reminding me somewhat of a French Comte.

Cheese from Bruny Island had us in the mood for dessert, and we wandered around for a bit perusing the options on offer. Albert St Food and Wine was offering up their ‘Taste Melba’, a poached peach with lemon tart ice cream, meringue, raspberries and gold. Yes, it sounded delicious, but we felt like we’d given them enough of our crowns for the evening and weren’t prepared to pay $16 for a small plate.

In the end, it was dessert heavy-lifters Burch & Purchase that drew us in, along with most people, it seemed!

I couldn’t help myself from taking a quick look at some of the sweet treats they were selling to take home. The salted caramel was out-of-this-world good, and the gold ‘Credit Suisse’ bars were very enticing.

Burch and Purchase, like Albert St Food and Wine, also had an ‘icon dessert’ (read: expensive dessert) which also involved peach and raspberries! Must be the promise of summer influencing menu options.

Ultimately though, we were lured by B&P’s coconut tubes with coconut tapioca, passionfruit custard, a ginger crumb and mint. I’m not normally a fan of tropical fruit flavours in desserts (I’d rather just have the fruit by itself), but these were delicious!

Having sampled their salted caramel, we also couldn’t go past their Royal chocolate salted caramel tart, topped with a house-made marshmallow, some crushed hazelnuts and a chocolate spray. I was in chocolate heaven, it was ridiculously good.

In all, a very fun night was had by both Mr N and I! Though I agree it’s not particularly good value, and not a substitute for going and eating at one of these restaurants proper, I do think it’s a great night out, and an excellent celebration of a city that is in love with food!