Last Thursday evening was to be the launch of Taste of Sydney 2012 – Australia’s definitive pop-up restaurant festival. However, on Thursday in Sydney the weather was not particularly good, it rained. That is probably one of the biggest understatements I’ve ever made on this blog, let me try again. From Wednesday evening in Sydney the weather was atrocious.
Tropical depression, monsoon-esque, atrocious. It started with thunderstorms which overnight turned to torrential downpours and driving rain. There was flooding all over the city and general chaos ensued. A 3kms bus ride to work took 45 minutes, had it not been pouring and nearly dark at 8am I could have walked in 25.
As Taste was being held in Centennial Park, the opening night was cancelled by mid-day on Thursday. Around 1pm the sun came out but not only was the ground saturated, the event had not been set up due to aforementioned weather. Friday however was gorgeous. Amazingly clear, hot and brilliantly blue – just the weather one would expect for a weekend food festival.
The first night of Taste was host to the Best in Taste Award. 15 different dishes – one from each represented restaurant – chosen by each of the chefs as their ‘best in show’. Due to the Thursday cancellation this was now occurring on Friday evening and by means of one of those ‘it’s who you know’ situations I ended up not only attending the opening night in the VIP tent but ‘wrangling’ for the three lucky judges – hi ladies, you know I say that only with love!
This is where the *Exclusive* bit comes into play. I got to act as sole photographer for the judging. However a girl cannot live on sparkling water alone so there may have been some tasting on my part of the non-meat bits too!
Below are the dishes presented on the evening for judging – some with a few bits of commentary based on what I tasted, some without. RJ and I also went back on Saturday for the early session and tried many more of the delicacies on offer, so keep an eye out for Part 2. Now, without further ado, the most important bit of Taste of Sydney… the food.
1: The evening began with Four in Hand and their ICON dish: Pigs Tail with Corn and Cab Salad with Lobster Bisque [20 Crowns]
The presentation at the table earned them an extra set of photos off the bat. The bisque was rich and sweet with large chunks of lobster.
2 & 3: Second and third were Fish & Co.: Roast Spencer Gluf Prawn and Watermelon Salad with Ginger, Chilli and Roasted Peanuts [10 Crowns]; and Quarter Twenty One: Slow Cooked and Caramelised Short Rib with Bone Marrow Persillade [12 Crowns]
The ginger/chilli/peanut dressing was flavourful and bold, creating a nice contrast against the watermelon, prawns were unfortunately a touch on the soggy side though. The cubes over top of the short rib are bone marrow, what a fabulous way to integrate it into the dish… I have a feeling based on the difference in the just-cooked plate RJ had on Saturday, the delay from stove to table may have been a bit of a detriment.
4 & 5: By this time the dishes were rolling in thick and fast. Fourth and fifth were Longrain: Crisp Pork Belly, pickled Daikon and Chilli Jam in a Sweet Roll [12 Crowns]; and Three Blue Ducks ICON dish: Wagyu Flat Iron, Mustard Seeds & Burnt Onions [20 Crowns]
The pork slider inspired exclamations of joy from the judges and if the bit of roll/veggies/sauce I tasted was even close to as good as the pork belly and crackling inside it’s no wonder. I did not partake in the wagyu but did get treated to the Ducks mackerel dish later that evening – more on that later however.
6: Sixth appeared from Ormeggio at the Spit: Smoked Veal Rump, Vegetable Ash, Radish [12 Crowns]
7: And seventh was L’Etoile: Murray Valley Pork Belly with Prunes and Char-grilled Silver Beet [12 Crowns]
The pork appeared very tender and flavourful but be aware, there was no crackling on top. The silver beet was surprisingly complex due to the smokiness from the char and complemented the sweetness of the prunes well.
8: Turns out eight is a magical number at Efendy: Traditional Charcoal BBQ Lamb and Veal Kebab, Smoked Eggplant and Chobani Greek Yogurt [12 Crowns]
Presented under a silver cloche, it was an explosion of flavours. Rich spiced meat, smoky eggplant that could be eaten straight with a spoon, cool thick yogurt and a chilli oil bow on top. The only thing missing – a big hunk of Turkish Bread to sop up every last bite. At this stage we were over half way through and a short break was in order!
9: The ninth dish was the only one brought out by the chef. Flying Fish ICON dish: Seared Yellowfin Tuna with Ruby Red Grapefruit, Sweet Crackling Port & Black-pepper Caramel [32 Crowns, on a signed plate]
It was divine. Melt in your mouth tuna, tangy-sweet grapefruit to cut through the rich slab of pork and a to die for black pepper caramel sauce. Even tasting only 3 of the 4 elements [no pork of course] the combination was just amazing. It was the only dish I had to make sure and steal a bit early on because there would not have been any sharing happening otherwise. It was also $32. For an entree this is on the high side of seep even in Sydney, and especially at a food festival – I wonder how much the of the cost belonged to the signed plate…
10: Tenth presented from The Montpellier Public House: Braised Shoulder of Lamb with Polenta and Green Sauce [12 Crowns]
Apologies for the pic on this one – everyone may have dug in before I even moved around to the end of the table to take a snap – good sign at least! The meat was quite literally falling off the bone, the green sauce a nice accompaniment and the polenta was creamy and smooth. The dish was nice if a bit heavy on the oil.
11: Charlie & Co. Diner: The Burger – Charlie Wagyu Beef and Cheese Slider [10 Crowns]
12: The only vegetarian dish of the night was twelfth from Otto Ristorante: Ravioli of Sliced Pickled Beetroot with Goats Curd, Pistachio & Horseradish [10 Crowns]
13: The Cut Bar & Grill: Sher F1 Wagyu Meatball, Gremolata and a Salad of Local and Italian Cabbage [10 Crowns]
14: At this point, announcement time was closing in and lets be honest, there had been 13 meals pass across the table. A decision had nearly been made until the fourteenth showed up. Sake Restaurant & Bar: Hiramasa Kingfish Double Crunch Sushi Roll [10 Crowns]
Six pieces in a serve meant I got at at least that many to myself – and it was the first dish I went for on Saturday when we went back. Sweet, salty, crunchy all rolled up into perfect little bite-sized bundles of joy. Yes please.
15: Now you can’t eat that many savory dishes and not finish with something sweet. A Tavola: Cremino al Cioccolato – Amedei gianduia chocolate crema, salty caramel gelato, Italian meringue [8 Crowns]
And how sweet it was. I now want Italian meringue on every bowl of ice cream I ever eat again. This is the only photo of what was under the heavenly cloud of meringue and does it no justice. Dreamy and the perfect finish to a delicious parade of dishes.
There was final vote tallying to be completed while the chefs filed-in for the announcement.
And then the moment everyone was waiting for – the announcement of the winner:
- Top prize was taken out by Efendy and Somer Sivrioglu’s BBQ Kebab.
- Honorable mention was bestowed upon Flying Fish / Peter Kuruvita’s Seared Yellow Fin Tuna; Longrain / Martin Boetz’s Pork Belly Slider; The Montpellier Public House / Matthew Kemp’s Braised Lamb; Three Blue Ducks / Darren Robertson, Mark Labrooy, Shannon Debreceny’s Wagyu Flat Iron; and Four in Hand / Colin Fassnidge’s Pigs Tail with Lobster Bisque.
It’s times like this I curse my 35mm prime but when the option is taking halfway decent pics in low light vs getting everything in frame I go for the low light option without hesitation – let’s be honest, 80% of the time my camera is pointed at a plate anyway!
Behold a medley of the magicians themselves – newcomers and tenured members alike, I present to you a selection of the chef elite of Sydney…
The winner with his enormous trophy…
… and festive ribbon!
Finally [most of] the lineup.
Brilliant evening, brilliant food, brilliant company. I spent some time wandering around the stalls afterwards but more on that later along with the Saturday feasting round up. I’d imagine you’re more than full by this point.