As per usual there are plenty of restaurants with special menus just for the event, and a whole host of producers talking passionately about everything from wine to pastries to free range meat. However this year I did notice there seem to be a few more chill out lounge-y areas which is a nice way to take a break and laze in the sun — or the cool of the evening — between plates.
The $25 ticket price gets you in the door but from there you have to buy food (roughly $8-12 per three-bite plate). The range is broad but vegetarians beware, there are very few options without meat. Our Thursday visit was a quick one due to other commitments later in the evening and there were two distinct goals…
The first was to stop into the IconPark tent. Let’s get the disclaimer out of the way up front — I found out about IconPark via a PR, but I’m talking about it here because I find it a fascinating and bold venture. Ok? Good.
IconPark is a new online crowdfunding platform, but their point of difference is a world-first — there is a real estate fund and angel investor style funding attached to successful projects. The platform is dedicated to launching new bars and restaurants and is an initiative of two Australian entrepreneurs, Paul Schell and Dean McEvoy.
It is difficult enough to start a new restaurant anywhere, but in Sydney — between real estate and the lack of incubators like food truck (don’t even get me started on the bureaucracy of the Sydney food truck scene) — there are very few ways outside of weekend Farmers’ Markets to test out concepts. So how does IconPark work?
First there is an open call for applications and successful teams work with industry leading advisors and mentors. Selected applicants are narrowed down to the top six teams which then launch campaigns on the IconPark site. The goal from there is to garner public support by pre-selling experiences at their proposed venue. The top team (the one with the most funding by the end of the campaign) wins the right to a fully-funded and ready-to-trade venue for three months in the East Sydney IconPark location. How’s that for a kick start?
True, it is different to traditional crowdfunding as you have to get through the vetting process first, but on the other hand if you are stitched up enough with a strong idea and a great connected audience you get a low-risk opportunity to make your dream happen.
“We are about championing peoples’ great ideas”, Schell explains, “our belief is in the crowd to recognise them.”
See, I told you it was interesting.
But back to Taste of Sydney, all six teams had the opportunity to spread their message and garner support from visitors to the IconPark tent. Each team created one dish and one drink and, rubbing shoulders in the kitchen and serving customers together at the bench, were all playing nicely and churning the food out.
RJ and I had the chance to taste all the dishes — the opinions that follow are ours based on the plates served to us on Thursday evening and appear in order of preference.
1. Sedgwick Ave — Deboned Chicken Wings, Grilled Watermelon, Blue Cheese Sauce. Our top dish by a mile, the photo does it little justice — the flavours were fantastic. I must say that grilled watermelon is not something that holds up particularly well to pre-cooking and was a bit on the floppy side but the chicken and sauce were outstanding.
2. Ruby’s BBQ — 16 Hour Slow Smoked BBQ Beef with Coleslaw and BBQ Sauce. Just call it brisket already, brisket done better than many I’ve had locally. It fell apart with the slightest stroke of a plastic fork and was well complemented by the fresh slaw. The sauce was unmemorable, but that aside it was a solid entry.
3. British India Trading Co — Cardamom & Ginger Spiced Short Rib, Mustard Carrot Butter, Okra, Tamarind Sambal. Perfectly cooked short rib. The dish is a bit more of a niche one than some others on offer but the flavours indicate great care. Having had the opportunity to taste some of this teams’s high tea offering on the weekend I do hope the chef has great opportunities come out of this.
4. Minjoo Social — Korean Fried Chicken Tortilla, Vinegar & Chilli Paste Glaze, Kimchi Mayo, Salad. Not realising there was a tortilla at the bottom we ate this with forks, it probably would have been better in a whole bite… maybe? It wasn’t bad but the kimchi-coloured-although-not-really-flavoured-mayo was drowning the rest of the dish and any kick from the vinegar or chilli seemed to be missing. I may be jaded, having eaten brilliant Korean tacos in NY and hopefully-predicting over a year ago that this trend would show up in Sydney, but while the idea was there the reality didn’t deliver.
(Funny that same prediction post mentioned the need for a food-tend incubator program…)
5. Blackcats — Steamboat Joe’s Pork & Prawn Gumbo, Louisiana Style. Um, the prawns were nice. The rest was more pasta sauce than gumbo. I kept going back to it hoping for more smoky richness but it just wasn’t there.
6. Stanley St Merchants — Paperbark Smoked Whiting, Herloom Tomato & Fennel Salad. After so many rich dishes I really wanted this to be good… Unfortunately, even though I usually love smoked fish in all its forms, all I got was an overwhelming almost faux-smoke taste off the fish and vaguely mealy tomatoes. Even the samphire couldn’t punch through.
As mentioned all the teams also created (stunning sounding) drinks and while we didn’t try any the bartenders were certainly kept busy by the crowds — and amused by themselves.
So what happens next? On Monday 17 March once Taste has ended the bottom two teams with the least crowdfunding support drop out.
The remaining four fight it out for one more week for the top spot (this is serious stuff, one team includes an award-winning chef from WA and I’ve heard a rumour that another has hired their own publicist to drum up support). A winner is announced on 24 March and their restaurant opens at IconPark a mere three weeks later on 15 April. With Season 2 already taking applications and plans to expand across Australia and internationally I’ll certainly be watching with interest.
Our second goal was to pop by the Rekorderlig Cider tent to say thanks to the team for our complementary entry tickets.
Once again Rekorderlig has set up their ‘Rekorderlig Star’ marquee to give festival goers a taste of the relaxed Swedish way of life. With live music and plush chairs it’s one of the aforementioned chill out areas that you’ll find dotted around the venue. As ciders go Rekorderlig is a very sweet one, and being a fan of more crisp and dry versions it is not really to my taste, but if you are after a fruity cider to serve over ice this may be the one for you.
Today (Sunday) is the last day of Taste for 2014 so if you are heading over make sure to grab a menu card on the way in and plan your attack wisely!
Keep your eyes open for the Dilmah samples (what? you know how I feel about tea), the free copy of Australian Gourmet Traveller (it has chocolate ice cream on the cover, who doesn’t like that?), the live cooking demos, and the peaceful corners amongst the throngs of revellers. And if you miss this one there’s always 2015 — with the way this year is going it will be here before you know it (eek).
As always, opinions my own, editorial policy here, I’m going to make some tea.