Sunday, September 18, 2011

Taste of Melbourne 2011

Royal Exhibition Building
9 Nicholson St
Carlton Gardens, Carlton

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When it rolls around, Taste of Melbourne is an event similar to the Melbourne Cup, Boxing Day sales, and an AFL final featuring Collingwood: a city-wide obsession requiring our attendance in masses.

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This year I fulfilled my civic duty at the generosity of Adrian from Food Rehab.

The purpose of Taste events is very literal: a sampling (i.e. taste) of what the host city has to offer. It’s an excellent marketing strategy particularly targeted towards out-of-towners.

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If you were only going to be in Melbourne for a weekend, it makes both financial and physical economic sense because even the least skinny of foodies couldn’t manage more than six to eight significant eats in two days. At Taste, you make an initial investment of $25-$30 on entry and over the following 4-5 hours, heavy-hitter restaurants proffer sized-down versions of their dishes of the year/month/week at a corresponding sized-down price ranging from $8 to $12 in ‘crowns’ (Taste currency). Add to the mix some 100+ (personal guesstimate) food and drink exhibitors, offering free samples galore, and it’s an entrepreneurial dream.

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For navigational sanity, I've split this post into 'Restaurants' and 'Exhibitors' (all others).

Restaurants

My personal pick for 'dish of the day' was spawned by the relatively low-profile The Millswyn:

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10 hr braised beef cheek with beetroot, spinach & field mushroom

Utterly unctuous (an adjective I use so sparingly you can be assured it fits!). I missed the presence of some form of starch to offset the richness of the braise (a simple mash perhaps?) but the petite beetroot cubes provided adequate counterbalance. I also really enjoyed the addition of the mushroom (with genuine fungal flavour), and wished they came in pairs.

Their other savoury dish was a cured Regal King Salmon with pickled daikon, lime and vanilla cucumber:

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The Millswyn also featured a bar with 5 Rum Ginger Mai Tai, Spicy Vanilla Margarita, and Watermelon & Rose Jam Punch:

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I'd say the crowd pick was St. Katherine:

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KFC (St Katherine's fried Lilydale chicken with BBQ sauce (plus, oddly, Japanese mayonnaise)

Slightly spicy, very moreish, served hot to go and moist to mouth. A simple but great filler-upper, which made it good value for both punters and the restaurant. But don't take my word for it, check out the number of empty containers within a 10-metre radius just 20 minutes in:

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And true to the Made Establishment (formerly The Press Club) Group's business acumen, right next door they were marketing George Calombaris' new cookbook for kids, Georgie Porgie, namesake of the nursery rhyme I've sadly always associated with child molestation.

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Another great crowd pleaser was Mezzo.

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Sher wagyu meatballs, Sicilian cous cous & salted ricotta

A very respectable and respectably-sized dish of meatballs. The cous cous was cooked perfectly, neither mushy nor grainy, and ricotta in a savoury dish is a rare treat. Masterchef contestant Alvin Quah absolutely raved about it during his cooking demonstration, which was very effective advertising: the restaurant's stand was swamped right after.

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In case you are suffering from Masterchef withdrawal, Alvin will be doing another three demonstrations today, and Darren Purchese (not Stephane Le Grande as advertised) one.

We also visited Sarti.

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Slow cooked suckling lamb, pearl barley salad & truffled pecorino.

Intense lamb flavour and the pearl barley salad was delicious. Unfortunately, it was the most underwhelming savoury dish because it had such a small portion size for the price (especially in comparison to other offerings around). Also, the piece of meat I received had a disproportionately large lump of inedible fat attached.

I remember Sarti's 'pistachio panna cotta' with caramel salted popcorn being a real hit at last year's Taste, so they must have been hoping to repeat its success this time around:

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Unable to resist the call of anything labelled 'chocolate fondant', however, I obtained my dessert from Esposito:

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Fondant de chocolate with Earl Grey jelly

I've always thought chocolate and Earl Grey make for an excellent partnership, and most recently had a lovely macaron of this flavour from La Belle Miette. Unfortunately, although the chocolate was of exceptional quality, there was only a tiny tinge of Earl Grey in my jelly. Texturally, the 'fondant' was more like a very smooth fudge.

On the savoury side of things, they had on offer a carpaccio of farmed Barramundi with peas, mint & wasabi sorbet:

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Other restaurants not tried:

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The European

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Left to right: Regal King Salmon fishcake, Kinkawooka paella, Western Plains pork parcels

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The Botanical

The Kitchen Cat

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Longrain Bar

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Stokehouse

Exhibitors

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The recent explosion onto the Melbourne macaron scene, Luxbite, was present in full force.

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Macarons

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Saucy sauceboat cakes and tarts

Impressive macaron tower

I purchased salted caramel and kaffir lime (!) macarons.

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These were fabulous, bigger than the ones from La Belle Miette, and bolder in flavour and texture.

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Pinch me

One of the reasons I go to Taste of Melbourne at all is for Dello Mano brownies. These are not the kind of 'regular' brownies I'd feed to kids because they are (a) a pricey $5 a pop; and (b) mine, all mine.

These used to be sold at Prahran market every Saturday, and I would buy two of them weekly (Espresso Walnut and Honey Caramelised Macadamia) after a strangely ineffective weekend gym session.

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I never realised how integral they were to my weekends until they stopped selling them at the market; I stopped gymming in the vicinity altogether. I felt particularly resentful last night when I discovered that they've since started making Peanut Butter ones as well, but these were sold out completely by last night's session. The humanity!

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Another long-time love: Mini Melts.

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These are not fancy, they do not have intense (or even particularly authentic) flavour, and they are as juvenile a snack as you can imagine.

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But they are also tiny pebbled pops of ice cream that you can pick at with your fingers (but do it quickly) and then they crunch and melt in your mouth. That is magical.

Having grown up in Asia, I'm more than familiar with fast-talking schmoozers waving gadgets and hands and 'as seen on TV' miracle products:

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So I'm not sure how this man sliced and diced his way into my wallet. I do know, however, that I am now $50 poorer and in possession of a see-it-to-believe-it Bellini chopper and dicer and peeler and mandolin with two tupperware containers thrown in for free! Whatta deal. And I'm sure this person's experience is simply an anomaly.

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With other yet uneaten spoils of war, including a Burrowes Park aioli...

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...sold to me by its very lovely maker Bettina Berry (price perhaps a tad steep at $10.50)

Nespresso had a huge presence at Taste this year.

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It had massive stands at the centre of both floors.

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Salmon samples were also in vogue, with both Huon and Tassel occupying some very prime real estate:

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Huon selection

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Tassal salmon skewers

Other savoury, spicy, and saucy exhibitors:

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Spice Bazaar Cooking School and Spice Supplier

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Roza's Gourmet Sauces

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Dunav Butcher & Smallgoods

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Nando's

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Yarra Valley Smokehouse

Wasabi Salad: a cross between rocket leaves and wasabi

The pure cheesy:

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La Latteria, Carlton

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Jindi Cheese, with voluptuously large sample

Yarra Valley Dairy's goat cheese

Ice cream:

Gundowring

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Cold Rock

Other sweet treats:

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Raynor's Jam

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Heart of Chocolate

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Shocolate

Desserts of the cakey and fudgey persuasion:

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Three Sweeties

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180 Degree Cupcakes

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Enni

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Fudge

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Charlie's Cookies

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Sweet by Nature

Some refreshing retailers:

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Rochester Ginger

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Local Mineral Water

Tuaca

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Free Instant Eyelift

This year's Taste was much less carnivorous: I missed the blood offerings I so enjoyed last year by non-attendees The Palace by Luke Mangan, Maze, Enviromeat and Bultarra Lamb. Some 2010 superstars like Embrasse and Ben and Jerry's were also no-shows. Generally, I noticed a swing in marketing strategy: there were less restaurants and many more retail exhibitors. Perhaps this is representative of the current trend in dining habits: poncy dining is now passé and plating up at home all the rage (please, not another macaron on my Facebook news feed).


Final note: I'm terribly honoured to have been featured as one of this year's Taste Likes. This had no bearing on any views expressed on this blog post, however, given I only noticed this after completing my review (researched journalism at its best, clearly).

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Would I attend Taste again? Certainly - it's my patriotic duty! But what did you think of this year's Taste of Melbourne?

14 comments:

  1. Haha, I'm certainly road-testing the camera into overload! ;) Can you believe this is actually less than half the pictures I took?!

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  2. I've never heard of Taste of Melbourne before but would definitely go next year and take home one (or two?) box of those lovely brownies.
    Congrats for being featured as one of this year's Taste Likes.
    ps -let me know how you go with your Bellini.

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  3. Hey, now I'm thinking I totally should have gotten myself that Bellini veggi-chopper-thingamajig! Argh... Btw your post just reminded me that the only dessert I had that day were the ice-cream sammies lol..... Next time, I shall try and balance it out! Have you tried the chopper yet?

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  4. AT: You'll be the first to know if the chopper works well ;) And yes I wish I'd gotten more of those brownies now, I finished the ones I bought in about 5 minutes :(

    Winston: Haha I'll blog about the chopper if it's any good (and burn it if it's not argh). I had those ice cream sandwiches last year - they were very sizable! No shame in that ;)

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  5. Great post Vee! I feel like I was there. Well I was three years ago, but it looks like there are more free samples than there were then! You're probably right about how it's market indicative.

    I'd like to see a blog about your new chopper haha...yay or nay to impulse buys?

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  6. Yunny: Definitely will blog about the new chopper if it works - validates my impulse buying addiction...er,hobby...no, occasional indulgence.

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  7. OMG... you go girl! How many photos did you take?

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  8. Penny: Like over 250?! This is the greatly pared back version, down to about 90+...I may have issues with excess ;)

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  9. You have a great blog there. Would you like to get more readers for your blog from Melbourne?

    Submit your blog in zeole.com/melbourne . This is a one time submission. This would automatically submit a preview of your future blogs in Melbourne , with a link back to your blog.

    Show your blog posts to more people in Melbourne :-)

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  10. Wowzer, that is an epic photo post!! You basically took photos of everything!! :)

    I didn't get to try the aioli you bought, but I tried the one from Roza's Gourmet Sauces and it was so good! It's great to be able to taste before you buy!

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  11. April: I totally agree! Especially with so much choice out there (and my limited disposable income), it'd be really difficult picking a sauce or jam without getting to taste it first! The aioli is pretty fantastic by the way ;)

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  12. I have missed this valuable event :(
    Thanks for the millions photos!
    :)

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  13. Ahhhh! This looks amazing!! Ive lived in Melbourne for over 6 years and I didn't know such events exist!!!!! I must go to the next one. Thanks for sharing Vee, excellent post!

    x
    Kim
    accidental encounters

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