Monday was a non-working day for me, which afforded me the opportunity to accept my invite to the 2010 Melbourne Food & Wine Festival media launch lunch. I'd been doubly excited about attending when I'd read on the invite that the lunch would be prepared by Michael Ryan (Provenance) and Nicolas Poelaert (Embrasse), two chefs whose food I had not yet sampled but I'd been very keen to try for the last year or so. Having already discussed kuzu with Michael and oysters with Nic on Twitter, I was looking forward to meeting them. Unlike some egomaniac chefs I've met in the past, they were both really nice guys.
The lunch was held at Abbotsford Convent. In addition to a few familiar faces I already knew from various restaurants, blogs, media outlets etc, I met several others. As somebody not "in the industry" as such, it's always interesting seeing how those who are in the industry interact with each other. One nice touch at the event was the table of heirloom tomatoes, provided by Clive from the Digger's Club. My favourites were definitely the Green Zebras.
Monday was quite the foodie marathon, because in the evening I went to the Gastronomica food trivia night (where unfortunately, despite our best efforts to defend our title, the food blogger table came second). At the trivia night I bumped into a certain outspoken restaurateur who, when told I wrote the blog Melbourne Gastronome, told me "I've read your blog... and some of it's quite good!". Using the same faintly surprised tone he'd used, I replied that I'd eaten at his restaurant, and some of his food is quite good! He laughed, and acknowledged that his comment may have sounded somewhat condescending. :)
But back to the lunch. Mellie from Tummy Rumbles has already written it up beautifully, so I'll confine myself to a few brief descriptions and some food porn photos. Each chef prepared three dishes, and the first dish was Michael's: raw zucchini, goats curd, zucchini confiture, parmesan gel, olive and tomato sauces and thyme. I loved it, particularly the texture and of the gel cubes and the way the delicate zucchini was accented by the curd and olive.
Next up was another Michael Ryan dish: heirloom tomatoes, chilli, cucumber, gazpacho, sourdough croutons. A sure-fire crowd-pleaser given the sensational flavours of the tomatoes (which had been prepared in a variety of different ways: olive-brined, dried, fresh and slow-roasted). Adding textural spark was what I mistook for a foam, but Michael later clarified it was a whipped jelly.
Then it was Nic Poelaert's turn and we were served John dory cooked with squid, Daylesford beetroots, burnt carrot puree, rice paddy herb and glory spinach. It was like a beetroot degustation, and I was surprised at how well the beetroots went with the fish. Very dramatic presentation too.
I'm glad I took a second photo after I'd taken a bite of the dory, so that you can see how lovely the moist flesh was.
The two main courses came out on big share platters. Michael's was confit chicken wings with dashi-braised eggplant, daikon, spring onion and konbu no tsukudani. Totemo oishikatta desu! As Mellie commented, we suspect the dashi had been thickened with kuzu starch to give it that deliriously silky texture.
Nic's main dish consisted of melt-in-the-mouth Mr Donatis pork belly laden with all sorts of goodies. To quote from the menu, the dish had Warrandyte cherries, QV Market fresh mustard, Embrasse's own white carrots rolled in very starchy potato, and stuffed capsicums from Albert in Sunbury. I loved the piquant cherries, the stickiness of the sauce and those sweet little carrots.
The dish with the biggest visual WOW factor was definitely Nic's dessert platter - the forest floor. Look at it! I love the way the chocolatey crumbs represent soil, the meringues with hazelnut parfait caps represent mushrooms, and the sorrel mint granita provides patches of green. And I'll confess to you that I had not one, but TWO pieces of that gorgeous-looking honeycomb. You may be interested to know that a dessert matching this description is on the current Embrasse menu: I recommend you go there at once and try this dessert, cos it tastes as good as it looks.
And as if all that wasn't enough, in each goody bag the MFWF gave us to take home after the lunch was an Embrasse pink geranium and poppy macaron, filled with a handmade fig essence jam. DELICIOUS.
So the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival is off to a great start for me (even if I did miss out on tickets to You-Know-Who's dinner at Cumulus, sigh). I'm booked in to a small handful of events, but always keen to hear about any others that people recommend... what do you think sounds good?