Three weeks ago I went along to the TOYS Collective dinner at Embrasse: a "water"-themed degustation showcasing the talents of six hot young chefs, four from Melbourne, two from Sydney. It cost $180 per head and I went along with Buster and the charming J. I've been keen to write about this dinner for weeks, even though some of the detail I wanted to include is sadly missing given the delay caused by busy weeks at work and the usual Christmas hullabaloo...
The cocktail upon arrival was the refreshing 'Water(Melon) iced tea' by Luke Ashton (from Duke Bistro and The Ivy in Sydney), made from bespoke watermelon syrup, NZ breakfast tea syrup, Square One organic cucumber vodka and mineral water.
First course was by Darren Robertson (The Table Sessions and former head chef at Tetsuya's), entitled Bird Bath. It was composed of foie gras custard, fried bread, berries, flowers, nuts and seeds - some of the goodies on the plate were foraged the day before when Nic took Darren to some of his favourite foraging haunts. Expertly matched with the NV Gardet Brut 1er Cru from Hautvillers.
I'd heard in advance that each course would be served to the accompaniment of music selected by the chef. From what I'd read about previous TOYS events I expected there to be lots of hip hop, so I was greatly amused to hear over the restaurant din that the songs Darren chose to accompany Bird Bath were Feed the Birds from Mary Poppins and Bobby Darin's Splish Splash!
John Paul Twomey, head chef at Cutler and Co, went with a similarly nautical musical choice of The B-52's Rock Lobster to accompany his course, Shellpool. Stunningly presented within an iridescent abalone shell, it contained seaweed jelly, abalone, samphire, school prawns and "coral".
I may be remembering incorrectly, but I think the "coral" effect was from using beetroot (or something similar) to dye the seaweed pink. The Shellpool was matched with a kickass sake, the Uehara Soma no Tengu 2010.
The third dish was from the host chef, Embrasse's Nicolas Poelaert, and was called Pollution. In a fun, silly theatrical flourish in keeping with the pollution theme, the squid ink broth part of the dish was dispensed via a plastic tugboat.
A gastronomic interpretation of the Exxon Valdez!
In addition to the squid ink broth the dish had cauliflower, cabbage, Nic's signature burnt carrot purée, monkfish, seaweed and flowers. This was Buster's favourite dish: he exclaimed in wonder that it had actually made him like cabbage for the first time! We also both LOVED the wine matching: the 2007 Domaine Matassa Cuvée Marguerite (Côtes Catalanes), a vividly pungent, biodynamic Vigonier/Muscat blend that was unlikeable on first sniff (as it smelled, well, polluted) but tasted SENSATIONAL.
Nic's music selection was Break Ya from the album Away from the Sea by French DJ Yuksek.
There was a great vibe in the room, and it was good to see lots of familiar faces!
Next up was Daniel Wilson from Huxtable with a dish entitled Corny Kiss on the Cheek XO. Pork cheek, handmade xo chilli (Dan's latest culinary obsession), scallop, sweet corn puree and pickled okra (mmmm slimy). It's very hard to choose a favourite dish, but but this may have been mine.
It was accompanied by a 2008 Wittmann Westhofener Silvaner trocken (from Rheinhessen) and by Catcall's Swimming Pool.
Fifth was Aaron Turner from Loam. His course (served to the strains of Rancid's Time Bomb) was called Chef goes P(c)oastal, composed of veal, oyster, leek, curds and whey. This was J's favourite dish. The veal was beautifully tender and I loved that the oyster was covered with the Loam signature milk skin. It was served with the 2008 Pittnauer Saint Laurent Dorflagen 'Villages' (from Burgenland, Austria) - my first opportunity to taste Saint Laurent, a grape variety similar to Pinot Noir.
Last up was Morgan McGlone from Sydney's Flinders Inn, serving up a batshit-crazy dessert called Like Water for Chocolate: a chocolate soup laced with pig's blood and chilli, served with a coconut and sago ice block. I'd read about chocolate and pig's blood as a flavour combination but had never had the opportunity to try it - it was sweet and earthy and ever so slightly metallic. YOWZA.
According to a press release I was sent last week, chocolate and pig's blood macarons are going to be featured in Adriano Zumbo's TV series on SBS, starting in February.
The dessert was matched with a Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout (fromTadcaster, North Yorkshire) and Common's Cold Blooded (from the album Like Water for Chocolate).
At the end of the night all the chefs came around to each room, explaining their dishes and chatting about the drink matches that the sommeliers had selected. Thanks were also given to the eminently capable front of house team, who took good care of us all.
A Spoiled Cochon has some pics and videos of dishes being being plated that evening, for those that like the behind the scenes side of things.
Congrats to Mel and the rest of the TOYS Collective for putting together such a fun night, a great time was had by all! Future events for both Sydney and Melbourne are planned for 2011, you can sign up to their mailing list if you want to be kept in the loop. I'm looking forward to the next one!