This year's Melbourne Food and Wine Festival was a MADCAP ten days for me, hence the radio silence here on the blog. In a blurred week of dining and wining (and cocktailing), the event I enjoyed most was the dinner hosted by Gourmet Traveller at Coda, starring LA's mash-up taco truck king of the streets, Roy Choi from Kogi.
When we got to Coda, the room was already buzzing and as the night wore on we were treated to a blasting soundtrack of James Brown, Erykah Badu, Beyoncé, Notorious B.I.G. and Big Poppa. Not your average Melbourne restaurant soundtrack! But then the food was like nothing you get in Melbourne restaurants either: street food with loads of soul and big, brazen flavours that borrowed as easily from Korean cuisine as Mexican and Hawaiian cuisines. The food was initially matched with Tiger beer, but the succession of European wines that followed were less successful - robust though they were, they just couldn't stand up to the fireworks on the plate. If you ask me, what we really needed were more beers and then a couple of nice tequilas.
We started by 'Hot Boxin It': chowing down on lotus, taro root and potato chips that had been sexed up by sprinkles of kaffir dried shrimp salt. The menu instructed us to eat them by the handful, and we did so.
'Tacos, Beachside'. Instead of using tortillas, we wrapped the contents in butter lettuce and sesame leaves (more commonly known here in Australia by their Japanese name, shiso). The taco contents: ahi poke (Hawaiian style cubed yellowfin tuna sashimi) topped with home fried shallots, red silky tofu and salsa verde. Fresh and tangy and freaking brilliant, possibly my favourite dish of the night (that or the pork).
Next were the 'Parking Lot Prawns' which were char-grilled and served on top of two salsas: avocado smash and grapefruit pico de gallo (the chunky one) and salsa roja (the smooth roasted red one). The whole thing was topped with fried garlic shavings and cilantro leaves. A brilliant combination of spicy, sweet, sour and smoky flavours with a satisfying crunch from the crispy prawn legs.
For the next dish, 'Notorious: Juicy' maybe it's best if I just let the menu do the talking as I couldn't put it better myself: 'slab of fatty, spicy pork takes a low dip in some salted baby shrimp vinaigrette and chive kimchi'. Not a dish for the faint-hearted: the vinaigrette was super salty and the pork was fatty as promised. But oh wow we loved it - particularly the sharp chive kimchi, which lifted the whole dish. In what was possibly a foolish move, Matt had thirds (forgetting we had another two meat courses to go) - that's how good it was.
For the '2Pac Chops', the menu promised 'a little sun-soaked California love rubbed into our kalbi-marinated lamb chops'. More salsa verde and this time a pickled pear gremolata. I'd invited the lovely Jackie along as my dining companion and I must say, one of the many benefits of dining with her is that she will always provide impeccable silver service as each share plate arrives at the table. This night was no exception!
On my way past the kitchen I did a Scooby Doo double take at the BRONTOSAURUS steaks waiting to be served.
The dish was called 'OG Status': gigantic 'straight-up, bone-in, aged and chilli salted prime rib' that had been roasted and grilled, then served with a lemongrass crème fraîche and rice. I didn't enjoy this dish as much as the others - the cheesy, creamy coating smeared on the meat reminded me of an Aussie pub parma. By this stage we could only manage a few small pieces - one poor prime rib sat untouched on our table of ten.
For dessert we had the 'Gracias Sujunggwa', described as 'cold, summertime persimmon cinnamon ginger tea with lychee sorbet, pine nuts, berries, berries and torn mint to cap off a hot day'. Nice and simple, and the lychee and tannins cut through all that rich meat we'd consumed.
After the last course had been served, Gourmet Traveller features editor Pat Nourse said a few words, then ran a quick Q&A session with Roy 'Papi Chulo' Choi (who got his nickname due to the 'energy' he reputedly has with Latina women). Choi spoke briefly but passionately about Kogi's driving philosophy: affordability. The Kogi aim is to flip usual expectations and show that cheap food can also be really good food, and to sacrifice profitability for 'energy'. When quizzed about when we can expect to see a Kogi cookbook, Choi grinned that infectious grin of his and declared that he'd want to write a book like one of those choose your own adventure books or Harry Potter, where the recipes are intertwined with the story. Yes please, Papi. More please, Papi...
Alice, one of the Kogi gals, wrote a very cute blog post about their take on Melbourne here.