My stomach began to grumble when I realised a work trip to Melbourne, a city renowned for its great restaurants, coincided with foodie event Taste of Melbourne, touted as the world’s greatest restaurant festival. In a contained pretty-presented space in inner-city Albert Park, complete with white picket fences, some of Melbourne’s big restaurant offered tasting dishes each priced between $5 and $15. Not that you pay with money, you pay with a currency called Crowns. One Crown equals one dollar, and upon arrival, I loaded up a plastic card at the Crown booth. Each purchase was done via a scanning machine that deducted the cost from the total on the card which was a clever and easy way to manage the money side of the things: clever because it didn’t feel like I was spending real money, and easy because it was quick, no messing about with change or waiting around for EFTPOS machines to connect.
Taxi Dining, Movida, Mamasita, Longrain, Uncle, and Burch & Purchese were just some of the big-name restaurants present. However, Taste of Melbourne is much more than a few restaurant stands. Think proud producers offering free tastings, information, or just a friendly chat.
Nick Russo from Summer Snow Juice, named after the hail storm in the summer of 1998 that destroyed the orchard’s apples leaving a layer of what looked like snow in its wake, explained that his dad juiced the damaged apples after that storm, adding nothing else to the bottle. Nick offered tastings of his natural single variety apple juice and surprisingly, the granny smith apple juice was clean and crisp and not at all tart like I expected. The royal gala juice was gentle and naturally sweet, but not sickening-sweet. My favourite was the mixed apple and lemon juice because it was refreshing, sweet, and tangy.
A stall by newly opened Vietnamese eatery in St Kilda called Uncle was my first stop for a bowl of Pho Bo, or beef noodle soup ($6). Uncle’s chef and part owner is from Vietnam, and it showed in the authenticity of the dish. The thinly sliced beef started rare, moving to medium rare as the hot nourishing broth slowly cooked it. With every mouthful of the slippery flat rice noodles flavoured with the addition of coriander, basil, and onion transported me to back to Vietnam sitting in a bustling market one early morning in Ho Chi Minh City.
There was a whole pavilion dedicated to the delectable delights from Tasmania. The lamb rib from Flinders Island Meat fell off the bone because it had been slow cooked for 18 hours at 100 degrees, before it was glazed and barbequed (two ribs for $7). Tasmania is punching above its weight when it comes to producing fine single malt whisky, winning international awards over their Scottish counterparts. Peter Bignell from Belgrove Distillery enthusiastically explained his process for making single malt whisky before offering a taste of his white rye alcohol, which has to be barrelled and aged to become whisky.
Movida’s grilled lamb skewers smelled tempting, but the chorizo and pardon pepper sandwich ($8) looked too good to pass up. The sour dough bun was covered in a layer of white flour that irritatingly stuck to my face. The pardon pepper was whole and bitter and was offset by the spicy minced chorizo and creamy mayonnaise. Four bites and it over.
Celebrity chefs demonstrated techniques in the Canon Taste Kitchen, hands-on classes took place in the Lurpak Cookery School, food sustainability was talked about in the Country Kitchen, and for lovers of craft brews, there was an entire Beer Hall showcasing local and imported types as well as tasting classes lead by WA’s Sail and Anchor.
A must attend is the Plumm Wine Theatre. I booked into the Pinot Challenge event ($6), where under the guidance of wine expert and journalist Nick Stock, I tasted two Australian Pinots and two from New Zealand. My winner was New Zealand, the 2010 Pinto from Maria Villa Southern Clays winery was slightly peppery, smooth almost velvety, and the taste lingered on the roof of my mouth. Immediately afterwards, I visited the Villa Maria winery stand and bought myself a bottle to take home ($50).
Tickets to Taste of Melbourne are either for a four-hour lunch session or dinner session. The variety of demonstrations, food, wine, and spirits on offer was impressive, but what I loved most was hearing the passion in the voices of producers as they explained what I was about to taste.
This post was also published on Escape Lounge