Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Taste of Melbourne 2011 - Is It Worth Going Next Year?

This year, I was again fortunate enough to score an invite to the Taste of Melbourne festival courtesy of Hot House Media. The festival was once again held in the amazingly beautiful Carlton Exhibition Building. I really love fine architecture and this building oozes character in spades.

With my invitation, I was given a free press pass (or should that be bloggers pass? or are bloggers press now?) which gave access to all areas, and 20 crowns, which equates to $20 worth of money to buy food. As with last year's Taste of Melbourne 2010 bloggers event, we were shown around a few different things. We started our tour with a look at the back kitchen area of Sarti. I'm so amazed at how small a space they get to work with and still pump out tens of thousands of dishes of food for everyone.

A taste session at Rekoderling enabled us to drink every flavour of their cider. Whilst I had liked their cider, I had initially described it as less cider-y than my favoured Bulmers cider. Finally, thanks to injerarufus from Twitter, I can clearly put my finger on what the ciders can best be described as, alcopop. They were sugary sweet and so easy to drink and you could hardly taste the alcohol. I personally don't mind the pear flavour but still love a more real tasting cider with that distinctive zing and tang.

A stop by the San Pellegrino Cafe enabled us to dine on some nice pizza and admire some beautiful photographs that people had submitted to their competition.

We did the Art of Sensology class again this year and made mojitos, my favourite cocktail of them all. My mojito turned out perfectly and I have been making them at home quite a lot.

A cheese tasting class was really good as we sampled cheese back to back and could taste the different textures and flavours. I personally loved the Double Brie the most, being luscious, silky smooth and with a good creamy taste.

A chat with one of the nation's most esteemed chefs in Jacques Reymond was an absolute pleasure. You could feel the passion, energy and hard work exude from him. He told me that you always have to work hard for anything you want and go out and grab it yourself. His parents instilled this work ethic in him in which he has passed onto his kids. He also stated that he was quite a hard task master in the kitchen and in fact his chefs call him "Rambo". That made me laugh, and Jacques himself laughed at it. But I'm sure if I was in the kitchen working with him, I would be deadly serious as you can just tell that Jacques is a man of action and not words. You don't succeed for so long by being soft and lazy.

Onto some food. Below is The European Pork Parcels and Sarti Slow Cooked Suckling Lamb. Both were nice but by no means exceptional.

Stokehouse Seared Scallops were again nice, but it was the Eton Mess, with Rhubarb, Violet & Rose Geranium that got my tastebuds tingling and wanting more. The addition of violet made this dish stunning. My pick of the dishes at this year's festival.

St Katherine's "KFC" Fried Chicken was highly recommended by Pat as the best fried chicken he has tasted. While it was good, I didn't think it was exceptional. Libertine and La Traiteur Cassoulet was cooked well but rather bland.

Other dishes that I tried were the Sarti Panna Cotta (good), Mahjong Black Peking Duck wraps (ok) and Millswyn Peanut Butter and Jelly parfait (not as good as I imagined going by the description).

So would I go back to Taste of Melbourne next year?

Yes if I got a free entry ticket. I felt this year's festival was not as good as last year's in terms of the quality of the food. By quality, I do not mean this year's food were badly cooked or not fresh. They simply did not have that "wow" factor. I think the Taste of Melbourne idea is a great one, but wonder if it works in reality. The problem with fine dining is that it takes time to prepare, in a proper fully functional kitchen. In the environment that the restaurants are given, I'm already amazed at what they can produced. However, it will always only be a poor imitation of what they are truly capable of. They can only do simple dishes that can be reheated quickly, in small portions that fit inside a cup or plastic bowl. There is not much room for creativity.

The pricing of the whole festival is also wrong, but is no one's fault. The entry fee of $30 is quite steep already, and that doesn't get you too much. You can attend the Gourmet Traveller's Taste Kitchen, Gourmet Traveller's Chef's Table, Nespresso session, De Detrich Cooking School, Jindi Cheese Class and Yarra Valley Regional Group Tasting Table, but the numbers for those are limited so you might not get in. Then to pay between $8-$12 for each small dish can be quite costly. I spent another $50 on top of the free crowns I got and that was because I'm quite a small eater. That's $100 already if you add my ticket price, 20 crowns. The cocktail class was another 10 crowns, making it $110 all up if I paid for everything. Again I don't blame the restaurants or the festival organisers. I'm sure the logistics of putting on those stalls cost far more than what they make from selling the food. However, the reality for the consumer is that, in my opinion anyway, it's better to spend $150 at any one of those restaurants and truly try out their food and dine in a relaxed enjoyable manner. The four hour sessions may seem long on paper, but when you're in queues constantly trying to buy food, it goes by quite quick.

The layout of the festival this year was truly awful. For me, the food stalls should all be in the most prominent position in the bottom area of the building. That's what people are mainly going for. Putting some food stalls upstairs severely restricted traffic flow as people crowded around the stalls to try and buy food. A simple, pay and get a ticket system should be used. Pay for your food, then step aside to a quieter area so you don't block traffic while waiting for your food. When your number is called, come and grab your food. Simple LED number displays (like at the deli section in a supermarket) would easily suffice.

The buying of crowns, while supposedly making it faster to buy things, is a good idea but should be taken one step further. Each restaurant should be able to issue crowns. So for example, you can rock up to a restaurant, buy one item that costs 12 crowns, give them $50 note and they can refund you 38 crowns. This means you don't have to go searching for a crown seller when you've run out and want to buy food. Surely the crowns have been devised to fasten up transactions by removing the exchange of small coins, but large notes exchange is really fast, especially if you get refunded crowns.

The placement of the VIP lounge this year was an absolute joke. If I had paid for the privilege of being in that VIP lounge (about $100 I think), I would have been livid. It was hidden in the furthest upstairs corner that you can find. It was so dark and sombre in there you would think it was a funeral. Unlike last year when it was in the bottom level smack bang in the centre, brightly lit with a band playing, chandeliers, comfy sofas to sit on, a throbbing bar and full of fun, this year it was dead in there. Even to get to the area, there was only one access point where you had to go completely around the top level. This took about 15 minutes as there were lots of people. Then even when you're at the front area, you needed to walk around the back to get in. If you wanted to buy food and bring it in, this exercise took about 30 minutes, plus you had to be a member of Cirque du Soleil as you needed to balance all the food, weave around hoards of people and carry the food up the stairs without spilling anything. Total F.A.I.L in my opinion. Put the lounge in the best areas downstairs smack bang next to the food stalls and the action. If I'm paying that much money to be in that VIP area, I want convenience and luxury combined.

Finally, to the food stalls. I guess once you go to too many festivals, you see the same stalls crop up time and time again and have sampled all their stuff so you already know what you like and where to buy it. It becomes a bit boring and I didn't really bother trying out too many things. Obviously, if the Taste festival is the only thing you go to each year, you'll love sampling all the food stalls goods.

So there is my impressions of this year's festival. The layout really lessened my enjoyment of it, but the food was also not as great as last year. As stated earlier, I would go next year if I had a free entry ticket, but else I would rather spend my money at one of the restaurants and have a fantastic meal rather than a standard meal. The idea itself of trying out fine food from many restaurants is great, but I'm not sure how it can be made to work. For me, I'd rather go to a festival like the Sydney Road Festival 2011 where there is no entry costs, there's a carnival atmosphere with live music all day and cheap delicious food that I can snack on all day.

Thanks to Hot House Media for inviting me to the festival.


  1. Hahahaha, alcopops! That's exactly what Rekorderlig is. Or for people like me (non beer-drinkers), something that semi looks like I'm drinking beer which impresses people xD hahaha. Either way, they don't taste alcoholic, or like cider, just like sugar. I agree that the Pear is probably the nicest. How good was all of that cheese! One of the girls I was with took the remaining cheese home in her bag LOL. And look at you with Jacques Reymond! :P Now I don't feel so bad for stalking the chefs ;) although I think Jacques is in a bit of a different league.

    I agree that the layout was pretty bad, and I don't have anything to compare it to as this was my first time at Taste! The restaurants upstairs were so inaccessible to the point where I completely avoided them after one visit. I have to disagree about the price, though. I don't think the entry fee is that bad if you make it worth your while (especially if you get the early-birds ticket in which you get 30 crowns thrown in), although in saying that, this really only counts for people who haven't tried any of the traders there before. I too found myself skipping a lot of the traders as I had either already tried their produce or was more interested in the restaurants. I'll be there again next year, but probably because it is still novel to me :P

  2. That's why i choose not to go. Not only timing is bad (clash with all my due dates) but as you have said, I rather spent it on a meal that i know will be nice than poking around randomly.

  3. Well Siad Thanh

    I agree 100% with all the issues you had with it. I will only be going next year if a fre ticket is provided.


  4. Bianca, a few people from the session I was at took the cheese home too. Waste not.

    I'm sure the festival will appeal to people, just not necessarily for me unless there are changes to some of the stalls and pricing.