Sunday, November 18, 2012

Taste Of Melbourne 2012 - Rejuvenated And Lots Of Fun

Sometimes, things get a bit stale and boring and need a change to help rejuvenate it. From my blog post about Taste of Melbourne 2011, I had identified a number of things that I didn't like and was feeling far from excited about the next year's festival. Luckily, the Taste of Melbourne organisers also decided a few things needed to be changed to improve it. They made the big move to turn the previously indoor festival into an outdoor one, with the festival being held at Albert Park this year. That decision carries with it a lot of risk, but I happy to say it paid off. I really liked this year's festival and had lots of fun and a huge part of that was having it outdoors.

I was invited to attend a Thursday blogger's session by Hot House Media where we were shown around a few restaurant stalls and attend a few different classes. I also went back again on Friday with my friends courtesy of free entry tickets I got. From the two days I attended, as well as the preview session at The Point, I got to try probably 60% of the restaurant food. I must say that this year's offerings were far more exciting than last years. I think the food items were simpler and had more variety to cater to all tastes.

The festival moving outdoors carried with it the big risk of the unpredictable Melbourne weather. Fortunately, besides a few short showers, it was pretty much sunshine for the 4 days. That's not to say that the nights weren't cold, as a jacket was definitely needed. A few areas had heat lamps but otherwise it was an open outdoor event and affected by the elements. I hate to think what it would have been like if it had rain hard as there were minimal coverage at each stall and only a few larger covered areas, usually belonging to various stallholders. For next year, they might need to have some communal covered areas, even if to shield from the sun as I know a few people got sunburnt during the day and ended up a bit like Rhonda.

The simple four row layout of the outdoor event was a real plus. It made finding things super easy for the directionally challenged like me. The rows were also very wide so there were very few congestion problems. Probably the only slight congestion was near the Mamasita/The Aylesbury area were there were huge queues. There were also huge queues at Movida but since there was a lot of space there, that didn't cause a problem. Luckily, while the path around Mamasita was blocked up, you could easily cut across to the next row and still walk past. This was not possible last year and was a cause of one of my biggest frustrations. I would say I easily wasted 50% of the time trying to maneuver myself to the restaurant stalls to buy food. And 4 hours passes by really fast. Maybe for next year, they can move the popular stalls to near the corners to avoid passageway congestion.

This year, the VIP lounge was sponsored by Laurent-Perrier. While it was beautiful inside, once again I think it was badly positioned. It sat in the furthermost corner of the event, near the toilets no less, and hence very few people were inclined to stay there and there was no atmosphere at all. It was a sad and lonely place rather than the exclusive place that everyone would want to be at. Let's face it, part of the VIP experience is to be seen, such that others will envy you. The place to put the lounge would be either where the Rekoderlig bar (who by the way have this new orange and ginger cider which is super refreshing) or San Pellegrino tent were. From there, you can easily walk to everything and be seen by everyone around the restaurant stalls. All eyes would be on the VIP lounge and wishing they were there too. It's just simple human behaviour at work. I bet you then that VIP ticket would be the most sought after thing.

One ticket that was sought after was the Sensology - The Art of Cocktail Making classes. It cost $10 (I was invited and got to do the classes for free) to attend the class. From the class, you learn to make one specific cocktail, which you then get to drink. It was the same price as buying the cocktail alone, so I'm sure you can work out what everyone wanted to do. Tickets were snapped up really fast. The classes were heaps of fun. Let's face it, who doesn't like mixing up a cocktail and shaking it like you're Tom Cruise from the movie Cocktail. From the two classes, I learned to make a Mojito and a Whisky Sour. Both were really easy to make and I'm definitely making them at home. I can't believe how many variants of drinks you can make from a few simple spirits. By the way, can anyone tell me which famous/popular/influential/pretty blogger whose back is in the centre of the photo below?

Lastly, we get onto the restaurant food and the food product stalls. For the food stalls, I won't say too much as they're similar food stalls that travel around the various festivals. There is a huge assortment of stuff and I'm sure there is something that will take your interest. The various wine and beer stalls were really interesting and I tried a lot of exciting new wines and beers that I hadn't had before, which I will now seek out.

As for the restaurants, as I said before, I really liked this year's offering. I won't discuss every dish as they were mostly very good. Instead I'll just highlight a few I really loved. Below you see can see DAT ASS, DAT ASS. What a beautiful sight a whole suckling pig on a spit is. The Point Albert Park did a great job with their suckling pig and it was a great dish.

The highlight dish of the event for me would be the Dorper Lamb Ribs, Pea and Mint from The Aylesbury. Super tender flavoursome ribs melted off the bone, and at $6 was one of the cheapest items at the festival as well.

The Beetroot Cured Salmon, Vanilla and Lime Pickled Cucumber, Horseradish Cream from Livingroom was another excellent dish. The salmon was super tasty and combined perfectly with the accompaniments.

Lastly on the dessert front, this Summer Berry Eton Mess from Mr Hive Kitchen and Bar was simple perfection. It was light, fresh, sweet and just perfect for this time of year.

Of course, with all the top chefs floating about the festival, I had to get a shot with at least one of them, and who better than the amazing Frank Camorra.

So let me wrap up with post with some final views. While nearly everyone that I've followed on Twitter and Instagram looked to have liked and loved the food, myself included, the biggest complaint has been the cost. I have made the same complaints about the cost, one example being the delicious, but tiny piece of pork I got from Taxi. As I wrote last year, I can see why the restaurants need to price the items as such. I'm sure they're probably not even making a profit. The problem with all of us is that we tend to compare these items to their cheaper counterparts at other food festivals. The problem is we forget that these restaurants are using quality ingredients, and the chefs would normally be at work in the restaurants so in a sense the consumer needs to subsidise their cost as other chefs would be needed back at the restaurant to serve the normal diners.

Having thought about it for a while, I've come to this conclusion. Yes, with the money that I spent at the festival (and I got in for free even), I could have easily eaten at a good restaurant, but would I have had the same experience? I would say no. I wouldn't be able to say that I've tried the Mamasita corn, or The Point suckling pig, or The Aylesbury lamb ribs. All the restaurants worked together to produce a different experience. The food is not as good as what each restaurant would normally do as they are lacking the right equipment, but it's still very good food and you still have a great time. Melbourne doesn't have many food festivals where most of the state's top restaurants come together for one big event. Even with the Melbourne Food and Wine festival, the festival is split over many events. So, with the change in the setting to an outdoor event, I felt really relaxed and there was a real carnival atmosphere such that I really enjoyed myself. So despite the high costs, I would say it gave an experience that I couldn't get dining at just one restaurant. It's not solely about the food anymore, but the sum of the parts and the overall experience, which was a lot of fun.

So I conclude this post by hoping you had a good time at Taste of Melbourne if you went. If you didn't like some aspects, why not email the website like I did last year. You never know what opinions they may take to improve next year's event. If you didn't go this year, I hope you will try it out next year. I'm looking forward to going to next year's Taste of Melbourne festival and hopefully I'll see you there.

I attended a Thursday blogger session courtesy of Hot House Media and Taste of Melbourne and received free tickets for Friday's session.


  1. Thanh, I've never met you IRL, but I reckon that picture of you with Frank Camorra just encapsulates everything about you that I've read in your blog posts for years. Love it!

    I like ToM (didn't go this year but have in the past), but my biggest issue is the bloody Crown system. Just let us pay with cash! Or refund the inevitable leftovers.

  2. Great roundup of the event. I got a bit tired of seeing the same food pictures all over Twitter and Instagram, and found it really interesting to read your thoughts regarding price, setting, layout etc. I think you drew a good picture of what it would have been like at the festival.

  3. I really enjoyed Taste of Melbourne this year. It's an excellent event for people like Hubby and I who are very time-poor to eat out at night as babysitting is required. This way we get to try so many cool dishes from so many different restaurants all at once! The kids loved it, but we're really glad we brought along jackets for everyone 'cos it got soooooo cold in the evening! Crazy Melbourne weather!

  4. This is this first foodie festival I've ever been to, and I also got in for free which brought the cost down quite a bit, but I was happy to be able to try new things from restaurants I would have never known otherwise, so it was well worth it for me personally. My fiance loved the lamb ribs, and I loved the Yuzu Cloud dessert I ate at the Botanical. Great round up, Thanh.

  5. Jackie, thank you so much. I'm just a food lover. The crown issue is a bit annoying. They really should refund the unused crowns.

    Sarah, thank you. I wanted to concentrate more on the festival as a whole compared to commenting of every food item.

    W, it was way more fun this year. I can see how being able to try lots of different dishes is something useful for people without a lot of time. It was indeed super cold at night. Crazy Melbourne weather indeed.

    Emma, it was a fun food festival and I'm glad you enjoyed it. Thanks.

  6. Love your honesty about event. I am the same, I don't get excited by the Taste of Events either.

    Love that shot of that DAT ASS!!! too funny