Monday, April 01, 2013

Melbourne Food and Wine Festival 2013 - Cider, BBQ, High Tea, Fine Dining and an Italian Feast

For us food lovers, the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival (MFWF) is definitely the largest collective food festival on our yearly calendar. The festival has been reduced back to two weeks but there are still hundreds of events to go to, ranging from free events to very expensive events. The events are extremely varied in both content and location, spread across the whole of Melbourne and Victoria. This year, I was starting to look at some events that I wanted to go to, but as luck would have it, I got invited to a number of events as I happen to write a food blog. When I started my food blog nearly 7 years ago, I never imagined that I would get to attend events just because I happen to catalog what I eat. I'm so happy that food has become something that is popular amongst the general public such that I can experience things that even money can't buy sometimes.

Below is my summary of the events that I attended. All were very different and definitely all were enjoyable. Whilst I went for free at all the events, I've tried to assess the value for money aspect as part of my overall judgement of the event.

Napoleone Cider at Prahran Market

The first event on my MFWF calendar was a Napoleone Cider tasting event, with matching food from Trupp Cooking School held at the Prahran Market. I went to the event unsure what would happen as I couldn't even picture where the event would be held even in the Prahran Market. Hence I went in without any big expectations. The event turned out to be a great fun, informative and most definitely delicious.

As it turned out, a beautiful long table in the fruit & veg are was the setting for the event. Hay bale seats and rustic fruits, nuts and ales strewn across the table helped to give a comfy feel. We tried out four Napoleone ciders matched with food cooked by Walter Trupp. Here is the menu we had

-Apple Cider with Squash vichyssoise with hazelnut oil
-Pear Cider with Mould raclette on nutty sour dough
-Oak Cloudy Apple Cider with Berkshire pork belly with apple mash
-Methode Traditional Pear Cider with Brittany buckwheat pancakes with chestnut jam and cider honey

All the ciders were excellent and really tasted of fruit. I don't like ciders that are sickly sweet and taste more like alco-pop than a good cider. The apple and pear cider both had a good sharpness to them with just the right amount of sweetness. The taste was really clear and I tasted the fresh fruit. The Oak Cloudy Apple Cider had lots of complexity and the Traditional Pear Cider was more like a sparkling wine. It wasn't to everyone's liking but I really liked the fairly dry flavour.

On the food side, the dishes by Walter were all simple but brilliant. I was really surprised how good the squash vichyssoise was. So smooth and comforting and the hazelnuts worked so well in it. The raclette with pear chutney was again a great dish that matched the cider so well. You can't go wrong with pork belly so that was a good dish. Lastly the buckwheat pancakes were so good with the chestnut jam and honey. All the dishes had sweet elements that really highlighted the ciders, showing that you can match food with ciders.

I was so full by the end of this event after the ales and matching dishes. The setting was really nice amongst the fruit and veg stalls and the food and drinks excellent. The event was $25 and I would rate it as one of the best value for money event I've ever been to as part of the MFWF. I'd highly recommend this event if it comes back next year. Also, I definitely recommend trying some Napoleone ciders and going to Walter Trupp's cooking school.

My guest and I attended this event courtesy of Prahran Market.

BBQ Masterclass at BBQ Fest

The next event I attended was a BBQ Masterclass as part of the BBQ Fest. The event was on at 9am, super early for me. I hate mornings so I wasn't in the best mood getting there. I wasn't sure what was going to happen and was expecting a boring lecture on BBQ, which I already thought I knew about. How wrong I was to be. The event turned out to be very hands on, super informative and I got to eat some of the best BBQ meats I've ever had. My BBQ knowledge has increased greatly and I can't wait to put everything I learned into practice.

BBQ expert Chris Brown took us through the many facets of BBQ-ing. We learned many things, and at each step, of course we got to put our lessons into action and taste test what we made.

Here are some lessons that I learned:

-Brining is key. A salt solution of 1 tbsp of salt to 1 litre water is used to soak the meat overnight before BBQ-ing. The brine really keeps the meat so moist during cooking and works far better than a marinate, which doesn't work at all. In fact, if your marinate has sugar, the meat tends to burn. You can infuse flavours into the brine and it really seeps into the meat. If you then want more flavour on the skin, you brush on a marinate or rub in the last 10-15 minutes of cooking.

-A meat injector works really well to inject liquids deep into the meat so again the flavour seeps in.

-Knowing the temperature of the BBQ and the meat is essential. If you can control the temperature of your BBQ, and know the temperature of the inside of your meat, you will always get the perfect result and cook your meat exactly as you want it.

-To give flavour to the meat, you can either cook it on high heat at the start, or at the end. Both will give the meat a good caramelisation and great flavour.

-Learn to use the hood of your BBQ as it really helps to retain heat. Avoid opening the hood too often as you lose a lot of heat each time and increase the cooking time by about 10 minutes with each opening.

With all those lessons, we made chicken wings, pork fillet, chicken fillet, lamb racks, shoulder of lamb, chicken coconut curry, rib-eye steaks and grilled pineapple. The chicken wings were so moist and not like what I normally make. Even the pork and chicken fillets were fairly moist. The lamb racks were stunning and the 12 hour lamb shoulder was seriously amazing. The curry was really good and the steaks were cooked perfectly and so tender. Lastly, the pineapple covered in palm sugar and chili was super addictive.

As I mentioned, I learned so much from the event and ate so much delicious food. I was so full afterwards. This event was $200, and I would say it's borderline whether I would recommend it due to the cost. Normally the event runs for 6-8 hours instead of the 2 we had so you learn even more. If you really love BBQ-ing, then I think it's great value and a must. Your BBQ food will never be the same again. For everyone else, I'd say if you wanted to go for fun, it's worth it. If you want to go to get your "money's worth" in food, I'd suggest you skip it.

I attended this event courtesy of GRAM Magazine

Bursaria Fine Foods at Abbotsford Convent

The Bursaria Fine Foods event at Abbotsford Convent showcased both the catering abilities of Bursaria, and the lovely Abbotsford Convent. I've never been to the convent before and only wished I lived closer now. It's such a wonderful space with so much going on. If I was closer, I'd definitely go there a lot to eat at the many cafes, buy things from the bakery, and just lounge in the beautiful garden areas.

The event started with some sparkling wine and canapes in the convent courtyard. The beautiful sunny day was such a perfect backdrop to the canapes of salmon egg blinis, roast beef on toast and chicken liver parfait on toast. All the canapes were excellent and I may have eaten 3-4 of each.

The main meal started with a variety of bread. There were so many types but I found they tasted rather similar. Next up was the Warialda belted galloway beef with a gnocchi and asparagus. We were told to guess what cut the beef was and it would be revealed at the end of the meal. I never got to find out which cut it was as I had to leave a bit early. However, I found the beef a bit dry and hard to eat. It needed more of a sauce to go with it. The meal ended with a pannacotta with rose water and pistachio. People generally have mixed views about pannacotta. When they're too set, it tends to put a lot of people off. This one was just perfectly set and I loved it. The rose was light so tasted great with the pistachio.

This event cost $45 from memory and I think it's great value. The atmosphere was so good and I like the idea of the canapes and sparkling wine in the beautiful courtyard before the meal. One slight complaint would be that the event should give a more realistic estimate of the duration or else try to keep more to the time. It ran way over time and if you had another event right after, you'd be struggling to get to the next one.

I attended this event courtesy of Bursaria Fine Foods.

Jazz High Tea at Spiegeltent

I've driven past The Famous Spiegeltent a number of times and have wanted to attend an event. I was about to book an event when the pretty and generous Agnes happened to say that she got an invite, and could bring a guest. Such was her generosity, she took me (after I pleaded and begged endlessly).

So we turned up to the event to have high tea while listening to jazz music from the Janet Seidel Trio, Australia's first lady of jazz. The jazz component was really enjoyable as Janet and her trio doo wop and diddly dee their way through a variety of songs. The Spiegeltent itself is beautiful and the acoustics really nice. Surprisingly, it was well air-conditioned too and really comfortable too.

The high tea component of the jazz high tea were simple sandwiches, tarts and scones. The elements themselves were ok, nothing special. However, it was nice to be able to nibble on some food while watching Janet. The staff were also wonderful in constantly refilling water, tea and coffee.

Overall I had a great time and really enjoyed my first experience in The Famous Spiegeltent. I'll definitely go back to other events held there. I believe this event was $65, which I think is great value for a 90 minute set by Janet and her trio and some small nibbles. This was more focused on the experience rather than the food so don't go expecting an amazing high tea.

I attended this event courtesy of Agnes.

Celebrating the Savoury at Jacques Reymond

I've never been to Jacques Reymond *gasp*. Yes, how can I call myself a food lover and not been to one of Melbourne's most consistent high end restaurant. As usual, there's always some new restaurant opening and inevitably I find myself going to those. Also, as the price is quite high for a meal at Jacques, I always think I need a special occasion to go and never plan far enough ahead for it to work. Anyway, I'm so happy that I got invited to go to the Jacques Reymond "Celebrating the Savoury" meal, which showcased Dalwhinnie Wines and Clonakilla Wines.

The meal was five courses with matched wines from Dalwhinnie and Clonakilla for each course. After bread and some wonderful cheese gourges, the first course was the most amazing fish I've tasted. I had such high expectations for this meal and was expecting for it to not be met as I thought the meal may be old skool French food which can be too rich. However, the hapuka and ocean trout en croute instantly set me at ease. The flavours and textures was so amazing and made me love fish.

The next dishes of a seven hour braised lamb and a Western Plains pork with shiraz poached egg were also really good. I loved the lamb, so soft and paired so well with a goats cheese ravioli, pickled beetroot and a tamarind sauce. Jacques does use classical techniques but the flavours are definitely modern. The pork was similarly cooked perfectly and tasted great with the lentils and verjus. I'm not sure I like the shiraz poached egg though as it was quite a punch.

The next two dishes of hanger steak cooked two ways and a Peking duck confit were impeccable. The beef was so tender and flavoursome and matched wonderfully with so many flavours. The duck was tender and smooth but still had great flavour.

For desserts, we were served this amazing looking stone fruit dessert with meringue, almond soil and green tea popping ball. All the elements provided a different taste and texture and the stone fruits worked so well with the chocolate marquis. The only element I didn't really like was actually the beautiful looking merinuge. It was a bit undercooked so tasted quite eggy.

The wines served with each course were all really different and some really worked with the food while others tasted better by themselves. For me, while the Dalwhinnie wines were really good, it was the Clonakilla wines which really excited me. For me the clear standouts in terms of the wines were the 2005 Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier and as a special treat a Botrytis Semillion, which unfortunately is in such small supply it's not for sale. These two wines really made me go wow and I'd drink them again any day.

The whole event was really enjoyable. Both winemakers explained their wines that accompanied each course and talked about both the science but also the history behind their wines. It's so good to hear the story behind each wine and how they came to be. The food side was also excellent. I love every dish from Jacques as they were all cooked perfectly and had excellent interesting flavours. I'd go back for sure.

This event was $265, and whilst that is very expensive, I would recommend it if a similar event happens next year. It's not often you get to hear winemakers talk through their whole range of wines and get to sample the wines back to back for comparison. The food from Jacques is also stunning and would alone carry that price so it's almost like you get to try the wines for free. See how my logic works. I'm Asian so I'm good at maths you see. ;-)

I attended this event courtesy of Jacques Reymond restaurant.

Italian Feast at Heronswood Gardens

I've been to Heronswood Gardens a number of times and I absolutely love the place. It's got both a beautiful garden with views of the port, a nursery with loads of heirloom plants and also a beautiful cafe serving fresh food. Hence, I was delighted to be invited to the Italian Feast event held in the backyard of the house, where I've always looked on in envy at the infinity pool. The backyard is only open a few times a year for special events so it's not every day you can walk through it.

The event was an Italian feast where there would be lots of shared food. And shared food there was. The meal started with lots of ciabatta that we all took turns to tear a piece off and then eat with the most amazing home made prosciutto and salami. One of the salami was made from venison and I had never tasted before. It wasn't very gamey but did have a distinct flavours. Some home pickled vegetables and a bean puree made for great accompaniments.

The next courses were some simple marinated Flinders mussels and a bread salad. Of course I loved the mussels, but I also loved the bread salad. I can't believe it but I enjoyed not only the bread, but the heirloom tomatoes too. Who am I? They tasted so sweet and vibrant. I hate raw tomatoes but these were great.

For the mains, it was a Florentina Bistecca with salsa verde, pumpkin semolina gnocchi and roasted garden vegetables. Talk about simple food tasting good. The whole course was mind blowingly amazing. The pumpkin gnocchi was so soft and had such a rich flavour. The roasted vegetables were done perfectly. And the beef, oh wow wow wow. The Angus steaks were cooked over charcoal and it shows. The meat had the most amazing charcoal flavour and was so juicy, tender and flavoursome. One of the best steaks I've ever eaten.

Just when I thought the meal couldn't get any better, it finishes off with a baked pear, fresh figs, mascapone, pistachio crumble and honey. Oh man, this dish made my day. I love fresh figs and found that it works wonderfully with pistachio. The pear was poached beautifully and all elements came together so well. I'd happily eat this at any hatted restaurant.

That wrapped up a most amazing meal in the Heronswood Garden. The setting is fantastic and the food matched the view. The meal was matched with five wines from Crittenden Estate. Each wine helped to bring out more flavours in the food and I liked them. The event cost $110 but I think it's great value for an amazing experience. From the setting, to the food, to the atmosphere, it was a wonderful event and I would highly recommend it if it is on next year.

My guest and I attended this event courtesy of Heronswood Gardens.


  1. OMG so much eating! But JR looks like it has improved since I went a few years ago! Mmmmm so good!

    1. Jacques was so good. I'd definitely go back.

  2. Whoa epic post!

    - Hehehehe you didn't beg and plead *that* much... okay maybe a little!
    - Jacques Reymond! You lucky duck.
    - Heronswood sounds like it was amazing too. And those figs... mhmmm.

    1. Epic eating. Thanks for inviting me to Spiegeltent.

  3. that meringue looks amazing, too bad it was undercooked!

    1. Yeah it looked awesome. Wish it tasted perfect too.

  4. Delicious and mouth watering dishes.I really count myself as very foodie. These all are amazing. Thanks for sharing I will try them out definitely.