DIY Degustation – Taste of Sydney 2013
So after the awesomeness that was the Crave Sydney International Food Festival (related posts here, here, here, here, here, here, and here), I was mightily looking forward to the next great culinary sensation. Luckily for my taste buds, the 2013 Taste of Sydney festival was coming up not more than half a year later – 14-17th of March 2013!
I attended on Sunday during the allotted time of 12pm-5pm, but there were many other lunchtime/dinner sessions in the days prior. It’s my first time visiting this taste sensation, so it was all so very new to me, but boy, was it awesome.
Date Visited: 17/03/2013
Address: Centennial Park, Sydney
I won’t include a “go to dish” this time, since as you’ll soon see, it’s all about choice. For disclosure however, the wagyu beef brisket w/BBQ sauce and pickle dish, by Porteno won “Best In Taste” this year.
Let’s delve into this sensation.
So what is Taste of Sydney exactly? Well, the website would tell you a lot, but to summarise:
- Lots of restaurants, some very well-known, some not, set up stalls and serve a small menu (3-5 items) throughout the day. There may be an “icon” dish which is essentially a signature dish of the restaurant. First come, first serve. These aren’t your cheap places either – we’re talking hatted beats of the industry such as Claude’s, Longrain, Four In Hand, Sake Restaurant, etc.
- There are many other stalls, usually selling drinks (mostly beer/cider), and local produce (meat, veggies, condiments, juices, etc). In this respect, ToS is like a grocer’s market.
- Several larger stalls have talks on food/drink-related subjects. I only attended one about pasta making, more on that later.
- (Almost) everything purchased in the festival area is made with “crowns”. One crown = $1. You use a crown card which gets digitally charged with crowns when you buy them from crown banks, or people in pink shirts selling them. I don’t quite understand this system, but oh well, go with the flow.
- The food costs you, but there’s also an entry fee – $20. I guess this isn’t a cheap festival to run. I’ll be straight out – if you’re not particularly into food, or you’re not well off, this fest ain’t really for you. You’ll easily spend over $40 to eat till satisfaction point. I spent $70 and I felt I needed maybe $100 (or 100 crowns) worth to feel full. It’s a DIY degustation alright – all the portions are deliberately small to encourage variety and sampling. The mindset is right, the value is what you make of it.
There’s more to it, but the above summarises it. To summarise the summary – it’s where you can purchase lots food, hear about food, talk about food, and overall, spend lots of money
Sounds just like the event for me.
Our first stop is Claude’s. This two-hatted restaurant is famous for their French and occasionally Asian fusion. They shared a super large tent with Longrain and Muse Dining.
Before I start rattling off my opinions, it should be noted that the dishes served shouldn’t be taken as a 100% analogue of the food served at the restaurant’s own premises – factors like a different (e.g. less-featured) kitchen, or the weather (it was a cold and windy day) could affect the final quality of the presented dish. This is also why I’m not scoring the stalls, it’s only fair I think.
The first dish we tried is their slow braised pork cheek & black fungus roll. I was kind of underwhelmed by this dish – it was blandish and generally there’s not much flavour there. I think there are circumstances when pork can be eaten cold – say when it’s smoked or like ham, but cold pork belly doesn’t really taste like much. Overall, serving the bun with warm/hot ingredients would go a long way in improving its taste.
As for my preferred dish, the twice baked cheese soufflé – now that’s an icon dish alright. Amazingly rich and delicious. The outer layer was especially yum due to the crusting effect of the upper layer of cheese. The inside, while not as texturally incredible, is chock full of cheesy goodness. Think the cheese soufflé at Claire’s Kitchen.
Yep, I’ve discovered that I have a thing for cheese soufflés. The lady believes that due to the richness of the dish, it should be served with some bread. Can’t argue there – it is dying to be paired with something to water it down with, even if said “watering” is provided by dry carbohydrates…
Afterwards, we walk around a bit, taking in all the stalls and seeing what they have to offer. One particular stall had some yummy looking cupcakes which I was very tempted to try, but resisted *phew*.
In fact, seeing this got me hungry again (not that I was anywhere near full, having consumed half a cheese soufflé and half a slider) so we marched to two-hatted Argentinian restaurant Porteno next.
So we’re going for their awarded dish yeah? Yes, for their awarded dish. The BBQ wagyu beef brisket w/BBQ sauce & pickle is definitely worthy of accolade. It wasn’t my pick of the day, but it was definitely up there. The BBQ sauce isn’t your supermarket style sauce – there’s a smokiness and spiciness to it that ups it two notches, and is a great complement to the brisket itself. Speaking of this beef, it was a bit cold by the time it got plated to us which is very unfortunate. It retains its excellent texture though – very soft, and tears apart so easily, but not to the point where it’s mush.
Oh yeah, check out where they’re cooking their dishes – meet Jack the Ribber.
How AWESOME is the concept? And if that isn’t cool enough, check the below out.
Yeah that train opens up. Just awesome. Porteno, you’re crazy cool. I still need to visit the restaurant too.
After Porteno, we walked around a bit more to work that brisket off.
Just kidding, we made a straight beeline for our next stall – the stall by Maggie Beer – the “Australian Pears Restaurant”. Unfortunately, the nicest lady you’ll probably ever meet herself wasn’t there, but the food sure was. As you’d expect, it’s pear-themed and no, things did not go…pear-shaped. Yeah you’ve probably given up reading this blog now…
But if you keep reading, you’ll find out what we got at the Pear Restaurant stall.
Another slider? We must be nuts, but no – this was actually my (and the Lady’s) pick of the day. The roast pear & duck slider is a surprise in the most pleasant way possible. I haven’t had pear in my burgers before, but I suppose I should have seen it coming – what with Thai cuisine using fruits like pears, apples and papaya to make duck salad. It definitely works in a burger. There was a bit too much pear relative to the duck imo, but overall it was a very attractive package.
Okay now we decided to take a short break from nomming. We took rest under one of the many bar stalls which have ample seating. Well, ample seating right now as it was still before 1pm – very soon the place got PACKED. We soaked in the sun (kidding, the shade), and listened to the ambient music provided by many live bands around the festival grounds. Ahhhh, this is life. Sunday relaxation at its best.
After some chilling, we set off on our next taste sensation – Kitchen by Mike.
So I hear that the actual Kitchen by Mike has a very DIY-style way of making your brekky/brunch. I can’t wait to see what that’s like in action. Shortlisted!
There’s lots of buzz about what’s best to get here. Apparently it’s something as humble as a corn dog. We decided to go with the crowd’s flow.
It’s a pretty good corn dog, though nothing spectacular. The chilli sauce was completely um…what’s the opposite of spicy? Anyways I have a higher tolerance to chilli than most people so I didn’t even really taste it in the chilli sauce. The cornmeal batter was very nice – super oily, but that’s the idea of deep-fried batter. The sausage inside is aromatic and pretty much as good as a hot dog sausage is going to be. Overall an extremely guilty eat. Mike’s Pluto Pup - eating one a day definitely will bring the doctors home. No rhyme for you!
By now, we were feeling a bit thirsty. Water just wasn’t going to cut it any more, especially as we saw some rather interesting cocktails being made…
The cocktails were based on Cointreau triple sec liqueur, and though neither the Lady or I drink, we decided that splitting one small flask wouldn’t hurt. It process looks pretty cool, as does the result.
We got ourselves the strawberry mint cocktail. Gorgeously orange and just as refreshing. The alcohol taste wasn’t too strong – it was half a shot of Cointreau and between two people, it was pretty much nothing. For 8 crowns, it’s not too bad a price when you think about it.
Now, because there’s no rest for the foodies, we made our way to one-hatted restaurant Three Blue Ducks. Let’s keep this degustation rolling!
We got ourselves a salad. Can you believe that? A salad! Hah!
This is actually quite a nice salad. It’s reminiscent of Vietnamese salads, or alternatively, Thai salads with a lot less spiciness and tang. It’s quite saucy and can get a little thick at times, but never overloads you with flavour. I’d have actually preferred it with more flavour; that’s my bias towards Thai food right here. The ingredients were all pretty good though – as fresh as they can be. The duck was tender and stringy along the muscle fibres, made for a pleasant eating experience.
We walked around for a bit more after this and saw some pretty tasty things.
Not a smart idea for me to linger at this stall for too long, I can feel my weight gaining just looking at it.
Despite that, we still attended the last few minutes of a Bertolli kitchen talk.
So you cook the sauce WITH the pasta in the last few minutes. OHHHHH. No seriously, how many of you put the sauce onto the pasta after plating? Yeah….
Moving along from that, we walked past the Four In Hand stall which had the most amazing display:
How on Earth did I end up resisting the temptation to get the dish? Well, I guess I was beginning to fill up at the time and well, I could taste this with my eyes. Meat cooking on a spit/coals in the open always draws me – look at those magnificent specimens of pork. I could so do a homer simpson and just munch into it.
There’s also a huge pot of mussels cooking to the right – that’s another dish served at FIH.
We did end up getting food from FIH – our first dessert!
So recall that Four In Hand and 4Fourteen are sister restaurants. Dishes between the two are commonly served and this time, we get their ice cream! The White Chocolate Ice Cream Sandwich doesn’t look like an ICS, nor does it look like white chocolate. It doesn’t matter though – it’s delicious and that’s what matters. The ice cream itself is thick and rich, not too creamy. The honey nut crumble is reminiscent of Universal’s Gaytime Goes Nuts. That’s a great thing, by the way.
Okay, we’re reaching the end of our degustation tour at Taste of Sydney, but we’re not quite there yet! We still had crowns to use up and I sure ain’t giving them back. Onto Longrain!
If you recall, Longrain was right next to Claude’s, so it wasn’t too difficult to find. Actually, I’ve noticed Taste of Sydney had quite a good layout – we never had to look at the map for more than 10 seconds to figure out where we needed to go. Good work!
The tumeric chicken w/rice noodles takes out second place in my most preferred dish of the day. I love Thai food and this was fantastic. The tang of the chicken mince, the soft and slippery rice noodles, the spiciness. Ah it’s classic. Extra points for being quite well-seasoned – no blandness here at all. It’s no wonder the dish also won runner up to Best In Taste!
Okay, we’re nearly there. We had 6 crowns left and needed to spend them. What better way than a second dessert? Oh no we didn’t…
Guess which one we went to? Nope, it’s not actually Sake
It was Ananas Bar & Brasserie
They had a salted caramel eclair which sounds very fattening and thus is a must-buy. Boy were we right.
It was quite sweet as you would expect, and the salted caramel on the inside was ever so yum. The Lady reports that you wouldn’t want to eat much of this due to the massive amount of cream inside. It’s good to get for the novelty, but definitely not a staple dessert. If you don’t want a heart attack, it’s solid to follow this advice.
That does mean that it’s delicious to have – just not too often.
And that’s our 9-course degustation!
That’s it folks! It’s been a great first time for me, and I sure hope I’m able to make it to next year’s festival as well. Congrats to all the sponsors of Taste and the City of Sydney for organising. I can’t wait to see what’s on for next year.
I leave you with a picture of me being kind of ridiculous next to a black swan (Centennial Park is full of these birds). Nothing quite like working off all this food than pulling faces right?
As usual, feel free to leave a comment or three