Friday, April 16, 2010

Taste of Sydney 2010, Centennial Park

Coming back from overseas and jumping straight into full time work and part time uni doesn’t leave me much time to be browsing newspapers and flicking through magazines to actually know what events are coming up. What I rely on are friends and family or the occasional blog to keep me ‘in the know’ and this time, thanks to Betty from Betty Bites I stumbled upon something I should’ve known about ages ago – Taste of Sydney.

Armed with a set of tickets and a minimal amount of crowns (currency for this event), WX and I set foot (albeit a bit late) into the grounds of what I like to call Premium Foodie Heaven. Just to be specific, by minimal, I meant that we had $30 worth of crowns to share…to put things into perspective, we ended up spending about an additional $70 each on crowns during our 3.5 hour stay!

As with any event remotely associated to the word ‘food’, there is bound to be some sort of free promotional item including a Gourmet Traveller magazine and Ferrero Rondnoirs within our first five minutes there.

Our first stop, even though our stomachs were grumbling quite loudly, was the first session of the Australian Gourmet Traveller Taste Kitchen featuring Giovanni Pilu from Pilu at Freshwater who showed us the way he made Risotto with Crystal Bay Prawns and Zucchini.

I’m not much of a cook myself (that’s WX’s department) but just watching the digital screen showing us the detailed process was enough to make me salivate. Did I mention it was already 1pm and we’d opted to watch this session before satisfying our stomachs? For someone who only needs to cook to survive and has never really tried to make anything elaborate by himself, it was interesting to hear from Giovanni that soup stock should always be made rather than purchased. Apparently the different types of soup stocks that you can purchase are, in fact, taste and smell exactly the same! Or maybe I’m just a noob =)

After that half hour session (where we weren’t able to try the dish!) we finally made our way through to the food stalls. It was the beginning of a journey…one which would leave my jeans constricting my waist…

First up, was the Miso glazed Marlborough King Salmon with Japanese radish salad from Assiette. It was the first dish we tried and probably the most satisfying of the lot. No, we weren't paid to write this review but seriously, by the end of it, both WX and I were envious at Assiette's mastery of cooking the salmon just enough to leave the flesh tender and flavoursome. I can tell you now that this taste test has definitely placed Assiette on the cards for a visit soon!

Miso Glazed Marlborough King Salmon with Japanese Radish Salad

Saddle of Suckling Pig with Garden Peas and Smoked Bacon Jus from Restaurant Balzac was next. I'm a big fan of suckling pig normally, with a particular emphasis on the skin. I'm a fairly health conscious person and avoid food items which may place me in my coffin any earlier than necessary but this is a dish which I would never pass up. Unfortunately, what I looked forward to the most was quite disappointing. Perhaps it was the preparation method and the logistics behind producing the dish quickly for this sort of event, but the skin was a big letdown - tough and soggy. We saw that subsequent dishes actually had the skin removed so I'd say it was a logistics issue.

Saddle of Suckling Pig with Garden Peas and Smoked Bacon Jus

Slow Roasted Moran Lamb Spit Roast from ARIA

12 Hour Slow cooked Lamb Shoulder; Minted Crushed Peas and Feta Dressing from Four in Hand

The words 'slow', 'roasted' and 'lamb' had me salivating. Being followed by 'slow', 'cooked' and 'lamb' only made matters worse! Let me just say that I was lucky that WX is a girl and she only has limited stomach capacity!
Paella a la Maestre from El Toro Loco

We never ended up trying this but for the sake of satisfying our readers' visual hunger, we decided to take a photo of this Paella from El Toro Loco. It was truly an amazing sight but when you come to something like the Taste Festival, you really need to pick and choose what you want to eat. Instead, we picked the Vanilla Stone Fruit and Sangria alternative to quench our thirst and provide a bit of sweet relief. It was only after I skulled the remaining Sangria did I remember I still had to drive and I wasn't on my full licence! The stone fruit was juicy and not too sweet and made me feel like I was making a good attempt at being healthy!

Grilled Vanilla Stone Fruit with Sangria from El Toro Loco

Attempts at being healthy certainly didn't last long. Just imagining the chocolate oozing out of a fondant was enough to make me fall in love with the next dessert we chose. Overall the Warm Chocolate Fondant with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream from Restaurant Balzac wasn't too sweet and having a spoonful of the cold ice-cream with a spoonful of warm chocolate fondant placed me in the highest levels of tastebud heaven! I didn't appreciate the Zippulas nearly as much unfortunately. I would liken it to the 'Sar Yung' Chinese Sugared donuts that you can order at Yum Cha. Delicious but I'm not a big fan of citrus flavours.

Warm Chocolate Fondant with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream from Restaurant Balzac

Zippulas - Sardinian Donuts with Citrus Sugar from Pilu at Freshwater

After our small splurge on desserts we managed to get back on track and finally tried the risotto from Pilu at Freshwater. It was was as good as it looked - the consistency of the risotto wasn't too runny or thick and the flavours of the prawns and zucchini ran right through each mouthful. Shame that it was just a tasting plate - I wouldn't mind having it for lunch every once in a while.

Risotto with Crystak Bay Prawns and Zucchini from Pilu at Freshwater

Yellow Fin Tuna with Sweet Pork Crackling and Ruby Grape Fruit from Flying Fish

First words: beautiful presentation. Second words: delicious. I've always imagined tuna to be quite a hard dish to cook but this was done really well. The tuna was fresh and just melted in my mouth with the sweetness of the ruby grape fruit. WX decided not to try the pork crackling so I got to devour the whole thing - oh yummmmy!

Slow Cooked Lamb Rump, Confit Capsicum, Eggplant Caviar and Black Olive Oil from Marque

Lamb - again? Well you can never have enough of lamb though I did feel it was a bit overcooked. I did however, like the flavour combination of confit capsicum and eggplant caviar.

Tiramisu Roulade - chocolate sponge rolled around a Paesanella Mascarpone and Marsala Sabayon from Bird Cow Fish

Ultimately, my biggest soft spot is for desserts, especially the chocolate-y kind, so to finish off our eating endeavours for the day before Taste Kitchen presentation, we tried the tiramisu. The alcohol in this tiramisu wasn't as overpowering as many that I've tried before giving a good balance of lovely chocolate aroma. It was the perfect way to end my eating escapades that day!

Finally, we made it back to the seating area to await the start of the final Taste Kitchen demonstration for the day by Peter Kuruvita of Flying Fish.

He was an extremely charismatic chef and definitely kept me entertained for the entire session. I was also grateful that he was willing to bend the rules to serve us the golden brown potato chips he cooked up right in front of us!

Everything that he made looked absolutely amazing and the day I decide to get off my lazy ass and learn how to cook properly, I aim to make a crab dish the way Peter does - it's like a work of art! The aroma of it was extremely tempting too - shame he wasn't willing to share that with us!

Taste of Sydney was definitely a great day for my stomach and my tastebuds. My wallet would probably disagree wholeheartedly but overall, it was a really good opportunity to taste the food from such a large array of fine restaurants. What do we do from here? We save lots and lots of money so we can satisfy our stomachs some more - this time, it's not going to be tasting portion size!