During March we enjoyed some wonderful meals at the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival, despite the difficulties finding out what’s on and when. This is one of the worst organised festivals in this town! The website is excruciating and there is little in the way of personal support for those, like me, who get lost in it. Enough complaining. Best meal we had was the Made In New Zealand dinner at IDES on 21 March. I didn’t know that there has been an earlier dinner with this theme held at another of our favourite restaurants, Etta in West Brunswick. Nor did I have any idea what to expect (due to the lack of information on the website). What we got was a wonderful menu crated by Peter Gunn the chef and owner of IDES who hails from New Zealand and twelve wines selected by a Master of Wine from New Zealand, Stephen Wong. Apparently Masters of Wine are few and far between; there are only 300 worldwide. He was terrific in describing the wines in great detail. And they were all terrific. As was the food. Here is the menu. The sesame sour dough roll was delicious and so was the Peanut Butter, which when it came smelt exactly like Kraft peanut butter, but tasted a whole lot better! Fantastic subtle flavour of peanut. The first course of Shallots with Scampit and Salmon Caviar was so pretty! And of course, quite delicious. As was the second course of Scampi tails in Kumara broth. Exceptionally flavoursome. I was not so keen on the King salmon in chorizo sauce which is unsurprising given I am not keen on chorizo. If you like that strong, smoky flavour you would like this dish. You can see the jar of peanut butter in that picture. Finally we had lamb rump with potato roasted in parsley. Beautifully cooked, rare lamb and the crispiest parsley coating on a baby potato. As always happens at this stage of the meal I forgot to take the picture before I hoed into it! I also only made it half way through, but it was delicious. We finished off with another exceptionally pretty dish; elderflower strawberries and hokey pokey. There were lovely strawberry shaped jellies on this plate. It tasted as good as it looked, providing a satisfying sweet and refreshing conclusion to our meal. All of the wine was good, with the first three being exceptional I thought. These were the Greywacke Wild Sauvignon Blanc, The Elder Pinot Gris and The Boneline Riesling. And so was the Carrick ‘The Death of Von Tempsky’ Riesling (worth getting for the name alone). Our Master of Wine was terrifically knowledgeable about all of the wines and the regions they came from; including all the variations in places that we have heard a lot about like Marlborough, Hawks Bay and Central Otago.

Next best meal was something titled The Lucky Country on the program which told you nothing about what to expect. I signed up because it was a joint event between Anchovy which we have heard a lot about but are yet to visit and The Grand, another restaurant in Richmond which we have yet to visit although I heard a lot about it when it first opened which is a while ago now. On arrival on Saturday 24 March we were told by the very friendly fellow from The Grand that the idea behind the meal was to celebrate the diverse Richmond community. He also told us that the chef at our local high class bistro Pinotta was formerly at The Grand. Here’s the menu. We were upstairs in a private dining room which would be great for a special occasion. Before sitting down we were served what was called a Stained G&T consisting of Dasher and Fisher Meadow Gin and Okar Amaro with an orange sliver. Delicious. And two finger foods – wallaby tartare, wattle seed lavaosh and a pumpkin tortelli with burnt butter amoretti and sage. Also delicious. I’m not really into herrings but this dish of Soused herring, sour cream, beetroot and watercress was delicious. Served cold. After each course the chefs came out to describe them and ask for feedback, which was really interesting. Gave the evening a very personal feel. Our next course was the most interesting and innovative. Kohlrabi dumpling, avgolemono, liquorice. It tasted nothing like I expected; light, delicate, delectable. Then there were two courses served on communal platters; a roasted sea bream served with a cucumber, fig and tomato salad. The other was braised goat with Ligurian olives, preserved lemon and baked buckwheat polenta. I’m not a lover of goat meat but this one was delicious. I don’t have a picture. It tasted much better than it looked! These were followed by two deserts. A fermented rice, pear and ginger granita of which I have no picture (getting late in the evening) and a lamington cake, rum and white chocolate ice-cream, raspberry, coconut moussse. A delicious conclusion to a great meal.
All of these courses were served with interesting and appropriate drinks about which we were very fully informed by another very knowledgeable wine person. She was terrific.Of most interest was a Toro Albala Fino Roma Bombilla NV which was a sherry that accompanied the soused herring. I’m not a sherry drinker at all. But this was perfect. It comes in a lightbulb shaped bottle. The company is trying to make sherry cool! We bought a couple. the other really interesting accompaniment was the Henriques & Henriques Finest Medium Dry 5 Year Old Madeira which came with our dessert. Fantastic. We bought that as well.

Our other meal was a lunch at the Flower Drum to launch Tony Tan’s Hong Kong – Food City cook book. This was the first event we had, on 17 March. Here’s the menu. And here is the first course, drunken abalone. Hard to stop abalone being rubbery. I liked this. It was served cold. Others at our table were not so keen. I loved this next dish which was cloud fungus and sliced pork belly in Sichuan sauce. All of the dishes are made from recipes from Tony’s book and the menu gives the page number! And this wanton soup was delicious. And so was this stewed beef brisket. Which I am keen to try at home. I don’t have a photo of the Bang Bang chicken which is the recipe Stephanie told us to start with. She launched Tony’s book and we spoke to her on the way out; thanking her for pleasurable experiences at her restaurants over the years and her continuing cooking advice thanks to her cookbook. We were given two copies of Tony’s cookbook one of which has gone to Patrick. He cheerfully signed both on our way out.

At all of these meals we have sat on communal tables with new people and on each occasion we have had a rollicking good time. Aided and abetted no doubt by good food and wine we have found our tablemates to be interesting and entertaining. Over the course of these events we discussed Brexit with an Englishman (he opposed but saw the motivations of supporters), the pleasures and perils of breadmaking with a baker, career transitions with a chef turned builder, the ins and outs of forensic chemistry, the challenges of paediatric nursing. It’s what makes the festival great. I have been asked to complete a survey about our experiences and am looking forward to explaining the organisational deficiencies, but mustn’t let them overshadow some really great experiences.


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