Taste of Sydney, 2014
Clockwise from top left: Suckling pig on a spit from 4fourteen, Woodfired lamb from Porteño, Mussels in Apple Cider from 4fourteen, the most bad ass name card holder I've ever seen
Once a year, Sydney's top restaurants gather to offer tasting sizes of their most creative, iconic, popular dishes. Where gourmands and gluttons alike can gather and partake in all the hedonistic delights that culinary giants can offer. This is...
Of course, it would have helped if you read the previous paragraph in an epic, movie trailer voice.
Taste of Sydney happens at the beginning of fall every year, and I pretty much start saving up money from Christmas. Between the growing number of restaurants represented to the crazy cool offerings from food producers, I inevitably end up one full, but broke girl.
But man, is it a tasty road to a zero bank balance. The idea behind the Taste of Sydney is simple: Sydney's most popular restaurants each get stalls at one giant event, and offer tasting sizes of their most popular dishes. Some even create special dishes just for Taste. And because the portions are small, you also often get to sample these dishes at just a fraction of the price of what you would pay at the restaurant, not to mention the chance to try a little something across the huge variety of restaurants all in the one day.
You pay with Crowns, which is the currency of choice at the Taste of Sydney. Elegantly loaded onto spending cards, Crowns eliminate the need for different machines and having cash on hand, which to me makes for a smoother experience. One crown costs one dollar, so there's no crazy conversions that need to be made. These crowns are non-refundable, but it helps that the food producers also accept them, meaning that you don't have to worry about not spending everything that you put on your card.
So, now that we know how it works, on to the food!!
The first stop, 4fourteen/Four in Hand. I'd been to 4fourteen previously for Valentine's, and the experience there left me absolutely excited to see what they have to offer. We got the Warmed Corned Beef with Bresaola, Buffalo Curd and Nashi Pear, 20 Crowns. This dish was a comforting amalgamation of beef on beef deliciousness. A moist, tender chunk of corned beef was sandwiched between two thin slices of juicy apple-like nashi pear, before being laid on top of a yoghurt-like buffalo curd and covered with wafer thin slices of salty, air dried beef that is bresaola. Every bite was melt-in-your-mouth scrumptious, with the creamy buffalo curd providing just enough tanginess to stop me from crawling under a warm blanket and descending straight into a food coma. A fantastic dish to start off the day, 4fourteen proves that they are as consistent in their vision as they are with their execution.
Next stop, Longrain. I do love it when seafood and other meat come together to make a delicious marriage, so the obvious choice for me was the Dry Red Curry with Cloudy Bay Clams, ginger, holy basil and pork crackling, 26 Crowns. To be honest, I did baulk at the $26 price tag, but when the dish came out I understood why. The portion was much larger than I had anticipated, and I've never been more glad to have someone to share it with. Spicy both in the sense that it had the heat of chillies and was full of, well, spices, this curry hit me like a two tonne flavour truck that is hallmark of good Southeast Asian cooking. The pork crackling was a great foil for the texture of the clams, but I just couldn't bring myself to finish the portion on a 31C afternoon. If only we had met under different circumstances.
I cannot pass by an item like Efendy's Panfried Lamb's Testicles with Almond Tarator and Isot Chilli, 10 Crowns, so the decision was once again a clear one. I haven't had lamb's testicles before, so I'm not sure what I was expecting exactly, but I'm pretty sure that the burger patty-like texture wasn't quite it. It wasn't the most morish of dishes, but the pickled Isot chilli definitely helped things along. Not my favourite of the day since I wasn't particularly keen on any of the elements, and makes me wonder whether I should have gone of the kebab instead.
Porteño had me tossing up between the Woodfired Lamb with Potato Salad and Chimmichurri, 20 Crowns, and the Charcoal Grilled Lamb Rib, with Marinated Eggplant, Anchovy and Rosemary Pound, 12 Crowns. In the end we went for the lamb rib because how can we say no to luscious, fatty meat on the bone??? The rib itself was smoky, unctuous and delicious, but the eggplants weren't quite as big a hit. I could see the intention of the eggplant - it provided a much-needed acidity to cut through the fattiness of the lamb rib - but it didn't quite hit the spot as I suspected it was meant to.
I was really looking forward to Jonah's Fruit de Mer, 40 Crowns. Literally translated as 'fruit of the sea', Fruit de Mer refers to seafood that is plucked at its peak, like ripe fruit from a tree. Unfortunately, a lady with a big roll of masking tape was approaching the menu as I was approaching the restaurant, which could only mean one thing: they were sold out. This disappointing conclusion was confirmed when I tried to place my order and a look of sympathy crossed the nice lady's face. She consoled me by asking if I would rather the Confit Huon Salmon with Wasabi, Radish and a Soy and Ginger Dressing, 10 Crowns, so we ended up going down that route instead.
The salmon was nicely cooked, as you expect confit anything to be, but lacked a bit of oomph. Some might say that we were meant to appreciate the light delicate flavour of the salmon itself, but it was just a touch too light and delicate for me. It was delicious salmon though, as Huon salmon is wont to be, but not quite the feast from the sea that I was hoping for.
Chur Burger - one of the more wickedly cool burger joints in Sydney - had plenty to offer, and we went for two of their burgers: the Kinkawooka Mussel Fritter with Spiced Remoulade and Dill Pickled Cucumber, 6 Crowns, and the Wagyu Rossini with Shaved Foie Gras, Truffle and Madeira Jus, 18 Crowns. The master of all things sandwiched between buttery brioche buns, Chur burger did not disappoint.
The mussel fritters were quite delicious and moreish on their own, and were just slightly overpowered by the richness of the other ingredients. Personally, I enjoyed it much more after I took the top bun off - I have a thing about bun to filling ratios when I eat a burger - but each element was delicious and balanced on its own, as well as with the other bits that made up the burger.
The Wagyu burger was an absolute powerhouse of flavour with a creamy truffle sauce and rich burger patty, and once again, the lady-like sizes of the burgers completely belied their ability to fill you up. These satisfying and rich burgers hammered in that final-nail-in-the-full-belly-coffin, and the only thing that kept it from absolute perfection was that the beef patty was slightly more medium-well-done than medium rare, making it a touch drier than what I know they can produce.
I still think that creamy truffle sauce deserves to be on the regular menu, though.
As close as we were to calling it a day and rolling ourselves on home, I still insisted that we had to stop by IconPark and sample their range of eateries.
IconPark is basically like the Kickstarter of food - instead of restaurant founders having to talk to some administration person at a bank to try and get funding for their big dream, the power is put into the hands of the eaters, and you get to choose which concept you'd like to support by making a donation of your choosing. It's a win-win for everyone, you get to help out the concept you believe in the most, and allow small establishments that might not have made it, a shot at the food scene.
We only had space for one dish - I wanted to try them all, but I'm not sure that death by overeating would've been the most glamourous way to go - and we ended up with Sedgewick Ave's De-boned Free Range Chicken Wings, with Grilled Watermelon and Light Blue Cheese Sauce, 10 Crowns. Crispy spiced pieces of chicken wings were covered in a creamy sauce, and grilling brought out a different, addictive texture to the sweet watermelon. It wasn't overly moreish for me - I'm sure due to the fact that I was already stuffed to the brim - but it was good enough that I wish I left room to try some of the others, like I had planned.
As usual, we leave the Taste of Sydney thoroughly satisfied and filled to the absolute brim with good food. And if the abundance of fabulous restaurant dishes didn't get to me, I'm sure that the free samples at the many food producers tipped me over the edge and straight into a food coma...