Taste of Sydney, 2013 – Centennial Parklands, Sydney
Posted on March 16, 2013 by DL
Photos by DL, Words by WX
Every year, there is one event in Sydney that conjures up more excitement in me than any other. The annual Taste of Sydney 2013 is here again and DL and I could not wait to be part of the food-filled excitement exploding out of Centennial Park.
For those who are new to the scene, the annual Taste of Sydney weekend showcases a titillating array of some of Sydney’s top restaurants alongside local producers, chefs and winemakers. Every year the event attracts tens of thousands of foodies ranging from the casual glutton to the diehard gastronomical hedonists. Currency here in this world is known as “Crowns” ($1 = 1 Crown), which come in handy little debit cards which you can top up at various crown banks located in the venue. While most tents only accept crowns for food, there are places which will also accept cash. There is plenty of sampling, informative talks and drinking involved. Depending on which 4-hour session you attend, the experience may differ dramatically. Take a Friday night and you could find entertainment in the form of a bunch of businessmen in search of a somewhat intoxicating foodie experience. Take a Saturday afternoon session and you’ll mostly find lots of people filling up the grassy areas with picnic rugs, enabling the casual passer-by take a quick birds-eye evaluation of the afternoon’s pickings.
Before we began our journey, some ground rules were quickly agreed upon:
- No bags (except our camera bag – which was unavoidable, and note the singular). While it’s not quite a mosh pit at Taste of Sydney, it is a place filled with people holding plates of food and drinks weaving through narrow spaces. All you really need aside for your camera is your wallet, ticket, crowns card and phone. Stuff them in your jean pockets. Besides, there are plenty of goodies bags to be picked up inside.
- No desserts. The world of economy is built on the struggles between unlimited wants with limited resources. Stomach capacity is limited. Some things have to give.
- No cheese. See note above. A civil war broke out over this clause towards the end of the evening. Read on to find out more.
The line-up from year to year morphs with the changing trends in gastronomy. This year the restaurant line-up featured, amongst many others, the likes of Porteño, Claude’s, 4Fourteen and Three Blue Ducks. A shared “Destination Dining” tent featured Biota Dining during the Thursday and Friday sessions, Jonah’s on Saturday and Muse Dining on Sunday.
We attended the Friday evening session, and as soon as we burst through the entrance – crown cards, cameras and all – we rushed towards the Biota Dining tent located at the back of the site. On offer were a choice of Croquettes of Southern Crayfish with Paleta and Biota Garden Onions (10 crowns), Charred Local Spatchcock with Black Garlic Farro with Garden Sage and Bush Lemons (12 crowns) and Berry Sorbet Cone with Biota Garden Bronze Fennel with Wild Local Strawberries (6 crowns). DL and I shared a serve of the Spatchcock and Croquettes. The spatchcock came with a nice bit of welcomed char flavour, which worked incredibly well with the caramelized bush lemon on top. The farro served on the side was definitely a new experience – till then I’ve only ever read and wondered about them from reading 101 Cookbooks. Texturally it was similar to a mix of oats and barley, although slightly stickier.
The Croquettes were served piping hot. The golden casing was delectably crunchy, although the crayfish was somewhat lost in the centre.
Next up was a stint at the bar, where I may or may not have professed my undying love for Rekorderlig. I call it the “new-age alcopop” – those who grew up with Bacardi Breezers will get what I’m talking about. It’s a fizzy drink for those who want to be slightly sourced without having to pay twice the amount for a cocktail or the dangers of ending the night in a gutter somewhere. Here at the Rekorderlig tent it is buy 5 drinks and get a freebies bag. Needless to say, DL and I were a set of walking-talking Rekorderlig advertisement all evening.
Rekorderligs in tow, we slowly wandered over to The Woods. To the poor guy handing out Gourmet Traveller, I apologise for eyeballing you the first two times we walked passed you. I wanted a copy, but couldn’t work out whether they were free or VIP only. I eventually plucked up the courage to walk up and say hi and take a copy from you some time later in the evening. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. I may have done the same thing to the poor Dilmah lady.
Back at The Woods they were serving Ash-seasoned King Salmon with Native Sea Parsley Salad (6 crowns), Wood-roasted Chicken Radicchio with Preserved Lemon and Pine Nuts (10 crowns) and Chocolate Swiss Roll with Cherry and Native Mint Ice Cream (8 crowns). Their “icon dish” was a BBQ Western Australian Marron with Black Garlic Butter. Priced at a whopping 36 crowns, DL and I pondered over the probability of us saving enough crowns throughout the night to entertain a sample at the very end. The salmon was thorough enjoyable, tossed in a tangy dressing which cut through the fattiness. I like the mildness of the sea parsley, and it definitely helped give the dish an aromatic component.
We were somewhat confuzzled by the presentation of the wood-roasted chicken. Did they forget to put the chicken on our plate? In search for our missing chicken, we quickly stabbed through the first few pieces of radicchio which sent our palates into a headspin. Salt, vinegar, lots of it. It was strong, punchy and unforgiving. We soon found solace in the sweet pieces of melt-in-your-mouth chicken at the base of the bowl, finally making sense of the dish. Turns out, the chicken wasn’t missing, and the salad wasn’t too overdressed, it just needed either a plate to be served on, or a more thorough mixing if it were to be served in a bowl.
Next battleground was located at Four in Hand. The menu consisted of Spring Bay Mussels with Chorizo and Prosciutto Broth (10 crowns), Spit Roast Suckling Pig with Coleslaw and Hot Sauce (12 crowns), 4Fourteen White Chocolate Ice Cream Sandwich (6 crowns), and an “icon dish” of Crumbed Pig’s Tail with Apple and Ginger Salad (14 crowns). It was a battleground because of the four dishes on offer, we were opting for the 3 savouries (note: ground rules). Unfortunately, by the time we placed our order, the pig’s tails were out. Gluttony curbed and tails wagging slightly less excitedly, we settled for the remaining two.
The first thing to note about the mussels was their incredible size. We watched one of the chefs pour a fresh bag of these babies into the giant pan in absolute awe. These were big, SBW sized molluscs. And boy were they plump and juicy. They were not as sweet as many other varietals which I’ve tasted before, but they were quite satisfying to pick through. The flavours of the chorizo and prosciutto were somewhat lost in the briney stewing liquid – most likely a result of the large batch cooking process.
On the other hand, the spit roast suckling pig was quite delicious. The meat was incredibly tender and moist, and the coleslaw was creamy, sweet and soulful. The plate was an ode to unctuousness and could have done with a little bit of acid somewhere to give the palate a break. On the other hand the potatoes were nicely fluffy and exuded a smokiness which I utterly adored. I believe this is where I start demanding that all future potatoes to be served smoked.
Onwards we ventured down the left side of the site and arrived at the ArgyleXchange tent. The tent featured offerings from Saké Restaurant & Bar, Ananas Bar & Brasserie, and The Cut Bar & Grill. We were interested in the “icon dish” of the latter – The Sher F1 Standing Beef Rib, slow cooked for 4 hours (16 crowns). Sadly, this too, was sold out by the time we arrived. Instead we ordered the Braised Beef Short Rib with Anchovy Gremolata and Cauliflower Puree. The short rib was cooked beautifully and fell apart on our plate. For those who enjoy having a little texture remain in their protein, this was short ribs done falling apart, but not melt-in-your-mouth. The cauliflower puree was nicely silky, and the anchovy gremolata really gave it just enough kickass flavour.
After the meat it was time for a quick top up of our Rekorderligs. We backtracked a little to a nearby Rekorderlig stand and I switched up my usual Strawberry & Lime for Wild Berries and DL for an Apple. Bam! 4 stamps down, one more to go.
As we walked towards our next destination, Claude’s, we took a quick detour to take a squiz at the Tasmanian Pavilion. Here they were showcasing some of Tasmania’s finest, from the ubiquitous Huon Salmon, to the more distinctive finds such as whisky from The Nant distillery. We quickly shuffled through, dropping an ear into various producers talking about the myriad of products available whilst grabbing samples here and there. After finishing the loop, we headed back enroute towards Claude’s.
Menu at Claude’s consisted of a Slow Braised Pork Cheek and Black Fungus Relish Rolls (6 crowns), Confit Ocean Trough, Saltbush, Anchovy Dashi (12 crowns), Lemon Curd, Muscovado Crumb, Coffee Meringues (6 crowns) and their “icon dish” of Twice Baked Cheese Soufflé (22 crowns). As we lined up for Claude’s, a quick glance at my phone revealed that we had approximately one hour left, 66 crowns remaining and still one Rekorderlig away from the goodies bag. Rush of panic ensued and we quickly cracked the whip on ourselves. We ordered the trout, snapped a few quick shots, staked out a table, and quickly divvied up the salmon. DL scoffed part of his salmon down and suddenly perked up.
“Hey, I can eat this without chewing. It literally falls apart in my mouth.”
I stabbed my piece of the salmon.
“Crap, I can’t even pick it up. It’s so tender!”
A few more attempts and DL goes running for a knife. I tilted my fork sideways and quickly gave it one quick scoop. A quick lashing of the bright green puree and pop it goes into my mouth.
It’s been so long since I went to Tetsuya’s that I’ve forgotten how gastrorgasmic confiting a piece of trout could be. I tell myself over and over again that I needed to just finish the plate and move on to the next tent, but alas I was held back wanting to savour the flavours and textures just a moment longer. I could E.L. James this paragraph a little more but I think there comes a point…
Which brings me to Popolo, where we picked up a bowlful of Fregola allo Zafferano con Ragu di Maialino. Translated, it means a bowlful of Saffron Infused Toasted Fregola Pasta in a Suckling Pig Ragu. I chose this because I like 99% of all dishes containing the words saffron, pasta, suckling pig and ragu independently. Here at Popolo, they have combined all of these flavourbusters into one utterly, utterly hearty bowl. One bite of this and you would want to jump into your tracky-daks, put on an oversized hoodie and wrap yourself in a blankie in front of the TV. You have been forewarned.
After Popolo I sheepishly headed back towards the main Rekorderlig tent. At this point I’m almost bursting at the seams with this stuff, bouncing around the different tents like an Energiser bunny on steroids. The lady hands me my last Rekorderlig, a Mango-Raspberry one, stamps my little stamp card and hands me my goodies bag. Secretly I had been hoping for a red Rekorderlig picnic rug like the ones they were giving out at the Night Noodle Markets last year, but alas it was not meant to be. The goodies bag contained a bottle of Rekorderlig, a giant glass (presumably to drink your giant bottle of Rekorderlig in), and a bottle opener (presumably to open your giant Rekorderlig bottle with). I chuckled a little to myself, remembering a strange predicament I found myself in with a Rekorderlig bottle at a picnic many months ago, and then proceeded to head to the centre tents where DL picked up a bag of boutique coffee beans.
Now remember Clause No. 3?
If you asked those who went to Taste of Sydney what were the two items most frequently seen in people’s hands at the event, I’d take a stab and say that the most likely answers would be Dilmah bags and a pizza box. Seriously, it was raining Dilmah bags and pizza boxes everywhere.
So what’s with the pizza box?
Well, it was a pizza-shaped box, without the pizza. Instead, it was filled with utterly delectable treats from Salt Meats Cheese. These guys were a real success story on Friday evening because people were scattered all over the venue with their cured meats and cheeses in pizza boxes strewn all over tables, picnic rugs, parked on the side of tents, what have you. Being a cheese junkie, my heart crumbled a little watching others tuck away into their makeshift chacuterie plates. We had 22 crowns left in our pockets and a little under 30 minutes left until the end.
“Can we please get the cheese platter? It’s only 14 crowns. We’ll still have…..” *pause*
“You are seriously the worst accountant I know…”
We edged a little to the front of the line.
“You want the Awesome Platter don’t you?”
“It’s 24 crowns. Do you think they’ll accept $2 in coins? If they can then at least we can finish our crowns off this way.”
The lady in front of us overhears our bargaining and kindly informs us that they accept both crowns and cash.
“Okay fine. I want to try the meats.”
So we struck a deal and picked up our own little brown pizza box of heaven and went looking for a table where we could quietly tuck into the box and vegetate a little. The “Awesome Platter” contained Buffalo Mozzarella, Truffle & Fennel Salami, Bresaola, Spanish Jamon Serrano, Italian Grana Padano, Asiago, some olives, bread and dried muscatels. It was my first experience tasting Asiago, and both DL and I enjoyed it thoroughly. The salami was also a hit, as the distinctive truffle flavour was well infused within the salami and worked well with the flavours. I was instantly a fan of the produce in the box, and needless to say, would be willing to come back for more.
Overall, Taste of Sydney was once again a great success. It was filled with food, fun and plenty of learning opportunities to find out more about the food we eat, where they come from and the people who produce, make and sell you food. I wish I had more time to be able to sit down and enjoy a few of the talks held like I did last time we came, but there is only ever so many things you can do.
It’s economics, all over again.
Taste of Sydney
March 14-17, 2013