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The weather gods looked benevolently on Melbourne on the weekend as people celebrated food and wine as part of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival.

Rather than bombarding you with a load of posts at once, here’s a potted summary of my HOTs and NOTs over a packed weekend of wining and dining. Some of these events I was invited to, some of them I went off my own bat. If you didn’t have a chance to get to these events some of them may be repeated at a future date and some of them are held in locations that are open year round and host a calendar of foodie events.

HOT: Market of Eden, Prahran Market

Cider, particularly as a summer drink, is starting to gain a foothold in Australia’s bars and pubs as a substitute for beer – but I c0nfess I don’t know much about it other than the fact I very much enjoyed my first plastic cup of pear cider at Glastonbury Festival eons ago.SONY DSC

So I was curious about how you could match cider with food – I guess why not given that you can match wine with food and beer with food? On the weekend at Prahran Market they set up the ‘Market of Eden’, a hay-strewn long table in the middle of the fruit and veg hall where you sat on (rather itchy) bales of hay to sip four diffreent apple and pear ciders creations from Napoleone and Co paired with four French tasting plates designed by chef Walter Trupp using market produce.

Opening Weekend, Melbourne Food and Wine Festival 2013

In terms of drink, as expected I enjoyed Napoleone’s Regular Pear Cider the most as it was probably the sweetest of all the varieties we tried. The cider is made by winemakers Punt Road Wines in the Yarra Valley and as such they apply many wine making techniques to their cider creations.

And of course you pair pear with pear! So we got a large portion of chunky pear chutney along with a hunk of oozy white mould raclette sliced onto sourdough.

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In terms of food my highlights were the crispy skin Berkshire pork belly, slow-cooked for 16 hours at 68 degrees and paired with a classic green apple and tangy rocket salad and a cider vinegar dressing and the starter of creamy squash vichyssoise served with cheddar cream, cheddar and fresh hazelnut shavings and hazelnut oil. Both of the dishes were matched with apple ciders which cut through the richness and creaminess of both dishes.

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HOT: Chan’s Dumpling Festival, Treasury Gardens

I think Chan’s Dumpling Festival was probably the best value paid event in this year’s program and hence it sold out very quickly. For $20 a head 771 people joined in a Guinness World Record attempt to create the World’s largest Outdoor Yum Cha, sitting down at communal tables to partake in a 5 course dumpling service in Treasury Gardens.

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The gardens looked spectacular, with giant Chinese lanterns floating into the azure sky, a smattering of stalls, kids activities and traditional musicians.

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During the lunch we enjoyed live performances and I particularly enjoyed the lion dancing and kung fu demonstrations. And at the end everyone got to take home goodie bags filled with a small bamboo steamer, ingredients and a dumpling recipe book.

Opening Weekend Melbourne Food and Wine Festival 2013

It was lucky that the weather was so beautiful and people were generally in a happy and festive mood, as the general consensus was that the food took too long to arrive. While it’s understandable that it’s hard to pump out so much food in a short period of time, it was particularly disheartening to watch trays move past you while you sat twiddling your chopsticks. I was at the festival with kids and had to leave early as they simply couldn’t wait 30 minutes for each course to arrive.

Overall I think the event was well run for a first go and the entertainment and setup exceeded my expectations. I hope that they’ll repeat it again in future while ironing out some of the logistical kinks associated with feeding that many people at once in an outdoor space.

NOT: Events with mass produced food generally

After this weekend I think my tip for selecting food and wine festival events in the future is not to go anywhere where the food will be mass produced. The events always seem to run late while your stomach growls impatiently and the quality and consistency of dishes declines as numbers grow. Marco Pierre White would flip out! (‘How long? How long? How long? Send it back! Send it back! Send it back!)

For instance, take my experience of the Bursaria Luncheon for about 250 people. I love Abbotsford Convent, I buy Warialda Belted Galloway Beef, I support the premise Slow Food Melbourne and I’m all for showcasing fresh, locally produced, seasonal produce. But all this positivity was marred by the fact the first course of a two course lunch didn’t arrive until over an hour after we were seated and the dessert came at the event’s designated finish time. I wasn’t the only one to have to gulp down my food and make a hasty exit after dessert – a pretty vanilla and rose panna cotta with a drizzle of bright pink pomegranate syrup and pistachio and biscotti lending crunch.

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I hope they sort out the timing issues for future events as the Rosina Function Space is absolutely beautiful especially with sunshine streaming through the leadlight windows onto the polished floorboards. And I loved the hanging decorations on the high trusses and table settings using plants and twigs and leaves. In fact, if I was getting married this would be my choice of wedding venue!

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