I was invited as a guest of Yarra City Council and didn’t really know what to expect. And for a first-time go at running the Food Safari Picnic I thought it was remarkably successful. Melbourne’s temperamental weather even pulled out a beautifully balmy day for the outdoor event.
Picnickers were instructed to gather at O’Connell’s Reserve, a small park at the end of Bridge Road before you hit the Yarra River. As I pulled up my bike I could hear the jazz musicians playing and smelled delicious porky aromas coming from the barbecue set up on the lawn.
The nice thing about this picnic was that you didn’t have BYO anything. Instead for $85 ($45 children) each person was handed a neon green cooler bag which you could fill with four dishes from the participating Bridge Road eateries – including previous blog HOTs Touchwood, Laikon Deli and Richmond Hill and Larder.
The choice was impressive, from kale salads to shrimp rolls to cheese platters to tiramisu. Each dish was a full serving too so in fact the four dishes could easily have fed two people. As such I chose items I thought would last a trip home as leftovers – a rich overnight-smoked pulled pork brioche bun with red cabbage slaw from The Collection, the famous spanikopita and baklava from Laikon Deli, the Mexican chicken salad from Touchwood and high tea set of baked treats by Qualia Empire cafe.
To get you in the eating mode everyone was offered a coffee/hot drink from the coffee cart at O’Connell Reserve before being taken on a private ferry boat to putt along the Yarra to Herring Island, an environmental park in the middle of the river in South Yarra which is only accessible by boat.
Even though the river cuts through the heart of our city I think it’s rare for most people to view Melbourne from the water. I urge you to try it sometime! Look at the wildlife that lives along the banks, feel the serenity of the narrow waterway and gawp at the multi-million dollar mansions on the slopes.
After about 40 minutes of hearing nothing but laughter and gently lapping water we pulled up at Herring Island. Many people don’t realise that this secluded island oasis exists in the heart of inner Melbourne, and that you can visit in the summer months.
We were directed to the picnic area, stopping to appreciate some of the sculptures hidden in the forestry. At the picnic area again there were picnic blankets, scatter cushions, low seating under umbrellas and even some gentle live music to chill out to while you enjoyed your picnic hamper. Best of all, you could have some creamy ice cream for dessert from the Sicilian vintage Bianco Latte gelato cart (which they had to carry on board a boat and sail to the island!).
To walk off all that eating the Herring Island society ran free tours of the gallery and environmental sculpture garden every hour. Sculptures include works by Jill Peck, Ellen Jose, and Andy Goldsworthy.
The Food Safari Picnic was one of the most charming, good-value events I’ve participated in throughout my years of attending the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival. For $85 you received four picnic dishes (about two more than you’d actually need), coffee, gelati, water, a picnic bag, return ferry ride and entertainment. I hope that Yarra City Council run it more often during the year as it’s a brilliant idea, not only to introduce people to the food and wine of Bridge Road but to allow Melburnians to appreciate their city from another point of view and to discover the unknown gem that’s Herring Island.
NB The Herring Island punt service only operates Saturdays, Sundays and certain public holidays. The punt will not run on Christmas Day, New Years Eve, New Years Day, or Good Friday.