It seemed that every foodie brought their taste-testing appetites to the Royal Exhibition Buildings this weekend for the four days of Taste of Melbourne (26-29 August).

The Taste festivals in Melbourne and Sydney are a chance for diners to create their own tasting menu from the selection of dishes offered by some of the city’s well-known restaurants. This year the Melbourne restaurants included oldies like The European and Stokehouse alongside newbies like Le Traiteur and maze. The idea is that you pay for entry ($27.50) and then you have to pay extra for ‘crowns’, the currency of the festival, which you then swap for dishes of your choice. About 30 crowns per head ($30) is needed for three small courses, so I was a bit dubious about the value-for-money proposition. As RM said ‘I don’t understand, couldn’t you just pay money to go and eat at these restaurants?’.

Anyway, we had managed to receive free entry tickets through a competition draw, so we just had to shell out $30 each for our crowns. Then, the decision as to what try from the 36 dishes on offer….

Carlton restaurant Embrasse had a pop-up stall just for the Sunday, so I decided to try Mr Donati’s crispy pork belly, peas and wild sorrel coulis, purple potato, fromage frais and garden herbs (10 crowns). The pork belly was a melting cube of meat and juicy fat and I particularly liked the starchiness, not to mention the vibrant colour, of the mashed purple potatoes. And bravo for maintaining Embrasse‘s signature delicacy of presentation on a plastic plate!

RM decided on the wild rabbit sausage roll with tomato kassundi (10 crowns) from The European. Flaky and meaty, it was a satisfying dish and wasn’t dry despite appearances.

Next up, The Palace‘s Wagyu burger (10 crowns).  The burger patty was well-cooked and well-seasoned, and most importantly, the half-portion belied how filling it was. The queue for this dish denoted it as a definite crowd pleaser.

RM had The Palace‘s eye fillet with potato mash and sauce Bordelaise (12 crowns). He said it tasted ok but was sadly cold. Cold steak gets zero points in my book.

Tweeps had also recommended Stokehouse‘s wagyu beef cigars with artichoke tapenade and horseradish, Longrain‘s yellow curry of wagyu beef with cucumber relish and Charcoal Lane‘s wallaby tataki with ginger, soy and horseradish.

At this point we decided to take break and to wander around the many producer stalls. Actually, this was how we ended up filling up most of our stomach, as we nosed our way to taste chocolate, relishes, dips and cheese. For drinkers this would have been a great opportunity to sip and swirl a lot of wine, beer and spirits.

The lineup of cookies and cakes from Sweet by Nature

Who can resist a chocolate fountain of Green & Black’s Organic chocolate? Not me.

For dessert I had planned to try the Stokehouse‘s Bombe of strawberry sorbet, white chocolate parfait and toasted meringue, but RM had ordered two flavours of Ben & Jerry‘s ice-cream and for four crowns he ended up with two generous cups of ice-cream. So my dessert was a huge portion of Phish Food, the best value deal in all the festival.

Looking to get rid of our remaining crowns, we bought a tin of Persian feta from Yarra Valley Dairy (which I’d discovered when staying at the Lost and Found Hotel) and a jar of blue mallee honey from Beechworth Honey.

In a haze from my inevitable sugar coma,  I stumbled home for an afternoon nap…to wake up to a lovely surprise. I’d won a gourmet hamper from Maria Island Walks and Red Feather Inn in Tasmania! I lived for some years in Launceston as a kid and I have many fond memories of Sunday lunches by the fireplace of Red Feather Inn. So I’m particularly delighted with this prize as I’ll be able to revisit an old haunt, which has been revamped in a French Provencal style, to try out one of their cooking classes. Thank you Maria Island Walks and Red Feather Inn!