The Taste of Sydney festival is back on, currently in its third year. A food lover’s oasis; where you can find some of the finest food and beverages from around Sydney and beyond.
There are some well-regarded local restaurants, wineries, confectioners, food producers, butchers and purveyors; not to mention the opportunity to have a round table discussion with chefs, cooking demonstrations and wine tasting as well as other educational activities.
Read on to get a sample of what the Taste of Sydney 2011 festival has on offer.
If you’ve never been to the Taste of Sydney festival in previous years, come prepared with a large appetite, a lot of time and money. Perhaps leave the car at home or find some poor sap to be the designated driver, as there are plenty of opportunities for wine tasting and sampling alcoholic drinks. A carry bag and loose fitting clothing may also be advisable.
For those of you that have been before, there are some little differences. The festival grounds are extended out so they have the feeling of being more spacious. There seems to be less of an issue fighting over seating as there seems to be plenty of it. There is also the Italian Piazza; a small corner of the festival devoted to all things Italian. This is where you can find the Italian restaurants participating in this year’s event, such as Omerta & Otto.
There are also a few extra exhibition areas for classes, as well as a few new vendors for the “market” portion of the festival.
Victor Churchill is synonymous in my mind with the finest of foods. I mean who in their right mind would spend $70,000 AUD for a manually hand cracked meat slicing machine that looks like it was pulled from the pages of a steampunk novel; a device that is orders of magnitude more expensive than its electric counterpart, all because it does the least to affect the quality of the sliced product?
This Berkel slicing machine is now the most expensive item on my most coveted kitchen appliance list, above the KitchenAid mixer and Pacojet. Seeing this thing in action is hypnotic, well at least for a food & tech enthusiast such as myself.
There’s a range of fine charcuterie that you can sample for free, such as the bresola made from Blackmore Wagyu; considered the finest of Wagyu outside of Japan. The 9+ marble rated Wagyu slices almost melt in the mouth.
There’s also the *mumble* cured dry sausage made from pork with *mumble* and truffles. Ok, so I forgot the specifics. It tastes great. Let’s just leave it at that.
This biltong, also made from Blackmore Wagyu, is a southern African dried meat that resembles beef jerky in a lot of ways; very chewy and very flavourful. A few of these babies would go down well with some free samples of beer.
Feel free to ask questions to the friendly staff at Victor Churchill, or for any of the other purveyors for that matter. Actually, I’d advise approaching each stall with a curiosity of a child.
Sample things that you’ve never tried before or things you think you wouldn’t like. Ask questions about the food and the purveyors. By showing a little interest in a purveyor and their produce, you may be surprised with not only what you learn but also how fun learning about new foods & beverages can be.
There are also a number of demonstrations and classes to keep you entertained during the festival. A chef’s table where you have the opportunity to meet and have a discussion with some of Sydney’s top chefs. There are also wine tastings, cooking demonstrations, as well as the Sensology cocktail mixing class.
Some of the most popular cocktails are covered during cocktail mixing class, with each class covering a single drink. Examples include the daiquiri, the mojito and in our case, the pina colada, though not in a form most people are familiar with.
We’re put through our paces working on making a cocktail based on the original pina colada recipe. One that is light, refreshing and delicious, unlike the thick, cloying drink that most associate with this otherwise fine beverage. I am a huge fan of the pina colada made this way.
The best part about this class? Not only do you learn how to make a cocktail but you also get to drink the fruits of your labour. So, from a certain point of view, you can have your cocktail lesson and drink it.
For those of you with enough money to throw around, there’s the HSBC VIP Lounge with its covered enclosure, soft leather seats, jazz band and outdoors, more seating and an area to play bocce.
There are also two bars located within. Your regular bar (for lack of a better term) as well as a whiskey tasting station.
Lastly we come to the restaurant stalls, where friendly staff take your orders, serve you food, and maybe even pose for a photo or two.
Restaurant Balzac doesn’t do things by halves when it comes to dressing up their stall; with large, mouth-watering images of food to draw you in.
Matthew Kemp, the head chef at Restaurant Balzac, was kind enough to allow a small group of food bloggers to peer behind the curtain to see the operation of their onsite kitchen at work.
There’s a frantic order to the kitchen. It’s well organised, clearly under control and yet the restaurant’s engine is constantly redlined. Even under these conditions and with the number of people occupying the space tripling with our tour group, the chef was still able to run his kitchen and answer any questions we threw his way. It’s a testament to not only his abilities to run a kitchen, but also the generosity of his time & knowledge, and the inconvenience that our presence placed onto the kitchen.
If you’ve ever wondered, preparation for this event starts in January, a couple of months before the festival. 200kg of Wagyu is slow cooked down to 150kg of succulent meat that goes into their Crisp Wagyu Beef with Mushroom & Truffle Foam, of which there are anticipated to be well over 2000 servings dished out during the course of the festival, if previous years are anything to go by. If you’ve not had it before, it’s definitely something that I recommend. It’s so good!
The pork for the Saddle of Suckling Pigs with Baby Garden Peas, another great dish, are broken down from a number of whole carcasses. Nothing is wasted. The meat that doesn’t go into this dish is used for other dishes at the restaurant. Even the bones are used in the preparation of the jus.
Seared Regal King Salmon with a Salad of Pomegranate, Mint & Feta rounds off the menu for Restaurant Balzac. A dish for those that prefer a lighter meal over the richness of the other two on offer.
There are a many other dishes that can be had from the various restaurants at the festival. Some of the ones I had also include the Crispy Pork Belly, Cashew Nut Caramel, Watermelon & Mint from Assiette/District Dining, as well as the Fromart Raw Milk Alpage Cheese, Sauvignon Blanc Poached Apple & Beetroot Oil from Berowra Waters Inn/Ad Lib Bistro.
The crispy pork belly was purchased close to closing time so it was more like spongy pork belly as the crackling was not at all crisp. Probably best to order anything “crispy” in its name earlier on in the festival. Otherwise the flavour combination was quite nice.
I’d purchased the raw cheese dish simply because I’ve yet to try raw cheese. The cheese is quite pungent with a strong flavour. Not for everyone as I believe one person described the experience as “raping your tastebuds”, or something similar. The poached apple and crackers are a very welcome and necessary contrast. I personally don’t dislike this dish. I’m just not a huge fan.
There are many dessert options available to cap off your time at the festival, both from the restaurant stalls and vendors alike. If you find yourself with a weird number of Crowns, the currency of the festival, vendor stalls are the best place to offload them as a lot of vendors accept a mixture of Crowns and cash as payment.
One dessert perhaps worth considering is the Creme Brulee from Victor Churchill. Yep, the butchery people with the fine meats and even finer slicer also have a dessert section. Whilst the caramel brulee crust has a satisfying crunch to it, the custard contained within is rather soft. There seems to be mixed views as to whether or not this was a good thing but however you may feel about that, it’s undoubtedly rich and flavourful.
If you do make it to the festival, which goes until Sunday 13th March, I hope you make the most of the experience. For further reading, please feel free to check out my posts on previous year’s festivals as well as a guide to help make the most of you time there:
- Taste Sensation – Taste of Sydney 2009 [1 of 2]
- Learning Experience – Taste of Sydney 2009 [2 of 2]
- Tasting Notes – A Guide to Taste of Sydney 2010
For more information regarding the Taste of Sydney festival, including event schedules and restaurant menus and how to get there, check out the official Taste of Sydney website.
the heart of food attended the Taste of Sydney 2011 festival as a guest of Stellar* Concepts Australia.
A special thanks to Matthew Kemp & his Restaurant Balzac staff, the staff at Victor Churchill & Sensology.