Last Thursday night, two Englishmen and two Australians went to one of the most iconic pubs in Melbourne. There they made dessert, and in doing so set the tongues and minds of everyone in the room ablaze. It was an event that the foodie crowd in Melbourne will be talking about for ages.
Or so I’m told. I was on a plane, flying down from Canberra. The perils of living in the capital.
The Bombas & Parr and Burch & Purchese jelly making extravaganza called Sweet Architexural at the Espy was merely the buzziest tip of the iceberg of this year’s Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, a 10-day world-class whirlwind of gastronomic activities.
With only a weekend away from the public service grind, I was sadly only able to attend a very few of these.
Some lucky Twitter timing allowed me to score a free ticket to Allan Campion’s Foodie Tour of Melbourne. While not an official festival event, this came around because of an alignment of the festival with some empty spots on the day’s tour.
Starting with chocolate at Max Brenner, and ending with tea and peas at Chocolate Buddha, this was a wander through the past and present of food in the CBD. Fascinating tidbits about the origin of the tuckshop style dim sim and the great Danish coffee makers of Melbourne were intertwined with the history of Chinatown, the Greek section of Lonsdale St, and the famous Melbourne restaurants.
But the best thing was, of course, the food. From Tasmanian honey chocolates straight from the hands of the chocolatier at Koko Black, to the unsurprisingly stunning salt cod fritters at Grossi Florentino, we were treated to some great morsels.
The real highlight of the tour, however, was from one of the other talking points of the festival, the brilliant pop-up Broadsheet Café. Rotating between baristas from six of the city’s top coffee houses (on my visit, Dead Man Espresso), with macarons from LuxBite, pastries from Baker D. Chirico and sandwiches from Earl Canteen, this was exactly what I want all cafes to be. This was one of the best coffees I have had for a very long time, but even that was overshadowed by a truly decadent crème brulee macaron. Pity it only existed for 10 days.
My other events were less education and discovery, and much more along the lines of parties. The first of these, Viva Espana, involved Spanish food and wine at Portello Rosso, designed to be like a street party in Madrid.
While this restaurant looks like a backstreet haunt of Madrileños, the food doesn’t quite stand up. The paella had no crust, which is the cardinal sin of this classic rice dish. On top of this, platters of meatballs and of zucchini fritters were all completely generic. Although, perhaps my sneaky visit to Movida Aqui beforehand made it suffer by comparison.
For an event with table service, there were far too many people crammed into a very small room, which made service unappealing. However, a free carafe of sangria at the end of the day made up for a lot of the shortcomings.
That said, when it comes to a Food Festival party, it’s hard to fault the annual Roman Block Party. Held at Guiseppi, Arnaldo and Sons and catered by them alongside Rockpool Bar and Grill, Flower Drum, and Wasabi from Noosa, this is the way to do a wrap party.
After being greeted at the door but Guiseppi and Arnaldo themselves, you grab a glass of prosecco, pass the outstandingly fresh oyster bar, and wait for the array of finger food while watching out for the stars of Australia’s cooking, food writing, and comedy worlds.
There were some old favourites, like suckling pig paninis, Neil Perry’s mini-burgers, and sashimi cut in front of you from the freshest whole tuna most of us will ever come across. All were stunning, of course, as was nearly every professionally made canapé there. (Those designed by the comedians were somewhat less successful, with Mick Malloy’s wagyu beef party pie floater in desperate need of some gravy.)
However, the highlight of the night were the sweet, crispy parcels that were scallop spring rolls from Flower Drum. Finger food extraordinaire.
Combine this with free flowing drinks, a full and happy crowd, and a talented DJ, this was an outstanding night that finished with everyone in the room singing Prince. It really was quite a party.
I just wish I’d been around for the rest of the festival. Especially for dessert.