The Melbourne Food and Wine Festival has featured fairly heavily in our Marchs the last few years – some things by ourselves, some things with some equally foody/wine passionate friends. We’ve done French, we’ve done Spanish, we’ve done Middle Eastern and Japanese; some have been incredibly overpriced and eye-rolly while others have been staggeringly good value and amazingly good food.
This year we’ve done just two events, which is feeling really sparse now that they’re both done but it’s a shortened Festival this year… and it does mean we’re saving money. So I guess that’s good.
The first was “Melbourne meets Barcelona”, at a Spanish place in Hawthorn, with friends. It was… ok. It was a lot smaller than other venues I’ve been to which was nice. There were six courses, and they were nicely varied, but there was no course that I thought was amazing. One course was abalone… and I think I preferred the manchego-infused rice. The steak was ok but it was just steak. The dessert was weird: shortcrust pastry with a fig paste and then an almond milk cream of some sort, then with pieces of three different cheeses plonked on top. Like I said: Weird. Probably the greatest discovery of the evening, to be honest, was the Spanish vermouth. Totally in love. I also preferred the Australian wines (one from the Pyrenees, another from Heathcote) over most of the Spanish. I didn’t actually finish the sparkling wine *gasp*.
Our second event was at the Hellenic Museum: Hellenic High Tea. My beloved was a bit dubious but he was pretty impressed when we walked through the Hellenic Museum (which I’ve been meaning to visit for maybe a decade) and there was an amazing courtyard and pavilion with tables and chairs. In the middle of the city. For this one, we were seated at a mixed table of six. Two of the other people were quite happy to chat, and we had occasional interesting conversations. The other two… yeh. For a start they were pretty young, so maybe they had never been on a mixed table like that before. They barely spoke to each other. There were phones out. The beloved hypothesised that this was a gift that they weren’t wild about. I mean, they didn’t even eat everything. What even I do not understand.
Because oh, the food. It was pretty classic high tea food, but the Greek twist was wonderful. Chicken sandwich… with preserved lemon and dill. Gougeres… with oregano and feta (actually that wasn’t my favourite but still). Spanakopita, braised lamb cigarillos, pistachio macarons (SWOON), and it was just wonderful overall. The Greek island iced tea was
excellent. I’d gone for the ‘drink on arrival’ option – the sparkling was ok but I’m told the frappe martini was a bit like having cold coffee. The presentation of all of the food was great, the ambiance was lovely (a warm day but we were in shade; a trio of maybe-uni-students playing entirely background-worthy music; two of the most spectacular arrangement of dahlias I have ever seen in my life).
I’m already looking forward to seeing the advance programme for 2017.
Today I went to Sweetfest and… it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. I think that’s mostly my fault; I’ve been to two craft shows this year and for some reason I thought this was going to be like that. I knew there was only going to be 20 or so exhibitors but I didn’t recognise any of the names, really, so I thought there would be a mixture of maybe cafes/food places and places selling useful gear, that sort of thing. But… no. That link earlier takes you to a page listing what each place will be selling; I’m quite sure it didn’t have that info when I bought my ticket. Because it turned out they were all cafes and patisseries, just selling food. So it wasn’t what I was expecting. I had realised there would be a lot of food and had therefore anticipated eating there; I ended up having a chocolate and cashew scroll, which was ok but not awesome, and then gelato: nutella, which was great, and raspberry and rosemary which is an awesome theory but I couldn’t taste the rosemary. It was interesting walking around looking at the pastries etc and I wish I’d been game enough to try one of Naughty Boy’s amazing shakes.
However, I was also going for the sessions, so it wasn’t a total loss. I hadn’t expected to pay attention to Katherine Sabbath’s cake icing demonstration but I was there early and a bit bored by the stalls, so I sat and watched her create this incredible tall cake – two cakes, sliced, turned into about an eight-tier monstrosity with three different coloured icings inside and ‘water-colour’ frosting on the outside (the three different colours basically smudged together). She was a very good presenter – when she said she’d been a teacher for four years, it totally made sense – and it was intriguing that she’s got famous courtesy of Instagram. I don’t get Instagram. But the cake: she was alternating chocolate mud and some sort of vanilla cake, and the frosting was pink, mustard, and violet, and it was Martha Stewart’s swiss meringue buttercream, flavoured with salted caramel. Katherine answered some questions, and she did so very well and in such a way that either she’s a very genuine and exceptionally gifted public speaker or she’s learnt very fast: no “it must be Valhrona couverture chocolate” stuff, it was ‘use what you can afford’ which I appreciated. It was fascinating watching her work – smoothing at the end with her Gyprock concrete scraper! – and it was very much a show.
Secondly, and the reason I went on the Saturday, was Philippa Sibley, apparently the Queen of Desserts although I’d not heard of her before. By comparison with Katherine she came off as almost impatient; she was efficient, a bit abrupt, precise. She did not waffle. I loved her style a lot. I was a bit sad that she didn’t go into a lot of detail about how to make the pastry – I think she was pushed for time because Katherine went way over – but her tips about pushing the pastry into the very edges of the tin, alfoil right into the edges and avoiding any creases at all, and having the overhang of pastry were deeply awesome and made me inspired to try out making tarts. Which was indeed the whole point of going to see the session. I didn’t buy her book at the time but I would consider it in future…. Sibley did not put on a show. She was doing a demonstration.
Overall I think this was a really good idea for a food festival. There needed to be more chairs for the demonstrations (they said on the programming that there was limited seating). I would go again next year with a friend, as long as the presenters sounded interesting.