Taste of Sydney Festival 2009

mainpictureIt all started with an email from Holly of Brand Events Australia. "I am writing to you in regards to Taste of Sydney..." it started, and a couple of days later, I put this on my blog, and a couple of weeks after that, I received a shiny, silver envelope in the mail. "Wahoooo!" I yelled in the Bean's direction "We're going to Taste!" And so, like two happy, hungry campers (clad in warm weather clothing and sensible shoes) off to Taste we went.

(I should warn you now, this is a very long post. Here we go!)

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entry to the Taste of Sydney Festival

It was a warm day. A sunny, bright, happy day - and the crowd felt the same way. Across the park, people young and old were getting hyped up for Sound Relief. We, on the other hand, were lined up and ready to hit the stalls. "I think we should get 90 crowns" I said to the Bean. She nodded. "We can get more later if we need to" said she. But we didn't need to, because we spent right on 90. And a couple of extra dollars besides, such was the enticing nature of the food.


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clockwise from top left: outdoor bar, james squire masterclass tent,
james squire beer stand, chandon champagne tent

We had hoped, at some stage, to go sample some beer at the James Squire Masterclass tent. Unfortuately, the pulling power of alcohol + food was so strong that we could not get a place for love, nor money. We did, however, get to enjoy the lovely music that was being put on at the Chandon tent. Nothing better than eating good food and listening to raw, swingy reenditions of Girl from Ipanema and Somewhere.


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olive oil & bread at Buon Ricardo

Ever the budding strategists, the Bean & I scampered through the crowd (meagre at this stage)and past each of the restaurant stalls until we had reached the end. We would work backwards, we thought, because the front of the festival will always be crowded, but the back won't get noticed til later. The last stall was Buon Ricardo.

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Armando Percuoco

Behind the table, a man was singing. Not humming-along-to-the-music singing either. Full blown, arm waving, head reared back singing. He was Armando Percuoco, head chef of Buon Ricardo. "Ladies!" he exclaimed, his arms thrown out towards us "How are you today? Have some olive oil!" And so we did. Lovely, fruity and eagerly sopped up by the bread. "Would you like to try something?" Well, actually, we did. "One fagottino please" said I.

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Fagottini di carne from Buon Ricardo

The menu said that it was "Homemade sausage bound with parmesan and truffle egg, finished with lemon extra virgin olive oil". The Bean & I looked at the plate. It was sausage alright. But not as we'd ever seen before. We nodded, separated it into two portions, and took a mouthful each. "Mmmmmm" said the Bean. "I can taste the cheese" said I. "This is so much better than I thought it would be" said we, almost in unison. Maybe it was because it was the first dish of a beautiful, sunny afternoon. Maybe because I was so cheerfully greeted by a head chef. Or, maybe it was just that good.

I went back to Mr Percuoco later, to thank him for the dish. "My pleasure" he said "enjoy yourselves today!" So we did.

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Jonah's at Whale Beach

One thing I really appreciated was the way in which each restaurant had decorated their stall to resemble their own restaurant. At Jonah's, beach vistas backed the clean, crisp tables. One times happy gentleman greeted us. It seemed everyone and their dining partner had ordered the zucchini flowers. But we, the rebels that we are, had opted for the tuna.

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Tuna from Jonah's at Whale Beach

The sesame seared yellow fin tuna was accompanies by crisp spring onion rings, red radish and watercress. Three thick slices of seared tuna were adorned with a citrussy dressing. I sliced each piece into two. For fairness' sake, you see. "This is... I've never had tuna like this before!" exclaimed the Bean. She adorned her next mouthful with some salad. "The texture is so nice!" she continued "And the dressing and the leaves go so well with it". It was just so fresh. Probably one of my favourite dishes from the day. And the spring onion rings? So crunchy. Not too oily. Perfectly complementary.

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that pannacotta

We hot-tailed it back immediately. "Back? So soon?" asked one times happy gentleman. "Well, we had to have the pannacotta. And we were worried you might run out." we explained. He laughed. "One panna!" he yelled and then, seconds later, brought it out, jiggling it for extra drama. "OH!" we exclaimed. And then "OH!" again, for it was wonderfully creamy. Full of vanilla and then sour with the pomegranate molasses and sweet again with the lavendar honey. The looks of envy as we sauntered through the crowd... well. Let's just say they were abundant.

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Warren Turnbull: strawberry bellini & cinnamon donut

We paused here, the Bean & I, on a pre-anticipated pit stop. Previously, we had ducked into the Gourmet Traveller Test Kitchen to ask when we should feasibly return for each session. Were they popular? Did they fill up? Should we come back half an hour before? "Ten minutes should do" was the answer, and so that is when we returned for second row aisle seats.

Warren Turnbull is a hand working man. He was up at 5am to prep for the Festival. His team then carted everything over and started their work. So he was a little tired. And that meant that he forgot to put butter in his donuts. And that he may have spilt a whole lotta champagne when trying to open it. But he was also informative and open with his food and his recipes - a quality not often found in the food world. He was so open, in fact, that he gave out the recipe for his donuts. *pats pocket* It will go to good use methinks.

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the Ottoman tent

Back to the food, and this time, to Ottoman. And whilst we waited, we ate ruby cubes of rose-y turkish delight. The Bean had icing sugar on her nose. I had a hankering for more.

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Salmon Dolma from Ottoman Cuisine

The Salmon Dolma contained salmon, cray & prawn wrapped in vine leaves. It was lightly battered and deep fried before being served with what was only described as "a piquant sauce". It was oh-kay. Crispy and fresh yes. But the salmon overpowered the cray and the sweetness of the prawn was undectectable in amongst it all. We did, however, meet some lovely people whilst standing there eating this morsel (one of whom subscribed for the Gourmet Traveller magazine, and then, sometime later, exclaimed "Hey, it's only $65!"). I said that I would mention them. So, um, hello!

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Bird Cow Fish stall

We had, so far, eaten seafood and sausage. It was, we thought, time to break out the meats. The burger at Plan B was crossed out, as it was an "anytime" purchase. And then we saw someone carrying a pie. "Pie." Thought I "Pie pie pie pie pie."

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Pie at Bird Cow Fish

The Bean snagged a table and I snagged a pie. Not just any pie, a braised beef cheek and roasted onion & jerusalem artichoke pie. Served with red wine jus. Topped with a sour cream & careme puff pastry. A special pie. But in the end, it was a pie. The beef was lovely and tender, the artichokes cooked right down, the pastry was crispy and soaked up the jus brilliantly. But it was a pie. And we were in search of greatness.

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Restaurant Balzac stall

We thought that maybe greatness could be found in the form of pig. I mean, everybody likes pig right? (Well, everybody that can/will eat pig likes pig, right?) And there was mild debate about which pig to get. Do we get the pig from the restaurant named after a fish? We had already eaten tuna, so no. Do we get the pig neck? Do pigs have necks? Hmmm. And so, despite the Bean having a fierce aversion to peas, we settled on the pig at Balzac.

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Pig & Peas from Restaurant Balzac

We are glad that we settled on Balzac. The saddle of suckling pig, with crackling and baby garden peas is lovely. The pork is tender and moist. The crackling is thin and crispy. The peas! Oh! The peas! This is how good the peas were. The Bean tried the peas. Then the Bean ate the peas. Then (for there were more peas than pictured, hiding under the pig) the Bean separated the peas into two groups to ensure she could eat as many peas as she liked. Such was the extent of pea-goodness.

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Bread & Butter Pudding at Restaurant Balzac

And whilst I waited for pig, I spotted a Bread&Butter pudding, ready for collection. And I took a quick photo, with permission of course. I didn't go back to eat it. We had other things on our minds.

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Assiette stall

What those other things were, you ask? Well, meat, for starters, and Warren for others. We were so impressed with his performance (despite the butter & champagne incidents) that we thought we should try his food. And we hadn't had any sheep yet either. So that helped.

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Lamb from Assiette

The loin & crumbed belly of lamb was served with basil mayonnaise & a tomato, plus some olive jus. It looked unimpressive to start with. But then we disassembled. And then we loved. The loin was perfectly seared and tender. The tomato was juicy and plump. The basil mayonnaise went deliciously with everything and we got some bonus eggplant underneath the crumbed belly. Have you had lamb belly before? Oh please do! It was gelatinous and melty and lamby all at once. And from today, we have made plans to follow Warren back to Assiette to eat the rest of his offerings. Seriously.

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juice from Phoenix Organics

We were sated. And we were thirsty. So a raspberry lemonade and a berry smoothie from Phoenix Organics (the bright colours! the exotic flavours!) were purchased. The Bean does not normally like lemonade, but sipped on hers with gusto. And at $6 for two bottles, we were laughing.

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Pama Pomegranate liqueur

Pama was the buzzword of the show. The chefs were talking about it, the stallholders were talking about it, and all and sunder were drinking it like nobody's business. The Bean didn't like it. I was imagining it with soda water & lime, and the only thing that stopped me from buying some was the thought of lugging a bottle around. Yes, I could've gotten a cocktail made for me. But I didn't. Because I had spotted a very happy sign.

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Zokoko chocolate tasting

And that sign said "Chocolate Tasting". Zokoko will be opening in Enu Heights soon, and have some of the best chocolate I've eaten in a decent while. They make dark, 60% cocoa blended with different sugars (the white sugar one was stronger in flavour, whilst the molasses in the organic sugar chocolate left a lovely caramel taste on the palate). I was sad that I couldn't buy any yet, but have decided to go on a trip there when they open. Maybe via somewhere that makes scones.

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Cupcakes at the EQ Markets stall

One times free cupcake from the EQ Markets stall brought mouthfuls of delight to the Bean & I. We decided to share one, so as to leave some for the others. We got pink and crumbs all over ourselves in the process.

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Cakes at Healthy Feast

Healthy Feast were showing their gluten free wares (I sampled an almond friand. It didn't taste gluten free at all - it was lovely!) some of which were also egg free. The lemon meringue? Not egg free. I asked, hoping it was. It did look an absolute treat though. I love lemon tarts you see...

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berry gelato from serendipity

And all the while the sun beat down on us. And icecream was sought. We had planned to spend $4 on a small tub of lindt, but then saw serendipity, and marvelled at the sauces (the chocolate is not too sweet and the berry is wonderfully bitty). So a tub of berry gelato was procured and two spoons dug in eagerly. Also, one hand got a touch sticky. It was not the Bean's hand.

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Giovanni Pilu

But then it was time for a sit down, and after trying to muster a spot in the James Squire Masterclass(with no success) we settled on seeing Giovanni Pilu in the Gourmet Traveller Test Kitchen. Blessing in disguise. Giovanni is electric. He loves natural produce, sourcing local foods, promoting farmers and producers. He is passionate about regional Italian food and throws in tips and tricks like its going out of fashion. Fish stock? Boil bones only for half an hour. Any longer and it will be bitter. Pink fish make the stock cloudy. Don't eat McDonalds. No takeaway either. "Go home and cook this." He says, at the end of his demonstration "No more take away for dinner!" Gem. Absolute gem.

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Chocolate Tart from Berowra Waters Inn

It was almost time to go. We had 12 crowns left and a hankering for mussels. Or kingfish. Mainly because that's what Giovanni had been cooking, and therefore, what we had been smelling. But we had only had one dessert, and had been enthralled by the chocolate tart from the start. So 10 crowns went that way.

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chocolate tart assassination

We later sat outside, on the grass, waiting to be collected. Our mouths were covered in chocolate. The marscapone cream muted the sweetness. The berries added depth and tartness. The pastry, well, the pastry was assassinated by one times fork and one times spoon trying to eat a tart off a paper plate. It was so pretty up until that point.

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jams & spreads from Symphony Fine Foods

But before that, we used our last two crowns to get a jar of honey seeded mustard from Symphony Fine Foods. "The table's all messed up now - it was clean before" said the stallowner, seeing me crouch to photograph her wares. "That's fine" said I "it means people have been trying your stuff!"

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flowers from the Gourmet Traveller stand

And try stuff we did. I came home with a full tummy, a light heart and an odd case of sunburn. Absolutely. Divine. So, who's up for next year?

Taste of Sydney (a Taste Festival) runs from 12-15 March 2009 in Centennial Park. Shez from onebitemore and the Bean attended courtesy of Taste. All food & products covered in this post were purchased with our own dollars.

8 bites more:

Helen (AugustusGloop) said...

ooh what a lovely comprehensive post. we spend most of our time browsing the stalls and didn't seem to get a chance to attend any of the talks. glad you managed to snaffle a jiggly panna cotta though. wasn't it divine?!

billy@ATFT said...

lol, fun fun fun! Oh wow impressive effort and done so much you both in one day! :) Bravo!

FFichiban said...

Yayyy great pooostt! Almost all of you dishes were the ones I didn't get too!! So it was great to read about them nyum nyum nyum but now I wish I did get them haha esp piepiepie mm I like pie... PPIIIEE XD!

Belle said...

You're so good at capturing the conversation! All I can remember of my visit is "I'm going to get some of that" or "OMG, this is delicious".

shez said...

Helen: oh! that's a pity - the talks were really interesting (and a fantastic way to see the chefs' personalities without doing the intimidating round table discussion). and yes - divine!

Billy: we went home and crashed afterwards from exhaustion. so tiring!

FFichiban: i'm having food envy from all the other posts now too!

Belle: haha! thanks. it helps when the conversation is entertaining and/or memorable.

Simon said...

Your post really captures the moment at Taste, as I could relate to a lot of what was said, especially the panna cotta thing with the crowd. Had a couple of people stop to ask me about it.

I only wish that I could have gone on all the days to absorb as much of the wisdom & expertise of these chef!

Lorraine @NotQuiteNigella said...

That's great that you got to see so much including the Master Classes! Seeing all of those dishes brings back some lovely food memories *sigh*

shez said...

Simon: me too! i loved hearind from both Warren & Giovanni at the GT Test Kitchen. so many tips!

Lorraine: the Bean was under strict instruction that we weren't to miss these :) and oh, i know! i've been drooling over all that i missed out on. but i was so full!

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