march into merivale - gala dinner

march into merivale - decorationsWe had been behind-the-scenes at the Ivy. We had tasted canapes straight from the hands of their makers. We had giggled and snapped our way past the Ivy's ballroom (zebra print carpet - oh my! I love!) and were now being herded up the lift and into Uccello. I will, as much as I can, refrain from embarking on (yet-another) Uccello gush-fest. Will not endlessly rant about its cute little booths, the daffodil yellow decor that lifts my mood just so, the exposed wood, the pots of flowers and the semi-open kitchen (open enough to see the hustle & bustle but closed enough to feel separate). Oh, and I finally got to check out the pool.

The Chefs of Merivale Gala dinner was the event of the, well, event. All eleven chefs were doing their bit (some on canapes and others with a whole course to themselves), sharing a kitchen (there were no obvious fireworks, though I'm sure it would have been not-so-easy) and helping the Merivale Group raise money for Camp Quality. Which brings me to the balloons (above). These darling chefs-hatted blue hued babies were decorated by the kids at Camp Quality. So. Cute.

the kitchen at uccello
the kitchen at uccello

As an extension of our behind-the-scenes tour, we were given a proverbial backstage pass to all the action that was to occur during the Gala Dinner. On arrival, we stood sheepishly at the entrance to the kitchen, waved a shy "Hello!" to Peter Doyle, who welcomed us to the kitchen, before deferring to Massimo as, really, the kitchen we were traipsing through was his. "Hello." said Massimo, with a nod of the head and a little wave.

We sniffed at the foccacia, peered into the Kitchenaid and drooled over the mignardises, wondering aloud how each element would taste and wondering secretly if anyone would notice if I tried just one chocolate. Just. One?

As chance would have it, Melissa from the Merival Group had a surprise for us. "You're free to stay for the dinner right?" said she, as I stood, a polite sip of cranberry, lime & soda working its way into my mouth. I put my drink down, confused, and then excited and then silent as the meaning of the words sunk in. I may have stood there, blinking, for a minute or two. And then I may have grinned.

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And so to the Gala Dinner. Six courses. Matching Wines. And an unlimited supply of Uccello's wonderfully salty, olive oily foccaccia. "I'm so excited about this food that I think I just may, maybe throw up." I may or may not have uttered to Howard at one point in the evening. He may or may not have nodded at me.

course one: daniel hong - lotus

tuna with sweetcorn puree
tartare of bluefin tuna
sweetcorn, wasabi, avocado, soy-truffle dressing

The first course was met with anticipation. We had been sticky-beaking in the kitchen previously. "What's that?" we had asked, pointing at various items on the pass. Anticipation was met. "By Daniel Hong, of Lotus" said Anthony, our server for the evening. "A 2008 buring riesling 'leonay', from Eden Valley in South Australia." said the sommelier "Light, fruity, not too sharp". And the colours popped out at me. I stabbed what I thought was a bean, to realise it was an artful combination of wasabi and avocado. The others cited it as their favourite dish of the evening. I was delighted by the giant balls of roe (pop! went they in my mouth) but was looking for a bit more texture, a bit more variety of flavour. With the soft sweetcorn puree and the sweetness of the pureed avocado and the sweetness of the beautiful melty belly of tuna, it could have done with some crisp, or some salty to give it another dimension. Not to say that it wasn't absolutely delicious as is.

course two: massimo bianchi - uccello

massimo's ravioli
raviolo of lobster with asparagus and mushrooms

"This is," said our sommelier, whose name I didn't catch, but who had the most distinctive accent this side of the Pacific "a 2007 feudi di san gregorio greco di tufo from Campania in Italy." And here I will say that all of the wines were beautifully matched with the courses. A sip of the wine, a swig of mineral water, a bite of the meal, and then another sip and another bite. And all the flavours mellowed out wonderfully and melded into each other with that much more harmony.

I was always going to like this course. It was, as expected, finely made. Fresh, quality ingredients. Lobster cooked to perfection. The asparagus came in the form of a puree and the mushrooms in a slow cooked ragu-esque sauce. When tasted separately, the lobster was fresh, firm and sweet, and the pasta silky and thin. Together, the mushrooms overpowered both the lobster and the asparagus. So I took to compartmentalising. Edge of raviolo with the mushrooms, then with the asparagus. Lobster centre with asparagus, and by itself. And that worked wonderfully.

course three: peter doyle - est.

snapper by peter doyle
steamed baby snapper fillet with sand crab,
snow peas, oyster mushrooms, ginger-shallot vinaigrette

This was, without question, my favourite dish of the evening. It was masterful. I didn't care that it was paired with a chardonnay (and I really quite dislike chardonnay) because it was complemented by the wine. I didn't mind that my photos just would not take well due to the ambient lighting. Because the snapper, it was perfectly steamed. Firm but tender. I even ate the skin, which tends to be overcooked and sticky in the mouth. The care that went into plating this was obvious. Lifting up the snapper, I'm greeted by a tamed tangle of thinly sliced snowpeas and mushrooms, tender whilst retaining the crunch, soaking up the fishy, gingery essence it is perched in. Sweet, salty, a hint of warmth from the ginger, crunchy and soft all in one bite. This is what I was waiting for. I may have tipped the bowl, just slightly, to catch a final spoonful of the broth at the end.

the chefs prepping & posing
from top left: massimo plating up a storm, those lentils,
camera un-shy chefs, dessert being plated

And while we ate, the chefs worked on. They were so wonderfully media trained. Polite, accomodating, willing to let us in to their world. I peered into the kitchen in between courses. I spotted some meat resting. "May I?" I asked, gesturing with my camera. "Better still, come here" I was told, whilst being ushered towards the hotplate. "This one looks better. And smells better. See?" But the smoke was in the way and my photography was lacking. "Come, here. Look at this!" another one would exclaim. "What's in there?" I asked. "Lentils". "Oh!" For they smelt a treat and looked even better. (I later gushed about the upcoming lentils. No-one took me seriously until they tasted them.) And when I looked up from the lentils, I saw three boys, having been herded together by the one on the left. They stood there, grinning. So I took a photo of them. They grinned some more. And when I went back to my table, "Ciao Bella!" rang in my ears.

course four: simun dragcevich - bistro cbd

imagename
quail and porcini ballotine sicilian lentil salsa

And so to those lentils. But first, a switch from white to red and a lovely pinot noir from Victoria served in a bulbous glass. I briefly considered work the next day, then took a sip and was well rewarded. Warm, rich and mellow. My thoughts were interrupted by Howard who had received his dish and immediately exclaimed "Oh! Chips!" I looked at my plate. "Oh! The lentils!" Blank stares. "You get a plate of quail and get excited about the lentils?" came the response. "You got excited about the chips." I retorted. And then silence. Because the lentils were just as good as they had smelt. And they matched and muted the ballotine of pigeon. This is, I thought to myself, a perfect meal for winter. And in spite of myself, and my increasingly sated stomach, I scraped my plate clean.

course five: christopher whitehead - mad cow

beef and creamed spinach
roasted eye fillet of beef, golden shallots, creamed spinach and tarragon jus

Answer me this: have you ever had a cut of meat that had been rested for half an hour? A long, long eye fillet of beef had been roasted slowly, coming out of the oven with a pink hue. Then rested. It was then, fairly unceremoniously, offloaded onto a hot plate (where the smells released sent me into a dizzying spin of excitement) and then rested. Rested well. At least 20 minutes well. And when it is finally sliced and plated, the juices have been drawn back into the meat. And medium takes on a whole new meaning. It melted. Like wagyu melts, but without the fatty aftertaste. Melted cleanly. Was soft like butter and red like a rare steak, but without the taste and mess of blood. I was enamoured. (And, in case you were wondering, I loved the creamed spinach too. It was a well matched accompaniment. Clean, hearty meat. Robust, creamy spinach.)

I should also mention here that the syrah, which is normally too strong for my tastes, was well received. So well received that I think I may have had my glass topped up. And the combination of the big, hearty, not-too-sharp red and the robust flavours of the meat and spinach made me feel just a little bit "hunting club in the UK". Which is an unusual feeling for a petit-ish Asian female to be having. Good Unusual.

course six: lauren murdoch - ash st cellar

lauren murdoch's dessert
chocolate marquis, caramelized hazelnuts, cinnamon cream

Port. Check! Dessert. Check! I took a bite. Eyes widened. Carefully chewed. "It tastes like a giant fererro rocher! But better! Like it should be!" I exclaimed. Heads turned in my direction. "Eat it! Eat it! Eat it! Stop taking photos! Or I'll eat yours too!" Hands hovered protectively around plates. But I couldn't help myself. Because it was rich, yes. But that was tempered by the quenelle of cinnamon cream that was perched atop it. And by the warm crunch of toasted hazelnuts. I ate as much as I could, rued the size of my stomach. Stopped. Started again. Stopped again. Started again. And then admitted defeat, surrendering the remains of my portion to Howard (who also received a portion of Karen's).

We spoke to Lauren Murdoch, some time after the dinner, where the guests had gone and all that were left were the chefs, the staff, their friends and a handful of little piggies. The dessert had taken two days to make, and she had 25 left over. Just in case. I mentioned that I couldn't finish my serve but dearly wished I could have. She told me she couldn't finish a serve either, though knew of people who could have eaten two. I wished I was one of those people.

chocolates
mignardises

When the mignardises arrived, I couldn't even look at them. A pot of Earl Grey was made very welcome. And I still couldn't look at them. (So I secreted a couple in a makeshift carrier and took them with me for another time. One was filled with a liquer soaked cherry. The other was a round, cocoa dusted ball of rich, dark ganache.)

We loitered wile people left around us. Then traipsed home as best as we could. Danced through Martin Place. Spun around in the still damp streets. Collapsed into bed, a stomach full of food, a head full of wine, and a happy happy heart.

(My thanks to Melissa who arranged for us to attend, courtesy the Merivale Group. )

8 bites more:

chocolatesuze said...

surely it was not i who spun and danced thru martin place nono... altho i am quite proud i didnt fall over.

Anita said...

What a lovely six course meal! Sounds like a great night out.

Lorraine @NotQuiteNigella said...

Hehe sounds like a fantastic night! And very clever making yourself a little transporter too :D My eyes are always bigger than my stomach!

Y said...

Love reading everyone's take on the same event, and seeing all the photos too!

FFichiban said...

Mmm everything looks great but the dessert *drooool*! and hee hee so who actually fell over? Shhheeezzzzz ;)?

Arwen from Hoglet K said...

I like the chef balloons - very cute. Your descriptions of the beef and lentils sound amazing, but my sweet tooth covets that dessert.

Belle said...

I'm drooling over some of those chefs.

shez said...

chocolatesuze: nono. never you! as if it would be you! *looks around suspiciously)

Anita: was absolutely lovely.

Y: unfortunately my pics don't really do the meal justice (especially as it went along - hello wine!)

FFichiban: there was no falling over. there may have been a stumble and a big belly laugh. but that is all i can say :)

Arwen: oh, i could have done with some of that dessert last night... will have to do some experimenting!

Belle: ;) weren't we all!

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