merivale winter feasts: launchparty

the establishmentThere is a queue when we arrive. A line of people that snakes past the red-ribbon barriers and spills down George Street. We hustle past them and up to the door of the Establishment. "We're here to take photos" we say. And like that, we're in. Just past the heavy doors and the bescarfed pig that guards them lies a calm flurry of people. Plating, moving, doing last minute arrangements. "Have fun!" comes a call after us. Oh yes, thought I, we will!

A feast of tiny morsels awaits us. There are, in truth, too many to taste, much less photograph. And as I wander through the Establishment, do a quick circle round the Gin Garden, and then double back to the front of the room, I hear the call "Seven minutes to opening!" and then later "Five minutes!" And I am still hastily photographing the Ocean Trout Sashimi from Sushi E when the first of the crowd come through.

Nothing screams launch party more than a small dose of celebrity, and I'm getting my taste of it in two forms. The first being a VIP pass for me + one to sample the food and wine from the comfort of a cordoned off section with many thanks to Melissa from Merivale. It is a far cry from the elbows and sleeping bags of the March into Merivale launch party and is much appreciated.



clockwise from top left: akira urata, michelle from masterchef, massimo bianchi & dan hong

The clever bunnies at Merivale staggered entry this time around, instead of ushering all and sunder in off the street. And the result? A much calmer atmosphere, a little less harried, and far fewer elbows in faces than the last time around. Still nicely cosy, but only so much as was fitting for the wintery theme. It also made for far cheerier chefs (being the other dose of "celebrity", for those of you who didn't quite pick it). And, despite being urged to "go forth and get friendly" I could only muster up the courage to take a couple of quick snaps before grinning a little stupidly and saying how much I loved the food. Note to self: next time, say hi.

Bistro CBD
head chef: simun dragicevich


duck rilette with beetroot, cornishons en croute

But enough about me and my sometimes-shy ways. You want to know about the food. What it was, where we got it, and who we loved the most. Right? Well here we go then! These little croutons topped with duck rilette, beetroot and cornishons hit the tongue with a savory / sour / sweet combination that was oh-so-comforting with cornishons and beetroot cutting through the fat of the rilette nicely.


gougeres - cheesy choux puffs

Cheesy choux puffs were a rich, mouth sticking favourite amongst some of our party. The choux was lovely and crisp without being dry, and the creamy cheese mix that was piped in the bottom added a punchy hit of flavour.


white chocolate tartlets

My firm favourite out of the Bistro CBD offerings (and indeed, one of my favourites of the evening) was the white chocolate tartlet with a bitter orange gel. Buttery dark chocolate pastry, smooth white chocolate filling and oh! the bitter orange gel with a slight acidity and a lovely pithy bitterness that muted the white chocolate's sometimes-overwhelming sweetness. It was both a boon and a curse that a platter of these was placed jsut next to where we were standing. A boon because it allowed me to eat five or six of them... and a curse because it left me with less room in my stomach for the rest of the tastes on offer.

Ash Street Cellar
head chef: lauren murdoch


duck liver paté on a brioche bun with currant relish

Like at the Merivale Gala Dinner, the dishes offered up by Lauren Murdoch at Ash St Cellar were eye-openers. The duck liver pate with currant relish on brioche garnered mixed reactions - more because of the polarising nature of
pate, and less because of the pairing itself.

But, and here I start to gush, her standout offering (and indeed, the standout offering of the night for me) was the creamed snapper and fennel soup with gremolata. Served in a chinese tea cup, this piping hot, sweetly fishy, slightly aniseedy, wonderfully fragrant soup was an absolute hit. So much so that there were giggles of delight when the lovely Michael from Hemmesphere popped by to ask what our favourite dish was thus far, and sourced a whole 'nuther tray of the teacups for us. And apologies to those around who didn't manage to score a cup, for I think I may have consumed your share. And yours. Oh, and yours too.


filo tartlet with mascarpone realle,
honey quince puree and roasted hazelnuts

Also popular were these shatteringly crisp filo tartlets. They were just the right size for popping into your mouth (and oh-so-pretty with their scalloped edges). Upon popping, there was the quickly dissolving filo, and then the sour, cheesiness of mascarpone and then, suddenly, a sweetness that was all but gone by the time it registered on your tastebuds. Beautiful.

lotus
head chef: dan hong


tuna tartare, sweet wasabi

The ever-ingenious Dan Hong carted out three offerings for the hungry crowd, all of which went down an absolute treat. Tuna tartare was served on crisp bread with a sweet and creamy wasabi dressing - the creaminess mellowing out the sinus-clearing wasabi hit and providing a complementary mouth feel to the slippery but firm tuna.


venison tartare on crispbread & vietnamese style chicken croutons

I admit, I tried the venison tartare with slight trepidation. Venison, for me, is one of those meats that I sometimes love and sometimes absolutely detest - and it all comes down to the way in which it is cooked. I needn't have worried. The venison was sliced, not minced, and slid into the mouth and down the throat in a slippery, slightly slimy, but oh-so-satisfying way. Possibly not a canape for the queasy, but I was enamoured. It was, to be honest, very rich, as venison tends to be, but not overpoweringly gamey. And with that, I was thrilled.

The not-quite-as-adventurous Miss Shiny (who attended as my ever-lovely +1) far preferred the vietnamese style chicken croutons, going so far as to dub it her favourite dish of the evening. An unexpectedly spicy kick was noted in the chicken's dressing, which lifted this fragrant, herbalicious morsel from pretty good to (in Miss Shiny's words) "whoah... hey... I like!"


mad cow
head chef: christopher whitehead


"our signature beef tartare"

I missed out on the goat’s curd, pear and rocket mini tart from Mad Cow, but the beef tartare more than made up for it. Unlike the venison from lotus, the beef here was minced finely and hit the tongue with lovely pickled flavours before melting into a clean, slightly-eggy finish.


chocolate brownie

But (and can you tell I love dessert?) it was the chocolate brownie that really had me raving. I heard a call of "This is the last plate we've got!" and hustled. It was only just cooked, so had that beautifully fudgy bottom and a top that was almost like eating chocolate ganache from a bowl. So rich. So gooey. So simply good.


est.
head chef: peter doyle


avocado, king crab and mint on lavosh

There were no surprises at est., where meticulously crafted flavours are to be expected. The king crab came in plump and juicy slivers of sweetness, the lavosh was crisp and the avocado creamy. A hint of mint jolted the tastebuds just enough left a fresh, crisp balance of flavours lingering on my tongue.


tartare of ocean trout, cucumber, ponzu and coriander

The tartare of ocean trout was fresh, and sour and fragrant and highlighted by the briney pop of little balls of roe. Cucumber added another layer of textural difference and added a hint of freshness that set off the rich oiliness of the beautiful trout. It was lovely to see trout used here, as well, instead of the normal salmon. The fish is just a little bit less oily and heavy and its use hinted at that little bit of genius that lifts Peter Doyle's dishes from the crowd.


tuscan bean stew and braised beef cheek tarts

A final offering of tuscan bean stew and braised beef cheek tart was gladly recieved by my not-so-fish-friendly-friend. It was heavier and more wintery, though the beef appeared to be cooked right down and almost unapparent in amongst the robust beans and tomatoey sauce. Either that, or I simply missed it in amongst the beans.


uccello
head chef: massimo bianchi


prosciutto san daniele and grissini (uccello)

Massimo Bianchi sated the hungry hordes with prosciutto on grissini, and try as we may, we were unable to sample the pork goodness on its own. Not that I had any complaints about the grissini - lovely and dry and shattering between the teeth, it provided a subtle foil to the rich, fatty meat.

I am horrified to admit that I missed out on the lasagne. Not for want of trying, mind you. I did try, dear friends, to score a box for myself, but by this stage, I ws filing up, and the distance between myself and the boxes was too great (also the number of people who were hovering with hopes of getting their hands on a box). I could smell it though... *sigh*.


tiramisu (uccello)

I did not, however, miss out on the tiramisu. And to make up for lasagne disappointment, I did not miss out on the tiramisu twice. (Both times courtesy the ever-lovely Anthony who battled crowds and shoo-ed away over eager hands in order to bring us a tray for photography and consumption. Twice.) Ensconsed in a chocolate cup, it was everything a tiramisu ought to be. Boozy, moist cake. Light-as-anything marscapone. Lovely rich, dark chocolate powder. Bliss!


teppanyaki
head chef: akira urata


akira urata plating king fish skewers with asian salsa

You are tiring of reading, I know. But there are four more chefs from three more establishments and a call for dining companions at the end. One of my favourite nibbles from the March into Merivale launch was the kingfish with jalapeno, and I was ever-so-glad to see Akira plating up this variation. Thick slabs of kingfish were topped with a salsa of tomato and coriander (amongst other unidentifiables) and were simply lovely. Not the mouth kick of the jalapeno, but lovely nonetheless.

Wagyu penny burgers were also offered up, and whilst I didn't manage to snap a pic, I did manage to get my teeth into one. Well, half of one. And only because Miss Shiny was gracious enough to let me take a chunk out of the otherwise-fiercely guarded morsel.


beijing duck ‘ivy style’

Beijing Duck 'ivy style' was a little like Peking duck pancakes gone classy. Gone were the wheaten pancakes and crisp duck skin (which I actually quite like) and, in their place, rice paper and duck meat. A tasty treat in itself, more so if you aren't hoping for Peking Duck pancakes.


sushi e
head chef: nobuyuki ura


ocean trout sashimi

And finally, and only finally because they are not participating in the $35 winter feasts offer, is Sushi E. They are, however, participating in a $20 all you can eat sushi deal, so get your bodies in there while you still can.

On offer, ocean trout sashimi with a segment of ruby grapefruit hidden under the folds (a top five of the evening canape for me - the sweet-and-bitter flavours of the grapefruit doing lovely things for the trout), lotus root and king prawn sandwich (which was crisp and containing whole prawns and hiding the unmistakeable density of lotus root - bliss!) and salmon and avocado inside out rolls, which were gone before I could say boo.


merivale functions & events
head chefs: carlos justo & richard johnson

And, in amongst all of that, were floating platters from Carlos & Richard of merivale functions and events. And while the others produced beautiful, eye opening creations, these were the canapes that kept us going, and going strong. The pecorino and porcini mushroom arancini were crisp on the outside and pillowy on the inner, and the goan spiced chicken skewer with preserved lime was chicken breast done to perfection - tender and succulent.

Also on offer were caramelised onion and gorgonzola tarts; smoked salmon, pesto roulade with lemon fraiche; salt cod croquettes with chilli, lime aioli and game rillettes with fresh fig and currant relish - but alas! I either found them not, or had not the stomach to try them by the time they coursed my way.


"But oh! Dear girl!" you are exclaiming "It's a recession! And I can't afford to eat at all of these spots, much as I want to." And "Oh, darling!" I am exclaiming, right back at you "Just wait til you hear!"

For merivale is offering up a winter feasts menu right through winter. For the grand price of $35, you can land yourself with either one, two or three courses (depending on the restaurant) along with a glass of wine or a James Squire beer.

Most places are offering up the additional course(s) for a small extra, so it's very worthwhile. As for me? I'm booked into lotus for dinner already, and am searching for fellow friends to hit up uccello with (if not some other joints) before the winter is up. Join me?

(And as a sidenote, book now. And I mean now. Because on calling to make my reservation at lotus a whole 2 weeks in advance, I was told that there were only two tables left - one at 7pm and one at 9pm. So c'mon. Hustle.)

7 bites more:

Simon Food Favourites said...

action shots of the chefs is cool.

FFichiban said...

Oh yumm! Great coverage of the canapes mmm so hungry now...

Helen (AugustusGloop) said...

so much good food. if only we could do it all over again! i love the last shot of the pig. it's like he's conspiring to eat more too :)

Belle@OohLook said...

I liked how some of the dishes were put out gradually, so there was something new to try on the next stroll around. I think I circled around about 4 or 5 times!

Zina @ tastedbytwo said...

I'm trying out the Winter Feasts deal at est. tonight. Can't wait!

shez said...

Simon Food Favourites: I'm so in awe of people in the food industry... took all my courage to ask for the pics :)

FFichiban: Me too. Funny how foodbloggers put on weight isn't it?

Helen: It's almost like he's just winked at you huh? I wanted to take him home, but couldn't quite figure out how.

Belle: Wasn't it fantastic? Still kicking myself at missing out on the lasagne though!

Zina: Ooh! Looking forward to hearing how it is!

Simon said...

Love your shot of the ocean trout tartare from est.

Dan Hong seems like a bit of a clown (nice way, not nasty) :) You glad you mustered up the courage to ask for a pic?

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