Philippines one day. Denmark the next. I loved that this year's Melbourne Food & Wine Festival saw me eating lechon roast suckling pig one night and smoked herring with raw egg yolk the next. There were more than 200 events to choose from at this year's Festival but I was keen to attend these two, because hey this will probably be the closest I get to Noma and um, crackling - need I say more?
The Swanston Hotel Grand Mercure
Tourism Victoria flew me down to Melbourne for the Festival, flying me with Virgin Australia and putting me up at the The Swanston Hotel Grand Mercure.
Fancy toiletries in the bathroom
The Swanston is in an older building but its location can't be beat, located smack bang in the middle of the city. There's a constant flow of tourists in and out of the building and receptionists are on 24/7. The bedroom furniture looks modern and although the bathrooms might be a little dated, that's more than made up for by the fancy Appelles Apothecary toiletries.
View of Swanston Street from my hotel room on level 11
The hotel is so central that you can hear the steady stream of buskers on the street below, but things usually quieten down by night time. Hearing the occasional ding of trams only added to the atmosphere.
A Danish Food Trail
- Restaurant Dansk
Pouring cocktails at Restaurant Dansk
A Danish Food Trail was run by Restaurant Dansk, a community club originally open only to members but now free to dine at by all members of the public. I have a deep fondness for community clubs and I was surprised to find that Restaurant Dansk was located only a few blocks walk from my hotel.
Executive Chef Bente Grysbæk leading us through the menu
Executive Chef Bente Grysbæk was our host for the evening. Our seven course meal would take us through several cities across Denmark, all helpfully mapped out for the geographically challenged.
A Danish Food Trail menu mapping our courses by region
Course 1: Copenhagen canapes
Copenhagen cocktail with fiskefillet med pomfritter (fish and chips)
We were welcomed with rather alcoholic Copenhagen cocktails and canapes of fish and chips wrapped in tiny newspaper cones.
Course 2: Pre-entree at Gilleleje Harbour
En kop med rejer (a cup of prawns)
with Dill Aquavit and Amass India pale ale from Mikkeller
Gilleleje Harbour, we're told, is a humble and unassuming fishing town, but the fish shop on the wharf produces the most amazing seafood. Tonight we were served Clarence River prawns, deep-fried shell and all until they reached an earth-shattering crisp. It was a fingers-only affair as we dove into the paper cup, but the prawns were so deliciously fresh and sweet you could almost swear you could hear the distance screech of seagulls.
Each dish tonight would be matched with an alcoholic beverage - many of them beers - but this course also included a shot of Dill Aquavit, headily alcoholic and imbued with a distinct and alluring flavour of dill.
Course 3: Entree at Skagen
Skagen's fiskesuppe (fish soup)
with Wicked Wheat beer from Beer Here
It was a case of pour-your-own-soup when we received our bowls with a bed of prawns, scallops, dill and asparagus. The personal jugs provided allowed you to control exactly how much fiskesuppe or fish soup you wanted to add, but really I don't think anyone could resist pouring the entire lot. The intensity of flavour was incredible, deep and gutsy with fish stock but tempered with the beguiling lightness of cream.
Plating up our pre-main in the kitchen
I constantly snuck out of my seat every time I spied the chefs commence plating for the next dish. Cool, calm and collected, it was mesmerising to watch them gradually add each component across fifty or so dishes until finally they reached their masterful completion.
Course 4: Pre-main near Limfjorden
Limfjord Østers - gravlax with oysters, apples, creme fraiche and fennel
with Mama Vodka and Greed beer from Amager Bryghus
The gravlax roulade rolled with creme fraiche was a revelation. Not just because the creme fraiche added a lightness of tang, but because hidden within was the delicate crunch of grated green apples and then surprise pockets of raw oyster that burst in your mouth with brine.
Adding the finishing touches to our main
Course 5: Main on Bomholm Island
Sol over Gudhjem (sun over Gudhjem smoked fried herring with raw egg yolk)
with Smoking Scotchman Scotch ale from Amager Brewery
Sun over Gudhjem, a small fishing port on the northern coast of Denmark, is such a poetic name for a dish. The sun was represented by a raw egg yolk and we were instructed to pierce the yolk and pour it over the rest of the dish, a dense slice of rye bread covered in smoked fried herring, shavings of radish, red onion and chives.
Smoked herring can be quite an oily and strong-tasting fish, but the egg yolk worked well to balance the saltiness, helped too by the red onion and crisp radish.
The Smoking Scotch ale is worth mentioning. Everyone thought it tasted like chocolate with a smokiness that lingered on the palate. One gent even reckoned it tasted like alcoholic Ice Magic!
Course 6: Cheese from Fyn Island
Gamle Ole cheese
with walnut Aquavit and Nordic Saddle Buffer barley wine-style beer from Kissmeyer
We were warned that the Gamle Ole cheese was a bit of an acquired taste but I couldn't get enough of it. Translating to Old Ole (Ole is a man's name), the cheese is aged for at least 40 weeks until distinctly ripe and fragrant. You say stinky, I say aromatic.
Here we were encouraged to move the cheese on top of the dark seeded bread and to pour the walnut aquavit over the top. The jelly turned out to be beef jelly and its gentle umami notes worked so well against the cheese, rounded out by the red onion, deep-fried eschalots and warm bitterness of the walnut Aquavit.
Plating up dessert
Course 7: Dessert in Sønderjylland
Rugbrødslagkage layered rye bread cake
with Somersby pear cider
Dessert was the biggest crowd-pleaser of the night, mostly because noone could believe that rye bread cake could taste so good with cream. Rye bread cake is a recipe borne out of clever frugalness, made from stale dark rye bread crumbs that are combined with eggs, milk, sugar and spices to create a new and delicious cake.
Usually it's layered with sour cherries and buttercream. Tonight we had it with white chocolate cream and fresh berries. Everybody scraped their plate clean.
- William Angliss Restaurant
And then there was the Filipino Barbie. I'd requested this event thinking there'd be a whole pig on a spit, lechon style, but tonight's meal would end up being a fancier procession of dishes based on Filipino favourites.
What the Heck is Filipino Food by Melbourne food blogger Adrian Briones from Food Rehab
It was heartening to see this event was fully booked out, filled with plenty of Filipino ex-pats and a happy mix of curious Aussies. And for those who were wondering What the Heck is Filipino Food, Melbourne food blogger Adrian Briones' book was there to help.
Filipino Barbie menu
I ended up being seated at the table filled with the former college classmates of tonight's host, Chef Sau de Rosario who'd flown in from the Philippines for the event. His friends has come from as far away as Hong Kong, Wellington and Brisbane to support him, creating their own mini reunion at the same time, and it was a treat to hear them muse aloud and appreciate the new twist Chef Sau had given to familiar Filipino dishes.
Braised oxtail simmered in peanut sauce and anatto seeds stuffed in ravioli
Kare kare, for instance, is usually a thick and hearty stew made with oxtail and peanut sauce. Here the oxtail was stuffed into ravioli pockets, deep-fried and serve with a peanut macadamia sauce on the side. The Filipinos around me nodded their head in amazement. "It tastes just like kare kare but better".
Traditional chicken soup cooked in coconut water
Binakol is a chicken soup that is often presented in a whole young coconut. This year's theme for the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival was water, and tonight's event was riffing off that with a central ingredient of coconut water in many of its dishes.
Here the binakol was cooked with coconut water, a delicate broth poured from shiny silver teapots over an island of sea bass - cooked sous vide so the flesh flaked easily with a fork - dotted with straw mushrooms, green papaya and candied ginger.
Pouring the binakol chicken soup at the table
Grilled prawns with salad and pineapple salsa
You could smell the fish sauce in the pinoy salad even before it hit the table. Peeled prawns were marinated in coconut milk, kaffir lime leaves and ginger, then grilled and served with crunchy cos lettuce, cherry tomatoes and a zingy pineapple salsa.
Chef JP Anglo carving the rolled pork belly
I'd been encouraged to make my way into the kitchen as I pleased, and I made sure I did so during the plating of the lechon. Lechon is traditionally a whole roast suckling pig but tonight they elevated this dish by using only the pork belly and rolling it with Paella Valencia, a nod to the Spanish influence in the Philippines.
Roasted pork belly stuffed with Paella Valencia
CCA chefs on the assembly line
A team of chefs from the Center for Culinary Arts in Manila had also flown to Melbourne to assist Chef Sau de Rosario and Chef JP Anglo. It was fascinating to watch them come together as a team, each person responsible for one task until the dish seamlessly came together.
All hands on deck
A brief gap in production
Adding the Dutch baby carrot
Plated pork dishes finally hit the pass
Crispy pork belly roulade stuffed with Paella Valencia
And yes, this dish was amazing. The pork belly was beautifully juicy and tender, curled around a huddle of paella rice, each grain still slightly chewy, bordered with a brittle layer of golden bubbled crackling.
Pouring the Filipino chocolate
Dessert took a sustained amount of time to plate as well. There were so many components on this dish, each one laid out in exactly the same way across 120 dishes.
Cutting out rounds of flan
Chef Sau de Rosario slicing the halo halo spring rolls
Halo halo spring roll
Desserts leaving the kitchen
Halo halo spring roll and Filipino petit four
I'd been skeptical about the idea of a halo halo spring roll, but this re-engineering of a shaved ice dessert somehow works: purple yam, red beans and coconut rolled up into logs of pastry and then deep-fried. There's a puddle of vanilla ice cream, a dab of kaya coconut jam and then stepping stones of uraro arrowroot cookies, polvoron shortbread, a cookie with taro and coconut and a disc of eggy flan rich with condensed milk.
A cup of Spanish-style hot chocolate was so thick you could eat it with a spoon and I also loved the wrapped Chocnut, a crumbly childhood sweet of milk chocolate mixed with crushed peanuts.
All the chefs receiving congratulations and thanks on stage
Much fun. Much laughter.
Chef Sau de Rosario and Chef JP Anglo flank Chef Tristan from CCA (Center for Culinary Arts) Manila
The Filipino Barbie was held on 7 March at the William Angliss Occasions Restaurant and cost $60 for six courses with a glass of wine.
A Danish Food Trail was held on 8 March at Restaurant Dansk and cost $180 for 6 courses with beverages.
Grab Your Fork attended both events as a guest of Tourism Victoria for the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival 2014. Flights and accommodation were included.
Level 3, 428 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne
Tel: +61 (03) 9600 4477
Monday to Tuesday 12pm-3pm
Wednesday to Friday 12pm-9pm
Last orders half an hour before close
Closed Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays
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3/23/2014 12:02:00 a.m.