The annual Melbourne Food and Wine Festival is happening now. Should I consider these 17 days my new favorite time of year?
Despite involuntary urges to register myself for nearly every fine dining, wine sipping, foodie-mingling experience, I had to restrain myself. Instead, I opted to dabble lightly in the water-themed festivities by attending one free and one paid event.
Nestled in bustling Queensbridge Square (Southbank) and literally on the Yarra River overlooking the city is the Immersery, festival kitchen, bar and rain garden. In theory, it’s a free event but in reality you won’t leave without being tempted to spend some cash.
The massive pop-up venue has a floating bar featuring live acoustic music, a rainforest and misting rooftop bar serving Victoria’s Seppelt, Coldstream Hills and T’Gallant wine and a tempting menu of dumplings, fine meat selections and vegetarian options crafted by leading chef’s from Melbourne’s top restaurants Silo, Añada & Bomba, Huxtable & Huxtaburger, Borrowed Space, and Tani Eat & Drink. To be honest, after spending $55 on a bottle of Coldstream Hills Chardonnay, $30 on the disappointing meat platter we roamed around to learn a bit more about green living, explored the mist of the rain garden and called it day.
My highlight of the festival however was the King and the Squire five-course degustation held at the Portland Hotel and James Squire Brewhouse last Saturday. I expected pub food and poorly matched beer pairings but left with a stomach full of exquisite deliciousness and ten beers deep.
Sat at long tables the event was a mix of family style sharing and individual serves all paired to the likes of James Squire beers around the theme of King Island, a small island off the coast of Tasmania known for beef, cheese and seafood. General Manager Joe kicked things off with an entertaining introduction of how they conceptualized the King Island theme around Cloud Juice and walked us through each course offering educational tips on the differences between lager and ale, the beer making process and how to pour the perfect pint.
The meal started off with a shooter size serve of gazpacho: seaweed, a hint of chili and quite rich, it was the perfect serving size and ended with a large oyster at the finish. Also, a great paring with the Orchard Crush Apple Cider.
The next course was worth the money alone. As Joe finished telling us about Cloud Juice, the purest of rainwater collected on King Island and bottled to the likes of marketing influenced tourists I saw the masterpiece out of the corner of my eye being served to the next table. Huge buckets full of a seafood wonderland served on ice. Whole lobsters, razor clams, mussels, raw oysters, oysters shots, and 5 pepper fried prawns. A bucket served four people and that was overly generous. As I expertly removed the lobster meat from the claw like a seasoned professional in one pull, the experience combined with the taste sent me back to summers at the Jersey Shore.
Our next course, and we’re nearly full at this stage, was a large portion of very rare steak, almost too rare but also so tender. Accompanied by crispy carrots covered in cinnamon, a beautifully sweet parsnip puree and oxtail dumplings exploding with flavor. While others commented the oxtail was unnecessary and too much meat on the plate I agree there could have been a green however the bitterness of the cabbage on the dumpling exterior was a nice balance to the rest of the dish. The Nine Tales Amber Ale was the perfect accompaniment to the red meat.
Whether you want desert or not when someone puts a warm chocolate fondant in front of you with fresh mint mango sorbet (the one item not from King Island yet there was no shame in admitting it), it’s impossible to say no. Paired with the Jack of Spades Porter it went handsomely with the chocolate.
To close the day was a platter of King Island roaring 40’s blue, sharp cheddar and a soft Brie with two last beers.
After thanking the top chef Nick, Joe was more than accurate when he said, “ I think we all know the hero of the day is the cow!” I’m overly impressed with the attention to detail, serving sizes and both value and superiority of the food. Will definitely be attending a future event at the Portland Hotel.
To top it off, as I said, attention to detail, we were all given a quick tour of the brewery, sample menus from the day’s servings, and a bottle of Cloud Juice!