After delighting in a backstage tour before the Chefs of Merivale Gala Dinner--sampling the canapes and talking to the chefs in the banquet kitchen downstairs--we food bloggers fully expected to be escorted out the door once the official dinner was served. At $300 a head, the six-course dinner would not only herald the conclusion of the first March into Merivale campaign, but would also be raising money for Camp Quality.
So when we were casually asked if we would be staying for dinner, there was certainly a moment of surrealism. Were we really hearing correctly? Had she just asked us... omigod she did. Thank goodness everyone else was doing the nodding for me (vigorously, too).
The running sheet
We'd already seen the running sheet of courses on the whiteboard downstairs. Although the dinner would be served in Massimo Bianchi's Ucello restaurant, each course would be presented by a different restaurant from the Merivale group.
Soon we were taking our seats at a table that was set up just for us in the middle of the room. Anthony, our waiter for the evening, was by our side in an instant, enquiring about any allergies at the table and whether we were all happy to have our beef served medium rare.
And then, because our status as food bloggers had been noted and nay, welcomed, Anthony was again at our table to let us know that the first course was being plated, and would any of us like to head into the kitchen for photos?
The kitchen was in full-swing, the stainless steel counter laden with an army of Daniel Hong's upcoming dish. We hovered at the entrance trying not to get in the way, a row of chefs working silently but swiftly side-by-side as waitstaff stood by waiting for instructions.
I've often admired the intricacies of workflow in a commercial kitchen - there's an element of performance and theatre as each chef plays their pivotal role in a production that can only be seamless and without fault.
Course #1: Tartare of bluefin tuna
with sweetcorn, wasabi, avocado and soy-truffle dressing
Chef: Daniel Hong, Lotus
Wine: 2008 Leo Buring Riesling ‘Leonay’, Eden Valley - South Australia
I had a feeling I would love this dish, but even I wasn't prepared for the way Daniel Hong swept my off my feet. The tuna - I put a small portion in my mouth and then almost rolled my eyes to the back of my head. Softer than a baby's cheek, it simply sighed as it practically melted on my tongue, this divine morsel of tuna toro, the fattiest part of the belly that is most prized by the Japanese.
On top of the tuna was a happy splash of yellow, a puree of corn that was as sweet as it was sunny. Perched on the plate were five legumes that turned out to be wasabi paste, a pleasing hit of wasabi that was not harsh nor sinus-inflicting, but warm and sweet.
It was a revelation of tastes and textures, the yielding softness of the tuna contrasting with the creaminess of corn and the faint heat of wasabi. On the east and west corners of the plate we found a microscopic dice of green which we presumed to be unripe avocado and then suddenly - POP! the jolting briny burst of slippery swollen salmon roe.
The dish was so good I descended into an imitation of the giggling Japanese actresses on the judging panel of Iron Chef. It was like sex on a plate and I was going weak at the knees. I needed a private room with this dish. Seriously.
Massimo Bianchi, Ucello and Christopher Whitehead, Mad Cow
Making sure each plate is spotless before it leaves the kitchen
As I was photographing the plating of Massimo Bianchi's dish, I hear a psst! psst! only to see two chefs looking and ready for a quick happy snap.
Course #2: Raviolo of lobster with asparagus and mushrooms
Chef: Massimo Bianchi, Ucello
Wine: 2007 Feudi di San Gregorio Greco di Tufo, Campania – Italy
Chef Massimo Bianchi is known for his exacting standards, and I'm not surprised to see that his dish is being plated only a few at a time. A moat of creamy asparagus puree surrounds a silky raviolo that holds a pillow of sweet lobster. On top lie a puddle of rich buttery mushrooms. It's not a fragile insipid dish, but one that is rustic and marked with intense flavours.
Course #3: Steamed baby snapper fillet with sand crab,
snow peas, oyster mushrooms and ginger shallot vinaigrette
Chef: Peter Doyle, est.
Wine: 2007 Moss Wood Chardonnay, Margaret River - Western Australia
Peter Doyle's steamed baby snapper fillet with sand crab is a more delicate dish, a perfectly steamed portion of fish that nestles on a medley of soft-cooked snow peas, oyster mushrooms and thin slivers of shallot. A warm vinaigrette flavoured gently with ginger further enhances the Asian flavours of this dish.
Lentils cooking on the stove
Course #4: Quail and porcini ballontine with Sicilian lentil salsa
Chef: Simun Dragicevich, bistro cbd
Wine: 2005 Curly Flat Pinot Noir, Macedon Ranges - Victoria
The elegant discs of the quail and porcini ballontine are mirrored in shape but contrasted in sophistication by the miniature potato crisps in Simun Dragicevich's offering. "Ooh look! kettle chips" says chocolatesuze jokingly, and there's a welcome playfulness in the way one alternates between using fingers to eat the crisps, and then knife and fork to carve at the delicate roll of quail stuffed with porcini.
A bed of Sicilian lentils is firm and toothsome, adding an earthy sustenance.
Salad caprese: buffalo mozzerella with tomatoes and basil
(alternative dish to cater for a diner allergy)
Chefs sealing the eye fillets of beef
Eye fillets resting
Quail butts! I was enthralled by the sight of the quail ballotine ends
collected and sitting on a plate - a Chef's Treat for the end of the evening perhaps?
Massimo Bianchi with the now evidently photo-happy chef (see above)
Course #5: Roasted eye fillet of beef
with golden shallots, creamed spinach and tarragon jus
Chef: Christopher Whitehead, Mad Cow
Wine: 2006 Clarendon Hills Syrah ‘Moritz’, Clarendon - South Australia
By the time course number five rolled around, we were expecting only a small portion of beef, but the roasted eye fillet of beef by Christopher Whitehead was not only thick and hearty, but devastatingly tender too. Although dark pink in the middle, the flesh was without blood and buttery soft.
Golden shallots had a wonderful caramelised edge but the creamed spinach was the biggest surprise, a huddle of greens that was silky and sweet.
Lauren Murdoch, Ash St Cellar, heads the brigade for the plating of dessert
Daniel Hong, Lotus
Course #6: Chocolate marquis
with caramelised hazelnuts and cinnamon cream
Chef: Lauren Murdoch, Ash St Cellar
Wine: 1995 Quinta do Noval Colheita Tawny Port – Portugal
Dessert is not for the faint-hearted either. I return from the kitchen to our table to find the others hunched protectively over their plates, with one person declaring "it's like a giant Ferrero Rocher!"
Lauren Murdoch's dessert is a tribute to sweet decadence. A trail of liquid toffee and caramelised hazelnuts leads you to a chocolate behemoth that is encrusted with the crunch of toasted hazelnuts. Tap your spoon determinedly past the hazelnuts and through the thick layer of dark chocolate ganache and finally, finally, you sink into the fluffy mound of rich chocolate mousse within.
Consume slowly and silently with occasional scrapings of the quenelle of cinnamon cream.
It was the quietest moment at our table all evening.
Fresh cream truffles and cherry liquer chocolates
We concluded our evening with coffees, teas and a plate of mignardises, the fancy word for petite desserts. The cherry liquer chocolates had a crisp snap to the dark chocolate, a puddle of cherry liquer and cherry pieces within. It was the fresh cream truffles I found extra room for, cocoa-dusted ball of cream and chocolate that were fluffy and light.
The Chefs of Merivale Gala Dinner was held on Tuesday March 31, 2009 at Ucello, The Ivy.
Thanks to Melissa from Merivale for the invitation, as well as all the chefs and staff on the evening for being so warmly receptive, patient and accommodating.
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Level 4, The Ivy Complex
320 George Street, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9240 3000
Open Tuesdays to Fridays for lunch and dinner
Saturdays dinner only
Sundays lunch only
Related GrabYourFork posts:
Chefs of Merivale Gala Dinner: Canapes and behind-the-scenes
March Into Merivale launch party
And as a quick post-script, Grab Your Fork was featured in the Weekend Australian Magazine's article Soapbox in cyberspace: best blogs. Congrats also to tomatom and abstractgourmet for their mentions in the category of best Australian food blogs.
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4/06/2009 02:21:00 a.m.