I admit it. The main reason I was excited about celebrating Nepenthe's recent wins in the Decanter World Wine Awards 2009, was the fact they were celebrating it at Aria.
The undoubted star of the evening was the Nepenthe Sauvignon Blanc 2008, winner of the Best Australian Sauvignon Blanc under £10 Trophy. The Decanter World Wine Awards, which were launched in 2003, attracted more entries in 2009 than any other wine competition in the world.
Suze and I join the room filled with well-wishers, alongside fellow food bloggers Lorraine, Minh and Mel. Naturally we gravitate towards the food, and whilst I doubt many of the waitstaff were quite used to so much attention, they exhibit extreme grace and patience whilst we swarm over the platters of canapes. One waitress even offers to move to an area with better light!
Lamb and harissa sausage rolls
Need I say the food was divine? The lamb and harissa sausages rolls were particularly tasty, the pastry delicate and flaky against the spiced lamb mince.
Gruyere gougeres are light-as-a-feather cheese puffs, and I'm quite a fan of the creamy sweetness of Woodside Chevre from South Australia, especially against the contrasting spicy dollop of chilli jam and the crisp buttery disc of parmesan sable underneath.
Woodside goat cheese pressed with herbs, served on parmesan sable with chilli jam
Friends, business partners and media celebrate
Southern bluefin tuna loin with soy or a mild red curry dressing
In the speeches later on in the evening, we found out that Aria buys all its Southern bluefin tuna whole, with each fish weighing about 25 kilos. The fish are partially farmed, and it's the toro, or tuna belly, and the loin they are most interested in.
We enjoyed the Southern bluefin tuna loin served in cubes sashimi-style, a mild curry dressing complementing the fish surprisingly well.
Nepenthe Pinot Gris 2009
We are drinking wine through the evening, although managing a wine glass, a digital SLR and canapes is a juggling act. The Sauvignon Blanc is light and crisp and I notice that many of its recommended pairings (fresh seafood, oysters, goats cheese and sushi) are on the menu tonight. The 2008 Sauvignon Blanc also won a gold medal at this year's Sydney Royal Wine Show.
The Pinot Gris is more subtle, with a summery lightness that I find very easy to drink.
Nepenthe The Good Doctor Pinot Noir 2006
Decanter World Wine Awards Bronze Medal
The Pinot Noir is smooth and almost savoury, with the smell of berries. By this time, we've befriended a wine connoisseur who encourages us to swirl, sniff and savour - to enjoy the wine without feeling intimidated.
Smoked salmon rolls
With so much alcohol on offer (on a school night!), it's just as well the canapes flow freely. Smoked salmon rolls are pristine scrolls of visual perfection and Spencer Gulf prawn toasts are a upmarket twist of sweet prawn on deep-fried croutons.
Spencer Gulf prawn toasts
Agedashi tofu with pickled ginger
Spoons of agedashi tofu are lovely palate cleansers, particularly with the rose-shaped garnish of ginger and green onion. We also delight in freshly shucked Coffin Bay oysters served with a zingy vinaigrette.
Coffin Bay oysters
Deep-fried school prawns
The crowd pleaser is definitely the deep-fried school prawns served in paper cones. The prawns, fished from the South coast, are kept in the shell and fried to a crisp. Dusted with Szechuan pepper and salt and topped with a wedge of lemon, we crunch down on them, shell and all, including heads and tails.
As the evening drew to a close we felt a buzz in the room and noticed that owner and head chef Matt Moran had arrived in the dining room, straight from the wrap party of the MasterChef finale. We're admittedly awestruck and hesitantly wangle our way toward him.
"Food bloggers aye?" he booms, as we introduce ourselves. "I hope you've been writing nice things!" he says with a laugh. I'm particularly impressed by the way he shakes each of our hand with decisiveness, looking us straight in the eye with a piercing gaze, not the mere vague flippancy I'd half-expected.
When we ask for a photo he breaks into a broad smile and beckons us toward the door. "You'll have to come into the kitchen for that. You can't have a photo in the dining room!"
By this point, Minh, Suze and I are giggling like proverbial schoolgirls, and when we halt outside the kitchen door, he turns around and says, "but there's one condition, no photos of the kitchen." We pause. "I'M ONLY JOKING!" and he breaks into peals of laughter as he introduces us to the bemused kitchen brigade on duty.
Minh, Suze and I with Matt Moran
So we get a photo in the kitchen. With Matt Moran.
Perhaps we've had a touch too much wine, but we leave Aria with huge smiles. And happy bellies. And a lovely bottle of Nepenthe wine too.
Grab Your Fork attended the Nepenthe wine celebrations courtesy of Prue and Brett from The Mint Partners.
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1 Macquarie Street, East Circular Quay, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9252 2555
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7/24/2009 01:52:00 am