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Thursday, March 05, 2009

March Into Merivale Launch Party, The Establishment

Forget busty wenches. The women of Sydney are much more interested in hot naked chefs.

With economic doom and gloom reputedly just around the corner, trust Justin Hemmes to use his trademark business nous and marketing panache to create a month-long budget-friendly Food and Wine Festival that spans all nine Merivale restaurants. Convince the head chefs to get naked for an arty photo shoot. Give it a catchy tagline, like "March into Merivale". And then host a free launch party for the public. Guaranteed exposure and foodblogger buzz.

Tartare of aoraki salmon, cucumber, wasabi and prawns
From est. (head chef Peter Doyle)

Yes, I really did say free food. And drink. Like ants at a picnic, word seemed to spread like wildfire and the launch venue, The Establishment, was soon one huge heaving mass of people. Hungry people. Swatting at samples like they hadn't eaten for days. At times it felt like a soup kitchen for suits.

I only say this because trying to get photos in such circumstances is a test of speed and elbow power. And I had to admire the chefs at each sample station, who, faced with a relentless swell of mouths, plated up non-stop with cool and deliberated efficency.

Grilled figs with St Agur
From bistro cbd (head chef Simun Dragicevich)

The grilled figs with St Agur from bistro cbd quickly soothed my stress levels. Is there a more sophisticated combination than figs and blue cheese? I think any intent to grill the figs was quickly abandoned, but this classic pairing of sweet yielding in-season figs with the creamy intensity of St Agur was very well received.

Crab betel leaves
From Teppanyaki (head chef Akira Urata)

My second-favourite morsel of the night was the crab betel leaf from Teppanyaki. Succulent sweet crab pickings on the glossiest of green betel leaves topped with an angel-thin whisper of crunchy fried noodles. Spoons of ocean trout sashimi were firm and fresh, daubed with a caramel syrup and scattered with chives and red basil microleaves.

Ocean trout sashimi
From Teppanyaki (head chef Akira Urata)

Astroboy mascots and cherry blossoms at the Sushi Choo station

Kingfish sashimi
From Sushi Choo (head chef Shimpei Hatanaka)

Kingfish sashimi from Sushi Choo was like sex on a stick. A velvety mouthful of kingfish that was a little bit sweet and a little bit salty, a thinnest sliver of jalapeno providing an unexpected tingle.

Chorizo sandwiches with aioli jalapeno chimchurri
From Lotus Bistro (head chef Dan Hong)

The biggest endurance test was to be had at Lotus Bistro. It took the team a minute to plate a tray of chorizo sandwiches, and about five seconds for the crowd to dissolve them. The chorizo had an earthy smoked paprika flavour that went brilliantly with the garlic mayonnaise and chimchurri sauce.

Charcuterie-game terrine, rabbit rillettes
and chicken liver pate on toasted brioche

From Mad Cow (head chef Christopher Whitehead)

The Mad Cow station at the front of the Establishment was clearly not designed with a jam-packed crowd in mind, the tasting table half-tucked behind the entry door. And the intricacy of three different tastes on each delicate finger of brioche must've been regretted in no time. The wait was worth it though. The combination of the charcuterie-game terrine, rabbit rillettes and chicken liver pate was a rich and satisfying journey. I could have quite easily scoffed the entire tray.

BBQ wagyu top sirloin steak with chimchurri
From Mad Cow (head chef Christopher Whitehead)

Huge slabs of wagyu top sirloin steak took centre stage on the barbecue grill, the glass doors thrown open so that passing commuters were bathed in the smell of barbecued bovine. Seared to a juicy medium rare, the cubes of steak proved to be the most tender mouthfuls of bliss, baptised in the warmth of a chimchurri dressing.

'Prawn cocktail' poached Spencer Gulf prawn
with iceberg lettuce, tomato chilli jam and tomato jelly
From Mad Cow (head chef Christopher Whitehead)

Cute noodle boxes held a prawn cocktail of South Australian Spencer Gulf prawn, iceberg lettuce, tomato chilli jam and tomato jelly. The prawns were huge, sliced into chunky discs, although I found the flesh a little firmer than I'd expected.

Pig's head at Ucello

And of course we save the best for last. This little pig went to Ucello and pigged out. On pig.

Ucello (head chef Massimo Bianchi)

Porchetta provided juicy chunks of roast pork wearing little golden hats of bubbled crackling.

Prosciutto San Daniele by Prosciuttifici Picaron at Ucello

Massimo Bianchi kept up a non-stop replenishment of samples, with the chef manning the meat slicer constantly shaving legs of prosciutto.

And this, by far, was my favourite sample of the night. The prosciutto. Oh. My. God.

Prosciutto grissini
From Ucello (head chef Massimo Bianchi)

Initially served wrapped on grissini sticks, the grissini was either exhausted or abanadoned, and soon little mounds of prosciutto were all that stood between me and utter happiness.

Aged for two years, the prosciutto was wafer thin, almost melting on the tongue. Faintly sweet and not too salty, these delicate shavings might make anyone take their clothes off.

March Into Merivale runs for the month of March and includes $33 lunch and dinner offers that change each week. Special events include progressive dinners, a dessert degustation with matching cognacs, film nights and a geisha show.

Other foodbloggers at the event: A Table for Two, Citrus and Candy, Eat Show and Tell, Foraging Otaku, Here Comes the Food, One Bite More, Simon Food Favourites and Spicy Icecream.

Related GrabYourFork posts:
Chefs of Merivale Gala Dinner: Canapes and behind-the-scenes
Chefs of Merivale Gala Dinner
14 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 3/05/2009 01:52:00 am


  • At 3/05/2009 6:43 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    So this is what you get invited to when you're "in the loop"...

    Some real appetising shots. Having a wonderful proscuitto experience recently, I am really wanting to find out how good the San Daniele was. Perhaps I'll need to go to Ucello sometime soon.

  • At 3/05/2009 8:45 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    agreed times two on the kingfish w jalapeno and the prosciutto on grissini. heaven on a stick!

    chorizo was good too - 'cept i ended up burping chorizo all night. that was slightly less good :)

  • At 3/05/2009 9:35 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    helen your photo skills is stepping with the new camera! :) I missed out on the kingfish and jalapeno, it is so hard to push in when people just stand right in front of the tables not moving at all. No doubt the prosciutto on grissini is one of the highlights, I was holding it like a lollipop, munching away!

  • At 3/05/2009 9:38 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hehe to the soup kitchen for suits :P I love these events with bite sized things. It gives you so much more to taste.

  • At 3/05/2009 10:16 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Oh dear. You've gone over to the dark side and turned into food blogging's Paris Hilton. ;-P

    PS glad you enjoyed it - or at least Daniel Hong nude.

  • At 3/05/2009 10:19 am, Blogger hazchem said…

    oh man, I think I have to put uccello on my list after seeing this. Which reminds me, I haven't been to Sean's Kitchen in Star City yet to sample their selection of jamon ....

  • At 3/05/2009 12:07 pm, Blogger Tina said…

    Awesome photos! Makes me wish I had gone, but I'm a little scared of hoardes when there's free food on offer.

  • At 3/05/2009 1:35 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    ohhh im so jealous! i came back from melb the day after waaaah =( and dude cant believe you didnt stay for desserts!

  • At 3/05/2009 1:36 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    The pig face is very confronting but I could easily be tempted to ignore that face for some of that delicious crackling.

    Everything looks so good. Great photos as always.

    Have Merivale reported any missing Astro boys yet?

  • At 3/05/2009 7:56 pm, Blogger Suzie said…

    The food looks so good - and I loved Merivale's brochure. Wonder if Janie Oliver knows there are a lot more naked chefs around....

  • At 3/05/2009 11:30 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Wahh missed you but loving your photoos and coverage! Again... kicking myself for getting there too late and missing out on the goodies

  • At 3/06/2009 3:51 am, Blogger enchilada8me said…

    If I had known about this would I have been able to go???

    I want to gooo!

    How would I find out about these types of things in the future?

  • At 3/06/2009 3:07 pm, Blogger Karen | Citrus and Candy said…

    Love the photos - lol hope mine can come up to your standards one day :) Ooh the pork...

    You know I was there at the end of it all and I can tell you that those Astro Boys were no longer on the table!

  • At 3/07/2009 5:22 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Simon - Ahh no invite necessary for this one. There were random people off the street welcome to this one, including one guy still in his jogging gear!

    The prosciutto was unbelievable, and done justice by the incredibly thin shavings.

    Hi Shez - Ooh chorizo flashbacks don't sound good at all! A great night, and lovely to meet you finaly :)

    Hi Billy - lol. Thanks, but I still have much to do to catch up to your standards! It was definitely a bunfight. I was down the sushi end at the start of the night when it wasn't too bad.

    Hi Arwen - Bite-sized things are great, free stuff even better. It was certainly a test of mettle though, and not an event for anyone suffering claustrophobia!

    Hi SimonT - lol. Is there a video out there I don't know about?

    And ahh, free prosciutto - what's not to enjoy!

    Hi Hazchem - I have to confess I haven't been to either. And that prosciutto went a long way to romancing my heart toward Ucello's way!

    Hi Tina - Ahh yes it's a bit turning point when you're prepared to risk life and limb for a coveted food sample. A great night and the chefs and staff did so well to cope with the crowds too.

    Hi Chocolatesuze - It was such a shame you couldn't make it. We did miss you! And I know, I know, we should've stayed for desserts but we escaped for some fresh air and really it all seemed a little too hard to go back into the sardine can again!

    Hi Veruca Salt - lol. No, I did not take any Astroboys, although maybe that's cause my handbag was already laden with camera! I didn't think about it either... no, definitely not!!!

    Hi Suzie - lol. I thought the brochure was a great idea. Great to see chefs with a sense of humour!

    Hi FFichiban - You must've arrived as we left, and whenever freebies are concerned, it's always advised to get there early :)

    Hi enchilda8me - Aww I'm sorry. It was publicised on their website and the foodblogging community seemed right onto it. These types of freebies don't happen often (in fact, never, as far as I know!), but I'll have to try to remember to drop you an email if there are any in the future :)

    Hi Karen - Oh it's nothing a little Photoshop can't help you with :) Wow, I can't believe you stayed until the very end. Well done you! And I hope the Astroboys were secured away by staff and not kidnapped. The cruelty!


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