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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Sydney Winter Festival, Cook and Phillip Park, Sydney

Sydney. Snow.

The two words seem at odds with each other, but for four days last week, locals had the chance to experience a winter wonderland at the inaugural Sydney Winter Festival.

For the first time in almost fifty years, an outdoor ice skating rink was erected in Sydney's CBD, set up on the forecourt of St Mary's Cathedral. Ice skating session tickets were offered online prior to the event and sold out almost instantly. Never understimate the novelty factor and the romance quotient.

When Chocolatesuze and I arrived at the festival, it soon became clear why the tickets had sold out so fast - the rink was tiny at a mere 15 metres by 14 metres. The skaters on the rink were undeterred, a happy huddle of nervous newbies, shrieking children, doe-eyed couples and the occasional enthusiastic figure skater.

Ice skates

Ice skaters

Snow machines created a sense of winter magic - all that was missing was a Christmas soundtrack and the sound of sleigh bells ringing!

Snow machine

Food stalls surrounded the mini ice rink - a great mix of cuisines with a particular focus on European winter fare. I was disappointed I couldn't find any poutine-- a Canadian snack of French fries smothered in fresh cheese curds and gravy--even though it was advertised on the website.

Paella from El Bulli

We arrived at about 11.00am on the Sunday and the quiet morning trade meant that many stalls were gladly offering samples to the wandering public.

Cassoulet from Etch Dining

Samples of organic grass-fed wagyu beef burgers from Plan B


Krusovice Czech beer

French crepe with Nutella from Chez Lulu

Mascot from Azuma and Ton Ton

Honeycomb Rocky Road from Voodoo Chocolate

Vietnamese snacks from Saigon Bay

Ghermez cupcakes

Ghermez cupcakes


Snowflakes were the currency of the day on the cashless site, with money swapped for the blue ($10) and white ($1) discs at specific sales booths.

Hot non-alcoholic punch $5.00 incl souvenir mug

I wasn't quite ready for a breakfast of mulled wine and had the hot non-alchoholic punch instead. It tasted much like hot orange juice with cinnamon, cloves and vanilla, and was surprisingly comforting.

Hot chocolate from Voodoo Chocolate $4.00

Chocolatesuze went for the... surprise... hot chocolate. And she made a specific request for a pink marshmallow, not a white one. The stall keeper smiled, and confessed "I like it when people actually have a preference".

Warm marinated olives from Dal Forno $5.00

Prosciutto and rocket stone-baked pizza from Dal Forno $5.00

The photo of the baked brie fondue stops Suze dead in her tracks. There's a sharp inhalation of breath and in that instant, we know what we're having for lunch, a whole round of Charleston Woodside brie stuffed with herbs and baked in the oven until gooey.

Woodside Charleston Jersey cow brie (South Australian)

Stuffing the brie with rosemary and thyme

Baked brie fondue from Dal Forno $14.00

We prise at the skin of the brie to reveal a molten mass of cheese. There's not a strong flavour imparted by the herbs, and the cheese itself is quite mild, but it's a great idea I should do more often. I'm thinking it would make a perfect entree or dessert for my next dinner party.

Alpenhorn players

As we finish off the brie, we're entertained by two Swiss Alpenhorn players, a beautiful carved wooden horn that was traditionally used for communication in the alps (hence its name Alp Horn).

The notes are low and deeply resonant, a soothing sound that is calming and relaxing.

Can you say Happy Cheese Day? It certainly is for us, as we round off lunch by sharing a serve of the melted raclette cheese on offer from the Swissotel.

Raclette being grilled

The etymology of the word raclette comes from the French word racler, meaning "scrape". Half a wheel of raclette is placed beneath a special grill, heated until the top layer bubbles and turns a wondrous golden colour, before it is scraped off with a knife and eaten with boiled potatoes, gherkins and pickled onions.

Scraping off the grilled layer of raclette cheese

Swiss cheese raclette from Swissotel Sydney $8.00

The cheese is thick and stretchy, although it cools quite quickly into a pliable dairy blanket over the potato family. A dusting of paprika gives it a reassuring colour, the richness of the dish offest by the sour pickles and onions.

A great day out for young and old. Here's hoping the festival becomes an annual event that is even bigger and better next year.

The Sydney Winter Festival was held June 18-21, 2009 at Cook + Phillip Park, College Street, Sydney.
24 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 6/23/2009 12:49:00 am


  • At 6/23/2009 1:39 am, Anonymous Jess (fushmush) said…

    looks like a London style Christmas rink. I wouldn't be disappointed that you missed out. The boots hurt and the rink is too tiny to be worthwhile. Stick with the Winter food. Definitely more satisfying.

  • At 6/23/2009 1:49 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    X( soo muuchhh chheeesssssssee! Im sooo jeallouuusss... the swiss cheese raclette *droooooooooool* It's killing me...

    I am glad but also sad that there were no poutine photos tho haha

  • At 6/23/2009 9:13 am, Blogger Unknown said…

    Oh my, I literally got teary after scouring the festival and discovering no poutine! I went and got grumpy with the snowflake selling people as well. It was on their website! Grumble.

    However, I did have pork belly from Balzac, so that made it a little better. But still, don't get my hopes up like that, WinterFestivalPeople!

    Great pics by the way!

  • At 6/23/2009 9:39 am, Blogger K said…

    Both of the cheese dishes look so meltingly good. YUM!

  • At 6/23/2009 10:32 am, Blogger Simon Leong said…

    such a great idea for Sydney. hope it's a regular event.

  • At 6/23/2009 10:43 am, Blogger hazchem said…

    OMG, I have just found a new Saturday ritual. Breakfast and lots of awesome coffee at Mecca, lunch at Swissotel. That raclette looks delicious! Is that in Crossroads bar?

  • At 6/23/2009 11:24 am, Blogger Betty @ The Hungry Girl said…

    the brie fondue looks amazing! i was also there on sunday, but i only went in the evening and it was pouring rain so i didnt get to stay too long. should've gone early for the free samples ;) but i did get ALOT of free mugs, they were giving away boxes at the end of the night! lol.

  • At 6/23/2009 11:30 am, Anonymous Livia said…

    You're lucky you got there early! It was packed later on and it would've been so hard to get all those yummy food photos you got :) I also blogged this event.

  • At 6/23/2009 3:33 pm, Anonymous evecho said…

    We were looking forward to this for weeks. Cor blimey, the set up was a disappointment. We went on Friday night and one could hardly move for the crowd. Bad bad exhibit planning. The food looked v interesting but due to said crowd, we shuffled one round then left - for dinner at the International Nippon Club down the road, (you've blogged about it). Their blue fin tuna sashimi, and braised pork belly w wasabi, were fantastic.

  • At 6/23/2009 4:28 pm, Blogger OohLookBel said…

    By the sounds of it, you were very lucky with your timing. I gave it a miss due to the weather, but the Ghermez cupcakes look nice, and baked brie - mmm.

  • At 6/23/2009 6:41 pm, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    dairy blanket! hee love it! we needs more cheese!

  • At 6/23/2009 9:48 pm, Blogger YaYa said…

    Oh I'm so glad you and Suze braved the elements to take the photos, it looked delicious!

  • At 6/24/2009 10:09 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    i heard the ice rink sold out really quickly, in fact you had to book pretty early to get a spot!!

    Whenever i have food from restaurants in stalls, they always seem disappointing and a little pricey!!

    Can anyone tell me though what was on there big screen? what were they showing? a movie? a docomentary?


  • At 6/24/2009 6:50 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    helen, is there a website where i can see what upcoming festival / markets and anything else that's happening in sydney? or you could possibly inform us? i always seem to miss out on them :/

  • At 6/25/2009 9:38 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Been reading your blog for years, just wanted to say thanks for giving a shout-out to our national dish, the poutine!

    -mc, from Quebec

  • At 6/25/2009 10:01 am, Blogger flapflap said…

    Can you believe they played ice hockey on that tiny tiny ice rink?? http://annamog.blogspot.com/2009/06/winter-festival-4.html

  • At 6/25/2009 6:00 pm, Blogger Forager said…

    Oh that cheese dish looks so meltingly blisteringly good! Looks like it was great fun - I'll definitely have to turn up next year :)

  • At 6/25/2009 9:54 pm, Anonymous Leona @pigged-out said…

    Amazing photos! it looks like u went at a good time of the day.

    I went towards the closing (Sunday) and it was soo miserable! Damn rain!! =( good thing was food was half price so i managed to get 2 becasse burgers for the price of 1 and balzac meals were $4 but still i kept getting hit by ppls brollys and my shoes and jeans were soaked :(

    Did u try the ghermez cupcakes? im a hugeee fan of them ^_^

  • At 6/26/2009 1:03 am, Anonymous Yas @ hungry.digital.elf said…

    CHEEEEZE *faint*
    my god looks like so much fun this was.

    *gasp* I see another Yas in the comment! hi hi hi

  • At 6/26/2009 1:44 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Jess - Oh but you can't beat the atmosphere of an outdoor ice skating when it really is winter. I've been ice skating in New York's Central Park but nothing has so far beaten the gorgeousness of the rink at Somerset House in London :)

    Hi FFichiban - You should've gone :) And boo, I was devastated there was no poutine!

    Hi Yas - We should've had a poutine protest! I really was looking forward to it :(

    And good to hear the pork belly made some amends, but lol at our dashed hopes. Glad you liked the pics :)

    Hi K - Can't beat cheese, especially when it's all melty and gooey :)

    Hi Simon Food Favourites - I hope so too. That's what I've always loved about Sydney - so many great outdoor festivals.

    Hi Hazchem - The Swissotel is currently offering a fondue as part of their buffet. Best to ring them direct and check? Sounds like a great Saturday ritual to me!

    Hi Betty - Free mugs? Lucky you! I love free stuff, although the rain would've been annoying. Especially when toting a camera!

    Hi Livia - I usually try to get to festivals early - so much easier to take photos. We did notice the crowds increase around lunchtime, but by then we were sitting down and enjoying our cheese :)

    Hi Evecho - I didn't realise that Friday night was so popular. I guess they had limited space to work with, but yes, I was glad we were there early so we had room to move. Glad you found some good food at Nippon Club though. I love the atmosphere down there. You could almost convince yourself you're in Japan :)

    Hi Belle - Always go early, is my motto :) But we did have lots of luck with the weather too.

    Hi Chocolatesuze - Wouldn't you love to snuggle up to a dairy blanket? lol

    Hi YaYa - It was actually very warm when we were there. I think it was 18C-21C. The weather did turn just after lunch so all in all we were very lucky!

    Hi Sydneyguyrojoe - The tickets were very popular but once you saw the size of the rink, it soon became apparent why they went so fast - such a tiny allocation!

    I never saw anything on the big screen. According to the website they were going to show movies? Maybe this happened at nighttime?

    Hi Anon - I used to maintain a festival guide but these days I don't seem to have enough time to do this and blog posts. I always keep an eye on newspapers. The City of Sydney council website is also good for event listings.

    Hi MC - Hello, or bonjour! A shame we couldn't get any poutine here and glad you've been enjoying the blog for so long :)

    Hi flapflap - Wow! That's quite a feat. Thanks for the link :)

    Hi Forager - Let's hope they continue it next year. It would be great if it becamse a regular event.

    Hi Leona - We were very glad we avoided the poor weather although half-price food sounds like some consolation :) The brolly poking and wet shoes and jeans don't sound good though! I didn't try the Ghermez cupcakes although I bake cupcakes quite regularly so perhaps it was best I didn't eat even more!

    Hi Yas - It was much fun although it would've been even better if there'd been poutine :)

    And omg I thought the Yas above was you! lol. So glad you commented before I responded to the one above. Hello to both of ya's. lol

  • At 6/26/2009 5:46 pm, Anonymous fooderati said…

    Wish I'd had your fortitude to get to the Winter Festival as well as to the Southern Highlands!

  • At 6/27/2009 8:02 pm, Blogger Y said…

    Melted brie, raclette AND alpenhorns. Sigh.

  • At 6/28/2009 10:48 pm, Anonymous Simon said…

    LOL at chocolatesuze's reaction to the baked brie!

    Shame I couldn't join you guys that day. Would have totally plowed through the wagyu burger samplers! :)

  • At 6/28/2009 11:23 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi fooderati - Ah if anything puts some pep in my step it's the promise of more food :)

    Hi Y - lol. Sounds like some kind of kinky fantasy to me. lol

    Hi Simon - If she weren't Chocolatesuze, she might be Cheeseysuze :)


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