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Friday, July 24, 2009

Nepenthe wine celebrations at Aria Restaurant, Sydney

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

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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Aria Restaurant
1 Macquarie Street, East Circular Quay, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9252 2555

Lunch Monday to Friday 12.00pm to 2.30pm


Monday to Friday 5.30pm to 7.00pm

Saturday 5.00pm to 7.00pm


Monday to Friday 5.30pm to 11.30pm

Saturday 5.00pm to 11.30pm
Sunday 6.00pm to 10.30pm

Supper Monday to Saturday 10.00pm to 11.30pm
Sunday 10.00pm to 10.30pm
15 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 7/24/2009 01:52:00 am


  • At 7/24/2009 6:40 am, Anonymous Trisha said…

    Ooooh Matt Moran is so loveable, no? He has this certain appeal bahaha had I been there I probably wouldn't stop giggling like a schoolgirl too! Anyway Heleeeeen the food looks absolutely delicious! The goats cheese is beautiful, the tuna is divine, but the prawns! The prawns are definitely the winners!

  • At 7/24/2009 7:18 am, Anonymous Simon said…

    The presentation of the food looks great! Must have been a lot of good food going around.

    I figured Matt to be much shorter based on Gordon Ramsay said during the Good Food & Wine Show...

    Nice of him to be so hospitable.

  • At 7/24/2009 9:59 am, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    heh heh blur minh and your face and leave me behind? and man how good were the cheese puffs mmm puffs

  • At 7/24/2009 10:46 am, Blogger Kris said…

    About the bluefin... what does "partially farmed" mean? I'm trying to guess how that would work.

  • At 7/24/2009 10:57 am, Blogger Simon Leong said…

    food looks yummo. that's great meeting Matt Moran. well done.

  • At 7/24/2009 11:34 am, Blogger Stephcookie said…

    Haha Matt Moran seems kind of awesome. That's great that you got to see the kitchen in Aria! Food looks lovely, especially the two cheesy things, mmm cheese...

  • At 7/24/2009 11:47 am, Anonymous Reemski said…

    zomg! Soooo jealous that I didn't go! I loooooove Matt Moran!

  • At 7/24/2009 12:22 pm, Anonymous clekitty said…

    I'm so jealous. The food looks great! I loved how the prawns came in paper cones... Looks like you had a great night :)

  • At 7/24/2009 6:22 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    OOhh luckkkyyyyy!! All the food looks greatt! Must try Aria soon :)
    And LOL at Matt! What a PIMP!

  • At 7/25/2009 1:10 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Trisha - Matt was very friendly and he did seem to echo the way he comes across as very honest and down-to-earth on tv.

    The prawns were delicious. Confession: I had two cones of them! :)

    Hi Simon - We weren't expecting less than good food at Aria :)

    Hi food blogger postergirl, I mean Chocolatesuze - lol. The cheese puffs were yum. Was there any chance of calling yourself CheeseySuze? haha.

    Hi Kris - I'm guessing the bluefin are caught and then fattened up in pens?

    Hi Simon Food Favourites - Meeting Matt was definitely a highlight. Oh we are food groupies for sure!

    Hi Stephcookie - It was great to meet him, and to go into the kitchen too. I'm sure the chefs in the kitchen were very bemused!

    Hi Reemski - Ahh you'll know for next time. I'm sure you would've loved the wine too!

    Hi Clekitty - We had a great evening - great food, wine, view and fellow company! The paper cones were super cute. A fab idea for parties.

    Hi FFichiban - Hey what are you calling us then? lol. I haven't eaten yet at Aria either. Must rectify that asap!

  • At 7/26/2009 2:51 am, Anonymous Yas said…

    Oh the food looks awesome, lucky you guys!
    Never seen Chef Matt Moran in person, but through his appearances on many TV shows, I looove him. Too bad my two previous attempts to go dine at Aria had failed. :(

  • At 7/26/2009 1:09 pm, Anonymous noodleboy said…

    Wow, that's pretty special. The snackies look great. Lucky you!

    Aw, blurry faces - why so shy Helen?? :)

  • At 7/26/2009 2:02 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Yas - Two failed attempts to dine at Aria? :( The food was delish, and yes, meeting Matt was an added bonus!

    Hi Noodleboy - Ha, I'd love the have these kinds of snackies every day! :) And lol, yes I'm shy!

  • At 7/27/2009 12:32 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    am i the only one to question a conflict of interest with the recent celebrity food bloggers and their posts.

  • At 7/27/2009 12:56 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Anon - I'm not sure what you mean by "conflict of interest" or "celebrity food bloggers". Whilst there has been an increase in invitations to events, I do make it a point to declare any such gifts to readers to ensure transparency. I leave it to readers to make up their own minds as to any perceived bias.


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