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Thursday, December 03, 2009

Melbourne Food and Wine Festival launch at Omerta, Darlinghurst

Confit baby artichokes and Shaw River buffalo mozzarella
with tomato butter and pangrattato
served with 2009 Tahblik Marsanne

Is there really a bitter rivalry between Sydney-siders and Melbourne-ites about which city is best?

It's a question we debate at our table during the [Sydney] media launch for the 2010 Melbourne Food and Wine Festival. Sydney has its iconic harbour, Opera House, Harbour Bridge and beaches. Melbourne is a treasure trove of cafes, small bars, hidden alleys and shopping. The two cities, in fact, are so different at heart that comparisons seem futile.

What both cities do appreciate is good food and wine. At Darlinghurst restaurant Omerta, Michael Ryan from Melbourne Victoria's Provenance (Best New Country Restaurant in The Age Good Food Guide) has taken over the kitchen to prepare a five-course meal for assembled guests and media.

Today's lunch showcases the produce of regional Victoria, with many of the ingredients sourced from Victoria's High Country. A starter of confit baby artichokes is tender and yielding, perched on a sweet buttery sauce of tomato. Buffalo mozzarella has a creamy smoothness but it's the pangrattato I relish most, tiny fried bread cubes that crunch audibly and are resplendent with garlic.

Oxley zucchini salad, Tom Cooper's smoke salmon, parmesan consomme, Milawa goat's curd, capers and borage flowers served with 2009 Tahbilk Viognier

The Oxley zucchini salad arrives to a series of gasps of delights, an aromatic fillet of smoked salmon garnished with ribbons of zucchini and two delicate blue borage flowers atop a quenelle of Milawa goat's curd.

A shot glass of parmesan consomme has everyone intrigued, the clear liquid surpisingly intense with flavour. The secret, Michael reveals later, is the use of ice filtration to intensify the consomme of parmesan rind, lemon rind, bay leaf and gelatine. The consomme is easy, he says, but takes four to five days of preparation.

Brined Greta Valley quail, watermelon, candied olives,
pickled watermelon rind, watermelon sauce,

Gapsted walnuts and tangerine agrumato

served with 2008 Omerta from a Farr Pinot Noir

Greta Valley quail has been brined to a melt-in-the-mouth tenderness. A plank of watermelon is incredibly sweet, a cryovac used to compress the watermelon into a concentrated block. I love the combination of flavours in this dish, the sweet quail enhanced by the watermelon, walnuts and the agrumato, an olive oil pressed with tangerines.

Raw chioggia and Burpee's golden beetroot with Mt Buffalo hazelnut praline and vinegar

A communal salad of raw beetroot discs (chioggia and golden beetroot) provides plenty of crunch and freshness. Little nubs of hazelnut praline add bursts of toffee sweetness.

Berkshire pork jowls baked in hay
with grains, broadbeans, peas, mint and crackling
Served with 2006 Scotchmans Hill Cornelius Syrah

The clean flavours of beetroot are the perfect offset against our main, a shared dish of rich and fatty Berkshire pork jowls baked in hay. The jowls, Michael explains, do not refer to the pig cheek, but the lower sides of the face. A thick cushion of fat is decadent against the mild-tasting meat. Pork jowls are cheap but hard to find, and 20kg of untrimmed jowl will only yield about 6kg of meat.

The pork has been baked in a combination of oats and lucerne, and I particularly enjoy the grains which have a nutty firmness. Peas, mint and broadbeans add colour and liveliness, and petite cubes of crackling are a personal highlight.

Wooragee strawberries, alpine sencha cake,
Seville orange marmalade cream and candied pistachios
served with 2009 Scotchmans Hill Sway Bay Late Harvest Reisling

We conclude with a pretty dessert of macerated Wooragee strawberries served with whiped cream and a sticky fruit strap of strawberry. A green-tea flavoured sencha cake adds a mild bitterness, complemented by nuggets of candied pistachios.

Wapsipinicon peach tomato table setting

The Melbourne Food and Wine Festival runs from 12-13 March 2010.

Visiting international chefs for the Langham Melbourne MasterClasses include David Chang, David Kinch, Mads Refslund, Rex Morgan, Massimo Bottura and Andoni Luis Aduriz. Jamie Oliver will be a guest at the Marysville World's Longest Lunch, held only one year after the Black Saturday bushfires.

Other events include the Hawkers' Market, an Edible Garden in Melbourne's City Square, a Dumpling Crawl and a series of foodie films screened in Federation Square.

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235 Victoria Street, Darlinghurst, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9360 1011

Opening hours:
Monday to Friday: 6pm - 11pm
Saturday to Sunday: 5pm - 10pm

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Provenance Restaurant
86 Ford Street, Beechworth, Victoria
Tel: +61 (03) 5728 1786

Opening hours
Dinner: Wednesday to Sunday from 6pm
Lunch: Sunday 12pm - 3pm
11 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 12/03/2009 01:57:00 am


  • At 12/03/2009 4:17 am, Anonymous Simon said…

    The food looks so fancy. Certainly wouldn't have figured a pairing of quail & watermelon would work together.

    Isn't there a sense of irony that the launch for the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival is held in Sydney?

  • At 12/03/2009 6:49 am, Anonymous mr_gimlet said…

    I think Michael would prefer to be known as a Victorian restaurant, given he is a three hour drive from Melbourne.

  • At 12/03/2009 7:59 am, Blogger joey@forkingaroundsydney said…

    Colours, colours, colours! Everyone is using such lovely flowers to brighten their dishes now, as is the use of hay. Looks so great!

  • At 12/03/2009 12:01 pm, Blogger OohLookBel said…

    When did hay become a cooking ingredient du jour? I'd love to taste it soon! And the colours in the dishes (and your photos) are lovely.

  • At 12/03/2009 12:30 pm, Anonymous Jacq said…

    Wow all the food is so well-presented! I love the little flowers on top of the zucchini salad. I'm with Simon - it's a bit strange to be promoting a Melbourne event in Sydney isn't it?

  • At 12/03/2009 5:04 pm, Blogger Anshika said…

    What a lovely variety of food !!

  • At 12/03/2009 8:25 pm, Blogger Kate said…

    I love the incorporation of colours. It all looks so fresh! Helen you really should be so proud of your site. You do it so well and give so many people great enjoyment. Thankyou!

  • At 12/03/2009 10:54 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    mmm looks good but its a shame about the rivalry of both cities, they both have so much to offer in terms of food. on a side note congrats on being on sbs website!

  • At 12/04/2009 2:04 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Simon - The quail and watermelon combo really works. So delicious and sweet.

    And the launch was for Sydney media, because hey, it's all about getting Sydneysiders to come on down to Melbourne, right? :)

    Hi Mr Gimlet - Ahh yes, my bad. Thanks for the correction. All fixed now :)

    Hi Joey - Flowers are such a lovely touch to a meal, plus there's the novelty of eating flowers too. The food was all exquisitely plated.

    Hi Belle - I guess hay is all about putting nature back onto the plate. Literally. lol. And yes, everything was so beautifully served it was hard not to take a good photo!

    Hi Jacq - It was the launch event for Sydney media, presumably so the Melbourne Festival attracts interstate visitors. Lots of stuff going on, and it would be interesting to see how the Melbourne Festival differs from the Sydney version.

    Hi Anshika - It was an incredible lunch and one I was grateful to attend :)

    Hi Kate - Aww thanks so much. The blog is a labour of love but comments like yours do make all the effort worth it :) Glad you've been getting a kick out of the posts, and thank you again for taking the time to leave a comment (and such a lovely one at that!).

    Hi Anon - I think each city thinks theirs is bettter but ahh I guess it's just like sibling rivalry - a fact of life and not to be taken too seriously.

    Thanks for noticing, although this is the correct link for my Featured Foodie profile on SBS.

  • At 12/04/2009 12:57 pm, Anonymous Inside Cuisine said…

    Lovely to be at the same table Helen. I really adored Michael's food, as well as the passionate speakers. My piece around the Melbourne City Garden and Stephanie Alexander is online too. My favourite dishes at the lunch? hard to pick a favourite but up there was the watermelon, the parmesan consomme and the pork ... @frombecca

  • At 12/07/2009 1:04 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Inside Cuisine - Great to see you there although it was a shame we were at opposite ends of the table! It was a lovely lunch - so many fantastic components all plated so beautifully!


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