Eating and Drinking Down Under

April 15, 2010

Guest blogger Liz joins us from Australia, where she just might be giving birth as this posts (I love a gal who never misses a deadline)…congrats, Liz and family!

Enjoying the Festival

The Melbourne Food and Wine Festival is an event that lasts for two weeks every March and has over 250 events that will surely inspire every type of eater. Chefs and foodies come from around the world to take part in tasting, cooking, teaching and the exchange of ideas.

The events include guided walking tours of ethnic neighborhoods to find hidden treasure, learning how to plant an edible garden, wine tastings and lunches at regional wineries, barista classes, special lunch and dinner menus and conversations with chefs like David Chang from Momofuku and others of his ilk from around the globe.

The first event I attended was the “Heat Beads Hawker’s Market” where 12 of Melbourne’s top Asian restaurants present signature dishes.  The Queen Victoria Market is transformed into a bustling Hawker-style evening marketplace complete with the glow of lanterns, Japanese drumming and Indonesian Mask Dancers, where you are transported to the back streets of Asia.

Discovering Jamie Oliver

Setting the scene

Next, I went to a restaurant tasting at Jamie Oliver’s restaurant Fifteen (chef Tobie Puttock at the helm).  I’ve never been a Jamie Oliver fan – I mean come on, isn’t he the male version of Rachel Ray?  Lots of hoopla without much substance?  Well, he is extremely popular here with about 8 television shows running a day and I can’t keep track of how many cookbooks.  So, I just had to check out what all the hype was about.

Fifteen is an Italian influenced restaurant with a foundation giving opportunities to disadvantaged youths.  There are four locations with one in Melbourne.

The 3 course lunch was an absolute home run.  The starters included two salads.  One was cured salmon with a horseradish sauce on greens and a mixed green salad with aged ricotta, fresh herbs and watermelon. Both had an exquisite vinaigrette.

The second courses were pasta dishes that included a rotolo and a rigatoni with a ragu. The portion sizes were perfect, not too large and heavy (it is the end of summer here) and flavored perfectly. The desserts didn’t disappoint either.

I think I get it now – simple foods, beautifully seasoned and easy enough to prepare.  He’s got a terrific series on television called “Jamie at Home” and I recently looked at a couple of his early cookbooks.  For those of you out there who want a little inspiration and don’t have a lot of time, Jamie Oliver is worth a second look.  I must admit, I probably made my initial snap judgement about Jamie Oliver over 10 years ago – he’s come a long way.

Finally, the last restaurant we went to was an upscale established Italian eatery called Grossi Florentino.  We were disappointed.  The food choices were bizarre – braised beef as a main on an 80 degree day.  The service was rushed and impersonal.

How ironic – we went into the experience expecting to be transported by upscale Grossi Florentino and disappointed by Fifteen.  The reverse could not have been more true and we were delighted with our discovery.

Eyes were opened, pre-existing ideas challenged and expectations turned upside down.  I left the Festival feeling happy, wiser and certainly well fed.

If you are a foodie and thinking about traveling to Melbourne, I recommend coming in March (a beautiful time of year here) to check out the festival.  You will not be disappointed.


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