When it comes to throwing a lunch party, Melbournians sure know how to do it bigger than anyone else. Imagine, over 1,500 diners filling up a 530 metre-long table to create "the world's longest lunch" at the recently concluded Melbourne Food and Wine Festival.
It was just one of the highlights of the 17-day long dining marathon touted as Australia's top food and wine event.
Other distractions for the food-obsessed included a pop-up artisan bakery and bar set up on the busy banks of the Yarra River headed by baking superstars Justin Gellatly (London's Bread Ahead) and Eric Kayser (Maison Kayser, Paris); masterclasses featuring some of the world's better known chefs including Ruth Rogers (River Cafe, UK), Jeremy Charles (Raymonds, Canada) and Singapore's Janice Wong (2am:dessertbar); plus classes on cheese-making, pickling and cocktail mixing.
But there's a lot more to Melbourne than just the microcosm of gastro-delights packed into one space. The city's ever-changing F&B landscape is full of gems just waiting to be discovered - all you need is an empty stomach and a nose to sniff them out.
This is one restaurant that has made an impression since its opening with its bold, innovative cuisine. Little wonder as chef owner Ryan Flaherty had clocked in stints at the Fat Duck, El Bulli and the Laboratory of Arzak. The talented and affable young chef took the bold step of going solo last year with Mister Jennings, and an even bolder step by setting up shop in Richmond, a suburb not quite known for posh dining.
Chef Flaherty has one word to describe his cuisine - reflective. "It reflects the season, my mood, my current staff, my hangover, my clientele, and it's very reactive to everything that is going on around me," he elaborates. One certainly sees a reflection of his time in Spain in his composition of crab, salmorejo, chilli, and black pepper.
Carpaccio is given an Australian twist with by using frozen kangaroo served with wasabi and refreshing nashi pears. Chef Flaherty's cooking isn't just about clever plating of different ingredients on a dish.
He understands the simplest is often the trickiest to prepare, and here again, yet another bold step - to offer just a plain but perfectly grilled baby barramundi, served with just lemon and parsley.
Burch and Purchese Sweet Studio
Desserts don't come with more complex combinations of flavours and textures than those handcrafted at Burch and Purchese Sweet Studio, run by husband and wife team Cath and Darren Purchese.
British-born Darren is backed by an impressive resume, having worked at prestigious establishments such as the Savoy, Goring and Brown's hotels in London. His trademark treats are created by layering sponges, jellies, cream, mousses and spreads, in brilliant colours, and in a myriad of flavours.
Take, for example, Coconut, Passion fruit, Ginger, Mint - a delectable tiny tower of salted oat and ginger crumble, passion fruit curd, coconut "caviar", mint jelly, passion fruit jelly, coconut mousse, brilliant white chocolate velvet spray and white chocolate and mint wafer. Each creation is available either as a whole cake or deconstructed versions in 130ml clear acrylic tubes which beautifully show off the cake layers.
Gewurzhaus Herb and Spice Merchants
The heady scent of mixed spices hits you even before you open the door to the Gewurzhaus Herb and Spice Merchants shop. Home chefs will get lost in the wide range of spices, salts, sugars, herbs and peppers available here.
The variety of salts from around the world is certainly impressive as these include black lava sea salt and the highly prized fumee de sel (around S$50 for 168g). You can also take home ready-mixed and milled blends - the shop has over 100 of these, freshly prepared on site from whole ingredients.
A packet of the very complex ras el hanout will take the leg-work out of getting the right mix of spices for the tajine, and what about replacing normal cocoa with Mayan chilli chocolate spice for that extra kick in cakes, fudges and cookies?
The Town Mouse Bar and Restaurant
Although this hip eatery opened just over two years ago, it has already garnered over a dozen awards including the Conde Nast Gold Standard and a chef's hat from Australia's The Age Good Food Guide.
Heading the kitchen team at The Town Mouse is New Zealander Dave Verheul who had worked at Michelin-starred restaurants in the UK such as The Savoy Grill and The Fat Duck before moving Down Under.
His food is modern Australian with a small menu offering tapas-style dining and interesting combinations begging to be tried. Standout dishes include goat's cheese profiterole, caraway, thyme and honey; heirloom tomatoes, tofu curd, gazpacho, basil and sesame; and slow-roasted salt grass lamb shoulder, vadouvan and charred yoghurt.
The writer was in Melbourne as a guest of Tourism Victoria and Singapore Airlines. Singapore Airlines flies to Melbourne 28 times weekly, visit www.singaporeair.com/melbourne for more details
This article was first published on March 28, 2015.
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