Dont cry for me…

I know, I know… its far too obvious but in this heat it is quite possible that I am lacking imagination!

Argentina is the next line of that song from the musical, Evita.  Attending an event at True South in Black Rock as part of the 2013 Melbourne Food and Wine Festival reminded me of Argentina… mostly because the chef at True South, Mauro Cagliari is Argentinean and the dinner he prepared with fellow Argentine Martin Molteni of Pura Tierra was a feast of magnificence.

Pura Tierra is translated, from my crappy Spanish, to Pure Earth, and given Eva Peron is buried in the cemetery across the road from Molteni’s restaurant in Buenos Aires, I am sure I can be forgiven for the musical references that will be peppered throughout this missive.

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It was a beautiful night – as the sun set over the ocean across the road from the restaurant, diners were treated to a rare experience. Five courses of simple ingredients, melded together to create something that my fellow diners and I could not fault.

 

True South is a brewery as well as a restaurant, and we were greeted with a house made cider, which on this night of 1000 stars and high temps, was a welcome start. Crisp, tart and just delicious. We snacked on some roasted beetroot and the most delicious cheese pastries.  I had to have three of those and it was a challenge to stop at just three.

 

A great lump of house made bread, studded with rosemary and apparently baked with pig fat was delivered to the table, crusty and warm, and we hoofed it down with gusto!

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What followed were five incredibly well executed courses, matched with either beer or wine – beers made in house and the wines imported from Argentina.  It is rare that I am willing to offer such extraordinary praise but this was all but faultless. The few things I could comment on were a delay in the first course coming and a dessert that was not to my taste, but it had been an already arduous day and I may be just being ridiculous.

 

A ceviche of kingfish was Paco 1 – and it was great – raw fish marinated in citrus, sliced raw baby beets and radish, fines herbes… just lip smackingly good.

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The next course challenged me… corn, pumpkin, beef all melded together in a sweet sauce, and topped with meringue.  Not usually to my taste but the house made chili beer served with it was clever – hoppy and malty and pulled the sweetness apart on the palate. I loved it.

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Next up.. the offal course. Sweetbreads cooked in another sweet tinged sauce, on a superbly soft mash, with a collection of mushrooms. Again, deftly handled and for non offal lovers, they taste just like chicken! Another house made beer, this one bigger and bolder than the last and again, supremely matched – they know their stuff these Argentines.

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Resident chef Mauro showed off his skills on the dance floor with a display of the tango, before he let the professionals take over, and folks, dinner and a show!  How could I complain.  He is quite the soft shoe shuffler and it was a ice break to prepare us for the next course… Rib Eye of beef.

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This was incredible – slow roasted and served with chimmichurri, roasted kipfler potatoes, i sliced it with the butter knife. There were at least 80 people in the room and I know that every piece of beef that was eaten was amazing. A glass of Malbec on the side, one of the most popular and widely grown grape varieties in Argentina, made for the right mate for this dish.

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Dessert was not to my taste as mentioned but I wont let this dampen my enthusiasm… Pumpkin, corn, chocolate and passionfruit- an interesting mix and none of it too sweet – was devoured by those around me so I know it was also very good.

 

I tend to be somewhat critical as a rule but I was so pleasantly surprised at how well everything was done. The staff were super attentive – we did not have to ask for anything.  Water kept coming, glasses were taken care of, and napkins rolled the moment any one as much as moved from their chairs.  The food was plated in front of us allowing no room for error and none could be found!

Mauro and Martin are a brilliant combination of talent, personality and bravado and I was thrilled to be a guest at this event. It proved yet another triumph for the restaurant and they deserve a hearty congratulations from myself, the guests around me and the gathered.  I am going to have to head back – I hear the suckling pig is a ripper.

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I dined as a guest of True South and the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, however, that does not form my opinion nor have they received favourable comment in exchange for my attendance.

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I am off to the convent.

Now before you start with the alarm bells… I have not had an epiphany and no I am not becoming a nun. As fetching as the nuns habit looks and given the multitude of sins it might hide, I just don’t think I could carry it off.  One must be willing to pledge one’s troth to god, and quite frankly, the only pledging I  am willing to make is that I pledge to remain an atheist, I pledge not to try and ruin other people’s lives with my outmoded ideas (i.e.- religion) and I pledge my soul to hedonism until I fall of this mortal coil and am no longer.

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However, Bursaria – a Melbourne based event and catering company, run a lovely space at the Abbotsford Convent – home to slow food, an arts and culture precinct, restaurants, health and wellbeing  and other noble pursuits. The convent was in danger of becoming apartments and the Abbotsford Convent Foundation have fought jolly hard to stop that happening and preserved the space that has been the home of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd for many years.

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Lunch was to be a simple, 2 course affair, showcasing the talents of Studley Park Wines, located just 500m from the convent.  I was blindly unaware the wine was being made just 4km from the Melbourne GPO and made as well as it is.  The rose served pre luncheon and through out lunch, was terrific. They also served a cabernet (a tad too on the juvenile/acidic side of the scale for my taste) and a bright young chardonnay. I was very pleasantly surprised.

There were speeches from Allan Snaith, the man, who with his wife Lizette, are the people behind Warialda Belted Galloway Beef  and a fine job they are doing producing incredible steers for slaughter, and the owner of Studley Park Wines, Andrew Clarke who gave us some history of the wines he produces.  The area on which he grows the vines (before the wines are masterfully crafted by Llew Knight of Granite Hills), has been an agricultural site in the Kew region for over 100 years, and is a flood plain on the shore of the Yarra River. We also heard from Maggie McGuire, CEO of the Abbotsford Convent and Alison Peake of Slow Food Melbourne.

We gathered on a beautiful sunny Melbourne lunchtime in the courtyard of Rosina Room – it once housed older women penitents who had been placed with the Sisters of the Good Shepherd by the courts. Its appropriate that a horde of hedonists arrived to sully it up on a Sunday. A glass of the aforementioned rose and some canapes became the order of the day.

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The room was beautifully put together for our arrival, and we were seated at tables overflowing with herbs, a selection of house baked breads and other interesting pots of things.  A sizeable chunk of waiting gave us plenty of time to mingle and mosey with those others on the table and catch up on some goss with buddies – regaling tales of what has been a busy start to the 2013 Melbourne Food and Wine Festival.

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Mr and Mrs Snaith’s Warialda Belted Galloway slow braise arrived with some semolina polenta and some greens.  Simple Sunday fare clearly the order of the day.

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A  vanilla and rose panna cotta followed, with some pomegranate syrup, pistachio and biscotti – as rich as one would hope for and a pleasant dessert.. I waddled out of this event I think!

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A quick wander around the gardens at the Abbotsford Convent is a must on any sunny Melbourne day and that’s exactly what a fellow luncher and myself chose to do – basically the long route back to the car, revealing beautiful buildings and stunning gardens.  One can only be pleased that the apartments idea simply never eventuated.  The Bursaria team were able hosts and popped together the perfect nosh for Sunday lunch, showcasing some local producers and introducing a new audience to the wonders of the convent – more to the point, how they can be interacted with on an almost daily basis.

Now, time for a lie down before I get up again to eat!

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Playing with some meat on St Kilda beach

Now that I have your attention!

I joined some other very keen folk on St Kilda beach on a Saturday morning (after a reasonably committed Friday long lunch) for a bit of learning.  The sun was shining, the water lapping at the sand and in the background, I observed two hours of someone’s yoga class that I could have done without. However, along with my fellow BBQ lovers, I took part in this masterclass from one of Australia’s most noted grillers – BBQ king, Chris Girvan-Brown.  This was all part of the Redheads BBQ festival, another mini festival in the orgy of indulgence that is  the 2013 Melbourne Food and Wine Festival.

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Its fair to say that, until a recent interview with Chris on my radio show, I was not clued in to the ever emerging BBQ scene in Australia and that we are taking our lead from the fanatic American grilling madness.  I wasn’t aware, for example, that the Jack Daniels Invitational was a feature on the US BBQ scene. But it is, and so now you are informed as much as I am.

Smoking and BBQ are not something I would normally do on a Sunny Saturday morning in Melbourne.  I tend to reserve these activities for an hour when it is considered civilised to drink beer – but there I was.  As the sun started to develop a bit of a sting, we were treated to a masterclass filled with tips to make your BBQ experience something to boast about.  There were no snags and pre purchased burgers here please – no sirree!

Rib eye, lamb racks, brined chicken wings, pork fillets that had been marinated in apple juice, a lamb shoulder cooked overnight for 8 hours and literally falling off the bone, chicken breast injected (by us) with a very fancy syringe machine to add flavour and boost the moistness and the piece de resistance, a chicken curry cooked in a coconut (that I had to saw in half) in a BBQ.  It was delicious, and I am not one to blow my own trumpet, but for something that took myself and the BBQ master about 4 minutes to prepare, it tasted pretty darned good to me.

There were a few moments through the 2 hour presentation that would have done well on an episode of Benny Hill (and I do blame myself for these).  There was a particular moment when a syringe with holes in the side was used to inject a nice plump chicken breast  with some marinade (from the inside so it did not burn).  This turned in to some giggles about syringes on St Kilda beach and the lack of novelty in that, but again I digress.

I walked around the BBQ festival as the hordes began to arrive and I am assured the remainder of the day was as successful as our own masterclass.  The aroma remained with me all day (in my hair and clothes) and I was constantly reminded of the fun that was had in these two hours.

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If I was a grunter, I would have had some Tim Allen moments looking around at some of the exceptional machines that were littered in stands around the festival – something for every taste and skill level among the grills, roasters, smokers and assorted BBQ paraphernalia.  I enjoyed learning some more about this emerging trend among Australians and am glad we have a new 4WD to hitch around the new appliances that are on my wish list now.

The World’s Longest Lunch

Its not every day that one can boast that lunch’s menu was loving designed by the Grand Dames of the Australian Culinary Landscape .. Maggie Beer and Stephanie Alexander. Normally my lunch menu is lovingly designed by 2 slabs of bread, some sort of smoked pig and a lump of cheese.  But, I digress.

Stephanie Alexander and Maggie Beer need little introduction, and the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, now in its 21st year  I am sure was thrilled that Maggie and Stephanie could offer their services to prepare the menu.

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A casual 1230 people sat down at tables laden with fresh produce, pots of fruit, vegetables and flowers, and all fitted with white linens and wine, ready for us to devour.  It was a beautiful setting, as the sun peeped through the trees, and the tables snaked their way along the path through the magnificent Fitzroy Gardens in Melbourne.

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Scattered with consumers, media, lovers of fine food and beverages, and sponsors, the guests were treated to three courses – the first two designed by Stephanie Alexander and the dessert by Maggie Beer, but all with the thread of fresh, seasonal produce and a great deal of love.

The World’s Longest Lunch has become a tradition for me now – I think this may have been the 8th year where I have wiped a friday afternoon off my diary and enjoyed some amazing food, with thousands of lovely people in some iconic Melbourne locations.

Oh and what did we eat and drink? We kicked off with a tidy glass of Yarrabank Cuvee sparkly, or White Rabbit Ale beer for those in the mood.

Turkey prosciutto with figs, watermelon pickle, and fior de burrata -with a glass of Yering Station 2010 Village Chardonnay

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Saffron marinated roasted lamb rump, with farro, spinach and mint and slow cooked sweet peppers. Washed down with Yering Station 2010 Village Shiraz Viognier

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And in true Maggie Beer style, a baked vejuice custard with glace cumquats and granola crunch. A glass of pink Yarrabank Creme de Cuvee paired nicely.

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Another World’s Longest Lunch to add to the bank that I have and another wonderful celebration of food, beverage and old and new friends.