Sunday, November 18, 2012

Taste Of Melbourne 2012 - Rejuvenated And Lots Of Fun

Sometimes, things get a bit stale and boring and need a change to help rejuvenate it. From my blog post about Taste of Melbourne 2011, I had identified a number of things that I didn't like and was feeling far from excited about the next year's festival. Luckily, the Taste of Melbourne organisers also decided a few things needed to be changed to improve it. They made the big move to turn the previously indoor festival into an outdoor one, with the festival being held at Albert Park this year. That decision carries with it a lot of risk, but I happy to say it paid off. I really liked this year's festival and had lots of fun and a huge part of that was having it outdoors.

I was invited to attend a Thursday blogger's session by Hot House Media where we were shown around a few restaurant stalls and attend a few different classes. I also went back again on Friday with my friends courtesy of free entry tickets I got. From the two days I attended, as well as the preview session at The Point, I got to try probably 60% of the restaurant food. I must say that this year's offerings were far more exciting than last years. I think the food items were simpler and had more variety to cater to all tastes.

The festival moving outdoors carried with it the big risk of the unpredictable Melbourne weather. Fortunately, besides a few short showers, it was pretty much sunshine for the 4 days. That's not to say that the nights weren't cold, as a jacket was definitely needed. A few areas had heat lamps but otherwise it was an open outdoor event and affected by the elements. I hate to think what it would have been like if it had rain hard as there were minimal coverage at each stall and only a few larger covered areas, usually belonging to various stallholders. For next year, they might need to have some communal covered areas, even if to shield from the sun as I know a few people got sunburnt during the day and ended up a bit like Rhonda.

The simple four row layout of the outdoor event was a real plus. It made finding things super easy for the directionally challenged like me. The rows were also very wide so there were very few congestion problems. Probably the only slight congestion was near the Mamasita/The Aylesbury area were there were huge queues. There were also huge queues at Movida but since there was a lot of space there, that didn't cause a problem. Luckily, while the path around Mamasita was blocked up, you could easily cut across to the next row and still walk past. This was not possible last year and was a cause of one of my biggest frustrations. I would say I easily wasted 50% of the time trying to maneuver myself to the restaurant stalls to buy food. And 4 hours passes by really fast. Maybe for next year, they can move the popular stalls to near the corners to avoid passageway congestion.

This year, the VIP lounge was sponsored by Laurent-Perrier. While it was beautiful inside, once again I think it was badly positioned. It sat in the furthermost corner of the event, near the toilets no less, and hence very few people were inclined to stay there and there was no atmosphere at all. It was a sad and lonely place rather than the exclusive place that everyone would want to be at. Let's face it, part of the VIP experience is to be seen, such that others will envy you. The place to put the lounge would be either where the Rekoderlig bar (who by the way have this new orange and ginger cider which is super refreshing) or San Pellegrino tent were. From there, you can easily walk to everything and be seen by everyone around the restaurant stalls. All eyes would be on the VIP lounge and wishing they were there too. It's just simple human behaviour at work. I bet you then that VIP ticket would be the most sought after thing.

One ticket that was sought after was the Sensology - The Art of Cocktail Making classes. It cost $10 (I was invited and got to do the classes for free) to attend the class. From the class, you learn to make one specific cocktail, which you then get to drink. It was the same price as buying the cocktail alone, so I'm sure you can work out what everyone wanted to do. Tickets were snapped up really fast. The classes were heaps of fun. Let's face it, who doesn't like mixing up a cocktail and shaking it like you're Tom Cruise from the movie Cocktail. From the two classes, I learned to make a Mojito and a Whisky Sour. Both were really easy to make and I'm definitely making them at home. I can't believe how many variants of drinks you can make from a few simple spirits. By the way, can anyone tell me which famous/popular/influential/pretty blogger whose back is in the centre of the photo below?

Lastly, we get onto the restaurant food and the food product stalls. For the food stalls, I won't say too much as they're similar food stalls that travel around the various festivals. There is a huge assortment of stuff and I'm sure there is something that will take your interest. The various wine and beer stalls were really interesting and I tried a lot of exciting new wines and beers that I hadn't had before, which I will now seek out.

As for the restaurants, as I said before, I really liked this year's offering. I won't discuss every dish as they were mostly very good. Instead I'll just highlight a few I really loved. Below you see can see DAT ASS, DAT ASS. What a beautiful sight a whole suckling pig on a spit is. The Point Albert Park did a great job with their suckling pig and it was a great dish.

The highlight dish of the event for me would be the Dorper Lamb Ribs, Pea and Mint from The Aylesbury. Super tender flavoursome ribs melted off the bone, and at $6 was one of the cheapest items at the festival as well.

The Beetroot Cured Salmon, Vanilla and Lime Pickled Cucumber, Horseradish Cream from Livingroom was another excellent dish. The salmon was super tasty and combined perfectly with the accompaniments.

Lastly on the dessert front, this Summer Berry Eton Mess from Mr Hive Kitchen and Bar was simple perfection. It was light, fresh, sweet and just perfect for this time of year.

Of course, with all the top chefs floating about the festival, I had to get a shot with at least one of them, and who better than the amazing Frank Camorra.

So let me wrap up with post with some final views. While nearly everyone that I've followed on Twitter and Instagram looked to have liked and loved the food, myself included, the biggest complaint has been the cost. I have made the same complaints about the cost, one example being the delicious, but tiny piece of pork I got from Taxi. As I wrote last year, I can see why the restaurants need to price the items as such. I'm sure they're probably not even making a profit. The problem with all of us is that we tend to compare these items to their cheaper counterparts at other food festivals. The problem is we forget that these restaurants are using quality ingredients, and the chefs would normally be at work in the restaurants so in a sense the consumer needs to subsidise their cost as other chefs would be needed back at the restaurant to serve the normal diners.

Having thought about it for a while, I've come to this conclusion. Yes, with the money that I spent at the festival (and I got in for free even), I could have easily eaten at a good restaurant, but would I have had the same experience? I would say no. I wouldn't be able to say that I've tried the Mamasita corn, or The Point suckling pig, or The Aylesbury lamb ribs. All the restaurants worked together to produce a different experience. The food is not as good as what each restaurant would normally do as they are lacking the right equipment, but it's still very good food and you still have a great time. Melbourne doesn't have many food festivals where most of the state's top restaurants come together for one big event. Even with the Melbourne Food and Wine festival, the festival is split over many events. So, with the change in the setting to an outdoor event, I felt really relaxed and there was a real carnival atmosphere such that I really enjoyed myself. So despite the high costs, I would say it gave an experience that I couldn't get dining at just one restaurant. It's not solely about the food anymore, but the sum of the parts and the overall experience, which was a lot of fun.

So I conclude this post by hoping you had a good time at Taste of Melbourne if you went. If you didn't like some aspects, why not email the website like I did last year. You never know what opinions they may take to improve next year's event. If you didn't go this year, I hope you will try it out next year. I'm looking forward to going to next year's Taste of Melbourne festival and hopefully I'll see you there.

I attended a Thursday blogger session courtesy of Hot House Media and Taste of Melbourne and received free tickets for Friday's session.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Portland Pie Co. May Be Opening in Reading

A small group of pizza spots based in Southern Maine that features flavored dough might be coming to a northern suburb of Boston.

The Reading-North Reading Patch is reporting that Portland Pie Co. is eyeing a possible location in Reading, though as of last month, they were only in the "information-gathering phase." If they do decide to open a new location in Reading, it would be on Haven Street, just east of the Reading commuter rail stop.

Portland Pie Co.first started out in Portland in 1997, eventually expanding into Scarborough and Westbrook, along with Manchester and Nashua, NH. The group of eateries offers dough with flavors such as beer, garlic, basil, and honey, with gluten-free options available. In addition to pizza, Portland Pie Co. also has salads, sandwiches, calzones, and pasta.

The address for this proposed pizza spot in Reading is 30 Haven Street, Reading, MA, 01867.

Petit Robert Bistro in Brighton May Be Replaced by Ittoku

The Brighton location of a group of French restaurants may be closing, and a Japanese dining spot could be moving into its space.

Universal Hub is reporting that the owners of Petit Robert Bistro on Comm. Ave. might be selling its beer and wine license--along with the rights to the space--to Kentaro Suzuki, who would open a new spot called Ittoku. UH mentions that the proposed eatery, which would feature such items as ramen, sushi, and yakitori, will be voted on today by the Boston Licensing Board (Suzuki went before the board yesterday to ask permission for the transaction). The mayor's office, three city councilors, and the Brighton Allston Improvement Association are all in favor of the plans.

The folks Petit Robert Bistro opened Chez Jacky in the space in June of 2010, with its name being changed to Jacky's Table two months later. (The restaurant became Petit Robert Bistro about a year later.) Other Petit Robert Bistros are located in the South End, Kenmore Square, and Needham, with a location of Petit Robert Central being found in Downtown Crossing.

The address for Petit Robert Bistro in Brighton (and the proposed Ittoku) is: 1414 Commonwealth Avenue, Brighton, MA, 02135.

Thanks to Adam's Hospitality & Tourism Industry Blog for bringing this to our attention.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Po Boys to Open in Newtonville

It looks like a new dining spot is coming to the Newtonville section of Newton, and based on its name, it will likely be featuring Louisiana-style sandwiches.

According to a poster on the Chowhound site, Po Boys is looking to open on Crafts Street, moving into the space where Eugene's Coffee & Hot Dogs and the Crafts Street Cafe had been. An earlier Newton Board of License Commissioners page indicates that the person behind the upcoming spot--Eric Cormier--may be planning to have the new spot open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with proposed hours possibly being 5:00 AM to 8:00 PM seven days a week.

The address for this upcoming sandwich place in Newtonville is: Po Boys, 67 Crafts Street, Newton, MA, 02458.

Cast Iron Kitchen in Maynard Has Apparently Closed

photo of Cast Iron Kitchen, Maynard, MAIt looks like an upscale comfort food spot west of Boston has closed its doors. A Twitter note from @moviequill indicates that Cast Iron Kitchen in Maynard is no longer in business, with the place recently shutting down (possibly earlier this week). Cast Iron Kitchen featured inventive takes on classic American dishes such as mac`roni and cheese, fish and chips, steak frites, and braised short ribs, along with some Italian items as well. The restaurant has been featured on our sister site (Boston's Hidden Restaurants), with a review of the eatery being found at the link below:

The address for this now-closed restaurant in Maynard was: Cast Iron Kitchen, 177 Main Street, Maynard, MA, 01754.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

WTC Wharf Progressive Dinner + Giveaway Dining Voucher

This post is Sponsored by Nuffnang.

WTC Wharf
World Trade Centre (Riverside)
Siddeley Street
Melbourne 3005

When some people go to restaurants, they like to order the same thing. Me, I want to try everything on the menu. I like trying out different flavours and seeing what works and taste good. Hence, a progressive dinner is my type of thing. Within one meal, you can try out many types of cuisine. I was invited to join in the WTC Wharf Progressive Dinner with my fellow bloggers Kim, Agnes, April, I-Hua and Joyce.

WTC Wharf, if you haven't been, is opposite the Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre and across the road from Crown Casino. It's sits serenely along the Yarra River and is a wharf edge dining precinct. It's easily accessible via the bridge from Spencer Street, with parking lots located right behind the wharf. For a bit of fun, you can even get to the wharf via the WTC water taxi service. How's that for arriving in style, James Bond style.

We started our progressive dinner at Byblos Bar, a stylish Lebanese restaurant. The restaurant was decorated in very striking colours and I liked the various lights and decorations in the restaurant. We were seated at a comfortable booth table, which was beautifully in-laid with tiles. A good way to start any meal is with cocktails, so we all got some. I went for my usual favourite, a mojito, but with a twist. Instead of rum, gin was used. I thought the gin really worked and I loved the drink.

For entrees, we shared a series of "mezat". The entrees were a sensory feast for the eyes, nose, ears and mouth, with so many flavours, smells and textures. The dishes comprised of simple items like Grilled Haloumi, Fattoush (salad), Dips and the most amazing Roasted Potatoes with Garlic, to more complex dishes like Cheese Filled Filo Pastry, Ground Meat Parcels, Grilled Lamb and Chicken Skewers and finally Quail with Pomegranate Molasses. All the food was good, but my two standout items were the amazing potatoes and the tender and smokey lamb skewers.

After the entrees, we were all quite full already. But being the troopers we are, it was off to Kobe Jones for mains. The large rectangular room is setup for teppanyaki, with the chefs in the middle serving, and entertaining the crowd. The room does get a little bit smokey, so I'd leave the cashmere cardigan at home if I were you.

We started this part of the meal with some Yuzu Sake. It was sour, sweet and refreshing. Then it was oysters with a soy dressing for all, except April, who dislikes them so more for me. Happy days. We then had a really beautiful "meaty" mushroom salad. The mushrooms were cooked perfectly and tasted great. I wish I hadn't eaten so much of them as I was really getting full. When the beautifully tender beef and perfectly cooked salmon came out, I only managed to eat half of it. The dish came with three dipping sauces, ponzu, citrus miso and teriyaki. I think it was unanimous that the citrus miso was the best and paired really well with the beef and fish. I had yet another mojito, but this time the alcoholic component was sake. This mojito was really smooth and softer than usual and delicious. I-Hua wasn't as lucky in her choice of cocktails, with her selection tasting a bit like cough medicine.

We struggled the twenty steps to the next location, the Wharf Hotel, for dessert. The hotel was buzzing with noise and people. You can have a drink outside on the deck, or sit inside and have a drink while watching the footy. The last option is to sit at the tables to eat food and/or dessert. We were here solely for dessert, and dessert I found space for. The spare stomach I store away for dessert came in handy once again, as I got to try the Sticky Date Pudding and Apple Pie. The sticky date pudding was really nice and moist and the sauce was sticky and sweet as it should be. I didn't like the Apple Pie as much as I'm quite sensitive to cinnamon and found it was flavoured too strongly with cinnamon, in both the pie and ice cream. The pastry of the pie was good and the ice cream smooth but cinnamon just assaulted me from all angles and I'm not a fan of strong cinnamon flavour. We washed down dessert with some wine.

That concluded our very plentiful WTC Wharf Progressive Dinner. I was so full and could hardly move. I liked the different flavours and vibe I got at each location. It was a good mix and highly enjoyable. Being a super short walk across all three venues, there was no rush either to get to the next destination in time. With the warm weather that night, it was a perfect way to eat good food and soak up some beautiful weather along the wharf.


To celebrate the WTC Wharf Progressive Dinner, I'm happy to give away a $100 WTC Wharf Dining Voucher. You can use it at any of the restaurants along the wharf.

To enter, all you have to is leave a comment answering the question:
If you were to go to the WTC Wharf which restaurant would you go to?

Please make sure there is a way I can contact you. If I can't reach you, I can't give you the prize.

The most creative answer will be selected by WTC Wharf as the winner.

Conditions of Entry
- One entry per person.
- Competition closes Nov 16th.
- The winner will be contacted directly.
- For full Terms and Conditions, see here.

Buca di Beppo in Dedham Has Closed

A Florida-based chain of Italian restaurants that opened several locations in Massachusetts a couple of years back is now down to one, as it just closed an outlet in a southwest suburb of Boston.

According to one of our sources (and confirmed via the chain's site), Buca di Beppo in Dedham has shuttered, making this the third branch in the state to close (the others being in Lexington and Seekonk). This leaves Shrewsbury as being the sole remaining location in Massachusetts.

Buca di Beppo started out in Minneapolis in 1993, gradually expanding across the country over the years, though it did not come to New England until 2010. (The Boston Business Journal states that their headquarters are now in Orlando, FL.) The chain offers a mix of Northern and Southern Italian fare in a family-friendly environment.

The address for this now-closed restaurant in Dedham was: Buca di Beppo, 233 Elm Street, Dedham, MA, 02026.