Taste of Melbourne 2011 and questioning the love of red velvet cakes

Posted on September 23, 2011

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I’m going to try make up for my very poor write up of the Taste of Melbourne 2010 last year and be more detailed this time round. So evidently, the time has come again for the food festival that takes place at the Royal Exhibition Building; a time to sample many of the fine restaurants Melbourne is known for and produce from right around Australia.

Just in terms of some quick observations about the differences between the 2010 and 2011 festivals; seems like some of the stalls weren’t nearly as generous as they were last year with samples. Perhaps it was bad timing on my part, but I felt that last year the operators were more giving. Also the tasting plates have gone up, they were around 8 ‘crowns’ ($8) last year, this year it was more like $12. Guess these are more indicators of demand and what people are willing to pay at these events. Outside of the tickets, I certainly burnt a bit of cash tasting things and also bringing home some of the lovely produce on display…

There was no plan of attack because to be honest. This year none of the restaurants featured were on my radar to visit, either because I’d been before or I didn’t know much about them. Anyhow, first up was the Western Plains pork parcels ($12) at the European on the staff’s recommendation. It was a stellar choice to follow the advice of those in the know. These little parcels of tender pork belly wrapped in a thin crisp wrap were divine! It had us salivating for more. We were onto a good start already.

Ok so pork has been primed in our heads now, and what better to feed this piggy craving than with a pulled pork panini ($12) from the Kitchen Cat? That also gives my nod to the ‘dude food’ movement that is apparently happening all around town. If I’ve lost you with the dude food, it’s a concept that has its roots in the big US of A thanks to the celebrity likes of David Chang et al. At its core, it’s back to basics man food (read junk food) made with a bit of refinement and quality ingredients. The result? Yummy comfort food that is pretty much immediately recognisable to anyone. The pork panini is a prime example; simple, hearty and delicious.

Having over indulged just a tad in the produce section after that, we settled for lighter seafood options. The olive fried octopus, aioli, steamed eggplant and pickled free range eggs ($8) from The Botanical didn’t look like much; in fact, I’ll have to admit to being slightly disappointed when I saw it. But let it be known that I’d been fooled by looks numerous times before, and this is just another addition to that list. This was a really tasty salad and the flavours were pleasant and slightly surprising on the palate.

The final savory dish of the night was the seared scallops, green chilli ailoi, almonds and celeriac remoulade ($12) from The Stokehouse. Nice and light flavours to round off dinner, but it wasn’t particularly memorable either, with the other dishes sampled throughout the night easily overshadowing it.

Dessert was a little sampler ($4) from Enni. We opted for the raspberry macaron and red velvet cake. The raspberry flavour was packed with punch and a nice berry zing, which is a lovely change from some of the more bland macaron offerings in the broader market. Now I hesitate to say the next bit because I’m sure it’s not through the fault of the pastry chef, but rather through it being exposed to air all night…however it has to be said: the macaron was stale. I suppose that’s just one of the little inconveniences of selling macarons in an open air environment.

And now, I’m going to venture into potentially dangerous waters here and ask; what is the big fuss over red velvet cakes? Particularly the cupcake variety? I just don’t get it, but everyone and their dog seems to absolutely love the red velvet. Is it for the simple fact that it’s red and thus has a high novelty factor? Just for clarification I don’t have any grudges against that cake, I like it just fine. I just don’t understand the fascination.

Oops I seem to have gone on a bit of a tangent there, but in concluding, the Taste of Melbourne 2011 was a great night out with excellent food amongst a buzzy atmosphere. Am happily anticipating the 2012 edition. While I’m waiting, there are plenty of dining adventures to be had, including some of those showcase restaurants I’ve had a glimpse at!

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