Saturday was a washout with the Cellar Door & Farm Gate event quickly resembling a swamp on the Southbank. The less said the better (which I am sure Sunday was). Post wine-tasting we visited the food trucks set up on the other side of the Yarra – but talking to each of the owners they were disappointed in the turnout for what was going to be their big day.
Sunday brought the sunshine with it and before our chosen event I suggested a wander back down the Southbank, where numerous stands had been set up from a few Crown casino restaurants – and it looked like the only visitors were tourists coming out bleary-eyed from a night at the high rollers table. It didn’t hold our attention so we passed on and made our way into the main square.
This is where the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival Hub is found and they have made it into a great interactive space. The volunteers were all very helpful and the three chefs draped in blackboards did indeed make everyone they encountered laugh.
There were cooking demonstrations happening every hour and the crowds thronged to see which celeb chef was cooking up a storm.
What I was most impressed with and was another ‘pop-up’ – the Greenhouse By Joost, which returned to Melbourne for this year’s festival. Should you find yourself in the main square it is very easy to bypass it with so much going on. But look towards the river – yes, there behind the green – and you will find the colossal temporary building made from recycled wood and covered with pot plants – it also has a living fungus wall and masses of metal drums filled wit herbs – the basil smell just sets your taste buds going.
This is what I would expect at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival – somewhere that intrigues you when you first encounter it and will end up dragging you back on multiple occasions for pre or post-event drinks. This is what happens when things are done right.
We took a rickshaw advertised ‘Free with a foodie tip’ jumped in and spent the rest of the journey listening to the driver saying how much in tips he made yesterday, how much he was hoping to make today and to ‘give whatever you can afford’. I am not stingy but this left a sour taste in the mouth. There are many visitors who will take advantage of this ‘free’ transport which I thought was a great idea to get people from one event to the other in a short timeframe, but being stung with a guilt trip is a bit much.
Moving on, we arrived at Campari House on Hardware Lane for the XXL BBQ, which promised to boost BBQ skills, while you discover how marinades and spices can be matched with booze. The event was about 70% capacity with a few dozen people booked in. Things started off well with The Mercer cocktail – a sweet gin-based drink that hit a summery note as we were out in the open on the rooftop.
This was matched with a Korean-Style Babrbecued Skirt Steak with ginger and spring onion sauce, served in a lettuce leaf and eaten with your hands – it was messy but the tangy sauce matched perfectly with the slightly sweet cocktail.
A single BBQ as you would find in any backyard was set up in front of the bar. We were ushered up to the BBQ where the chef took us through the menu – outlining that it was difficult to come up with a typically ‘Aussie’ dish so decided to play with international ideas.
Onto the hot grill went the BBQ Pork Spare Ribs. It was explained that the pork was firstly boiled before being grilled and turned quite frequently. I had previously just done ribs in the oven so it was interesting to see if the BBQ would produce the same quality. Once cooked, plates were allocated to each table and each person had two ribs with a side of very mustardy slaw. The main comment from the table was that the fat was still quite congealed and the constant turning ensured the it didn’t get a change to melt.
Dish two was the Greek Lamb Cutlets with a yoghurt dressing. The cutlets were cooked medium-rare and we each had one each to gnaw on. Ideally I want more than one small cutlet so the small serve was disappointing and the semi-tzatziki had no real flavour.
Time was getting away and we stuck around only to have the fish course – BBQ Fish and Chips with sauce grib served with James Squire Golden Ale. The fish was cooked perfectly but the potatoes, which were also cooked on the grill, were much too hard and starchy in the centre. The sauce almost made up for the downfall. We then had to run – the event was supposed to finish at 3pm and it was now 3.30pm and had another event to get to. So we missed out on the BBQ banana split – said goodbye to the chef and went on our way.
This all leads me to my point….
Speaking to a few other attendees who had been to a few other events on Friday and Saturday, we found that there were quite a few disappointing stories coming out and it got me thinking…
Has the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival become more quantity than quality?
I was initially disheartened to hear that the Broadsheet Cafe, which popped up last year in Bourke St laneway, was off the cards for this year. The idea was to build the ultimate Melbourne cafe with the city’s best beans and baristas taking it in turns to run the show. Each operator, including Seven Seeds, Dead Man Espresso, Market Lane, Proud Mary, Five Senses and The Premises, showcased their unique roasts, tastes and techniques.
This concept suits Melbourne perfectly. This year, instead of the cafe, they went with the Broadsheet Bar concept. This time you will find yourself across the road from Journal in another barebones space but lacking the charm of the cafe. The bar will feature the likes of of The Everleigh, Seamstress, Bar Americano, Der Raum, EDV, Bar Ampere and Black Pearl – but imagining what the cost of the cocktails will be, I seriously question whether they will be of a standard that you would get should you visit the individual bars separately. My guess is the more people waiting, the faster they will need to make the cocktails. So why did they replace their cafe idea in the coffee centre of Australia – just a bid to expand their liquid empire?
Going back to the original questions of quality versus quantity. At the event we attended, people were dumbfounded at the amount of choices available in the MFWF Guide. Their main question was how did you know you were going to get your money’s worth? A tricky question indeed. The BBQ event was $70 and it was argued that this event was below the standard expected. Yes they would be impressed if there were over at a friend’s place for lunch and were served the same dishes – but after choosing this as possibly the one event to attend they were disheartened by the amount and what they received.
Another Melbourne Food Blogger – My Second Helping – had a similar experience and detailed the farce in the post ‘A Gastromomical Gaffe‘ at Fenix restaurant which you can read here. I would assume that a majority of MFWF-goers have had no desire to attend Fawlty Towers – Dining Experience, so why did Manu think it was a suitable place for tacky theatre. He need only wait a few weeks until he could take out this shtick at the Melbourne Comedy Festival.
Has the MFWF become too big for it’s boots? The 2013 festival needs to be scaled back and not include events that are just there to make a buck rather than feed eager attendees and showcase their exceptional chefs, wait staff and food.
While there are budget events – and we all love a free movie in Fed Square – are we really expected to fork out between $150-$250 for just one event and pinning your culinary hopes and dreams on a wing and a prayer. They need to look at their pricing structure. Either way, I wouldn’t be willing to take my chances.
So good readers – what events have you attended, were you impressed and do you think you received your money’s worth?
23-25 Hardware Lane
Melbourne, VIC 3000