Nordic Real Food Dinner – FoodandTravelCo, Hawthorn

Kim Coronica and Greg Feck like touring the world and eating. Who doesn’t? But not many people spend a few snow-filled weeks exploring Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Denmark (taking in some of the world’s best restaurants along the way – yes, that includes René Redzepi’s Noma and San Pellegrino top 50 newcomer Geranium) and then return to Melbourne and spend their every waking moment trying to recreate the dishes they enjoyed, and the atmosphere and hospitality they experienced while abroad. But the adventurous epicureans have started a company – the Food and Travel Co – doing just that.

After recently visiting Cecconi’s Cantina for their fresh pasta making class, we decided our next stop on our tour of Melbourne would be to check out the pair’s Nordic Real Food Dinner at their amazing home/cookery school one chilly autumn evening last week. The brisk single-figure temperature certainly helped get us in a Scandinavian frame of mind, as did the welcome lingonberry-infused champagnes, mussel salad – straight from the shell – and pickled herring on crisp bead with potato and creme fraiche.

A table is strewn with leaves, branches and berries, it all looks very rustic, and we are lead past the cellar (wow) to the huge open plan kitchen and long wooden table that sits 24- plus diners. Iceland band of the moment Sigur Rós is on the stereo, a large flat-screen TV plays a slideshow of snaps from the trip, and real bread ‘sticks’ sit alongside more seasonal foliage displayed in vases running the length of table – deliciously doughy spread with whipped butter – which tastes like curry due to, as Greg explains, the external influences that are increasingly creeping into this often remote landscape. He also mentioned the lime juice and soy sauce sometimes used to season whale meat as an example, before also recognising that so much of the skill involved in cooking in these six countries relies on presenting the limited ingredients available to chefs in new and exciting ways. Self-sufficiency is more a necessity than a passing food fad and foraging is big. As is raw meat and fish.

First course at the table – salmon (in place of the hard-to-source-down-under Arctic char) with a piquant buerre blanc, scattered with mouth-popping caviar and oh-so pretty borage and petals. Super-fresh fish, an absolute joy – a dish inspired by Norway restaurant Vianvang, where we are told guests trek through the countryside to reach their destination, as it is the journey that sets the scene for the meal – it’s this sort of immersive experience that Kim and Greg are so taken with.

Next, wild mushroom ‘foragers’ soup – a dense and earthy puree with daubs of tangy creme fraiche adding a balanced creaminess.

Then, in a bid to recreate the 12-month- aged ‘fermented’ lamb served on the Faroe Islands, slow-cooked lamb with dried lamb stirred though, on a bed of puffed rice and strewn with seaweed and fish skin. An interesting mix of textures, but perhaps the salty-fish flavour was a little overpowering for the delicate meat. Have to mention the Yabby Lake chardonnay this dish was paired with – buttery and refined – delicious.

Two raw red meat dishes followed – Noma-inspired beef tartare, sorrel, juniper and tarragon, and venison masquerading as whale and served with a punchy rhubarb jam, soy and lime.

Both accompanied by a Bordeaux-style, easy-on-the-tannins drop from Margaret River – Moss Wood Amy’s. Ever the obliging hostess, Kim kept everyone’s glasses very topped up.

After these two uncooked plates it came as a bit of a relieve to feast on warm and perfectly cooked entrecote, oxtail gravy, salsify, asparagus and roasted tomato (with Heathcote Estate shiraz) before finishing up with another dish exhibiting contrasting flavours – white chocolate and chervil jelly from Geranium.

Great colours and, as Greg promised, not overly sweet for a dessert – more a palate-cleanser. The really sticky-sweetness came from the eiswein – a very cool climate drop from Austria.

Kim and Greg (as well as the three assistant chefs and two serving staff, which includes the incredibly capable operations manager, Stephanie) never once switched off. Each course is lovingly explained, along with wine-tasting notes, and colourful background information kept the group informed and engaged.

The pair have managed to create the best kind of dinner party – beautiful surroundings, professional cooking and thoughtful food. You don’t even have to bring a bottle or offer to help with the washing up. When eating in is this good, why would you ever venture out? Expect that is, shameless plug, to check out Crabapple Kitchen – Greg’s latest project that will open in June this year (after leaving Richmond Hill Cafe and Larder and St Kilda’s Sapore last year). More details to follow…

The Nordic tour sets off again in August this year, while future events at the Hawthorn East house include One For The Girls – an interactive dinner demonstration – and Immerse Yourself In India (June and July respectively – both $135 per person for multiple dishes and matched wines).

Bringing a corner of the world to a Melbourne kitchen got us thinking – what restaurants have inspired you to recreate their dishes at home?

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