Where can you sample dishes from a range of Melbourne chefs in one sitting?
No, it’s not Taste Melbourne, despite the four-day eating extravaganza being fresh in our minds. How could we forget – the queues for MoVida’s grilled meats, the insanely strong Bacardi cocktails, the tasteless abomination that was The Smith’s pork bun, and the crispy deliciousness of the people’s dish of the year: Albert St Food and Wine’s calamari fritto and charred corn kernels in a cone.
But we want to talk about a collaborative event of another kind. Organised by James Kummrow (of the Royal Mail Hotel, Trocadero and most recently Fatto), Stage is Set sees chefs from a number of the city’s top restaurants come together to share their passion. And in the dining room on the night we visit, that’s what really showed. Chefs bring out their dishes to each and every diner, explaining what they have prepared before retreating to the kitchen to help the rest of the team plate up for the next course.
The atmosphere is warm and welcoming, each course comes with a matched wine (with tea or coffee for the fifth course) and the $95 price tag represents real value for money. People, if you want to dine on dishes from Hare and Grace, Attica and The Commoner in the space of a couple of hours – this is where it is at.
Taking advantage of Fitzroy North’s Jorg restaurant being closed on a Monday night, the team move in for service. First up:
Small and perfectly formed, these sweet-savoury macaroons are glued together with intensely flavoured smoked labne. Keeping with the orange theme, the first starter is served with aperol and soda. Pretty and delicious. I’ll get it out of the way now, ‘pretty and delicious’ is pretty much the running theme of the whole night. We had the pleasure of eating both Jake and Malcolm’s (the last dish of the evening) food when we went The Commoner for their Spanish wine-fueled lunch that took place a few weeks ago. These two are ones to watch.
Having never been to Attica (we will, one day) we approached the next course with childlike excitement. Managing to be both fine dining and comfort food at the same time, we were presented with a bowl of diced Hervey Bay scallops that had been lightly marinated in citrus, with corn kernels, pureed corn and shards of corn meringue on top. How can something this seemingly simple taste this interesting? Served with chablis we could have consumed buckets of the stuff, but I guess that’s not the point of a refined and attractive dish such as this.
Grilled ox tongue with smoked leek and goat’s curd
Nothing against offal, waste not want not and all that. But there is a lot of ox tongue – it tasted good – rich, meaty, earthy – but was probably more than we needed. Saying that the delicious goat’s curd and smoked leek provided enough points of difference to make it a really well rounded dish. As did the big and bold pinot noir it was paired with.
Hare and Grace
Squab, beetroot, beurre noisette, chamomile and sour cherry
Another beautifully presented dish emerges from the kitchen – one wooden board per person with dots of red and white popping up among the leaves – it looks so pretty it takes a few seconds to notice there is a squab claw protruding from the mix. Not that we mind. The meat is so juicy and the flavours – beetroot smear, punchy cherries, creamy beurre noisette – are amazing. Beetroot crisps are a good excuse to get your fingers involved, which means you can probably get away with gnawing a squab leg. All in all, so good it’s hard to stop ourselves from licking the boards. Oh, and there was a peppery shiraz with it, too.
A wise person once said that something should only be deconstructed if you can make it better. Well, James’ cheesecake, based on his mother’s recipe, turns up as a scattering of crumbs, strawberry jelly, rich cream quenelles, fresh strawberries and baby basil leaves. The verdict? It’s chef-y but not showoff-y. And easily one of the best cheesecakes (deconstructed or otherwise) we have ever sampled. Add a glass of sticky, sweet muscadet and we are in dessert heaven.
What we had (I don’t know why) imaged might be a slab of carrot cake (which we would have no room for) turns out to be far more neat and elegant – two octagonal chocolates that taste like, well, carrot. But in a good way – and it’s a really nice return to the beginning of the menu. Small bites filled with punchy flavour.
James is really passionate about the mixed kitchen providing a forum for young chefs to learn, it functions as a kind of mentoring thing, and he clearly has a really strong vision for the initiative.
So yeah – no queues, no Crowns, not one dud dish. Five courses from some of the city’s best eateries (and chefs) with matched wines for $95. That’s a taste of Melbourne we will be coming back for.
Stage Is Set’s next event takes place on Monday February 24, 2014 at Jorg Restaurant, North Fitzroy. The cost is $95- and you can book tickets on ph. 9482 3002 or HERE. Bookings are essential and if you miss this you will have to wait another 3 months!