Things aren’t always too good to be true. Things become too good to be true. Taste of Sydney is still one of my fave food-focused events but it’s nowhere near as awe-inspiring as it was 5 years ago. Here’s my take on the happenings of the festival this year.
As a curious food-obsessive should, I had to get in early to get amongst it. All that celebrity chef/food sampling/alcohol tasting/stall perusing action. Let’s just say the weather wasn’t all too complimentary. The first half was a war zone with my umbrella as the wind picked up and wreaked havoc. I made my way over to the first demonstration with chef Mark Best – from three Michelin-star Marque – who was rambling on about an ultra complex artichoke dehydrating process. I wasn’t too impressed as he made it out to seem like we could just head off home and create this ourselves. Bom bom.
It was, however, nice to see new stalls popping up from local, independent producers. New names like The River Kitchen dessert sauces (the salted caramel looked like bliss!) and Inside Out Almond Milk, which now come in flavours like spiced vanilla and salted caramel and even a tea-infused drink which was fresh and naturally fizzy. I was bummed that I forgot to return to buy a few bottles but you can find them at local markets around Sydney. Another annoying fact was that samples are now few and far between – as opposed to a couple of years ago when stallholders were more generous with letting customers try before forking out rather high prices for quality handmade products. I have this feeling that the more freely you give out samples, the more chance you have of actually selling your product. Just my two cents.
I was getting hangry so from my menu card I opted for Biota Dining‘s Glazed Lamb Bun ($10). This was brilliant – I could’ve probably scoffed down another three. A soft, brioche-like bun glazed in a sweet, sticky coating with fall-apart lamb innards. After two bites this food dream was over and reality hit that I need to check out Biota to get my hands on their inventive, whimsical style.
Next up was another demonstration – this time from Saké chef Min Kim. I sat down at the perfect time – just as the chef was nervously chopping the head off a live eel! You should’ve seen the audience, people were either fascinated but wary or squeamish and frightened. The chef had to reassure the audience (at least 20 times) that, yes, the eel was dead and no, it’s moving body did not mean it was still alive. Eels have a tough nervous system which means the body continues to move even as the eel is officially dead. I’ll be honest even for a Japanese food freak I was a little grossed out. I did respect the chef for showing us just how much precision and effort a tiny piece of eel requires but I think he went a little overboard. The Japanese robata grill was beautiful though – almost 700 degrees of heat with the oils from the meat spitting onto hot coals and smoking the tender unagi. Mmm unagi don.
More stall standouts were Suncoast Gold with their macadamia oil which was delicate and fruity in flavour, Herbs of Life lavash crackers (they even do kombucha!) and Benfatti Sicilian Cherry Tomato Sauce. If I had more cash to spend, I wouldn’t have resisted one bit.
A packet of Yours Truly Cocoa Spuds had me hooked and the Tabasco stall was great value for money and with lots of different flavour varieties – I went for the smoky Chipotle which is amazing on anything. Neu’s German Bread (which is now running stalls across Sydney) had the most luscious pastries so I had to go for a cinnamon scroll – yarm! It took exactly a minute for that sweet, nutty, spicy thing to disappear into nothing. I had to refresh my Fleur de Sel at home so was thankful to find Fine French Food still running a stall here. I popped over to the Simon Johnson stall selling various creamy cheeses, gourmet products and Valrhona chocolate so I had to buy a few dark blocks. These were smooth, creamy and not overly bitter as dark chocolate can be. Although I’d go for an 85% or more version if they had it. I’m on a tight budget so I didn’t feel like standing in a long line to fork out more money for restaurant dises but standouts seemed to be: MoVida, Popolo, up-and-comer Pei Modern and of course Porteño. I ended the day a little early as the heat of the sun was really sinking in and I wanted to go home and devour my goodies. All in all, a good day, but the Tasmanian Pavilion (with all the meat and seafood goodies) is now non-existent and alcohol has definitely taken a few steps up which means food sampling was not an aspect of the day.