Saturday in the City at MFWF
Today, the first Saturday of the 2012 Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, was pouring with rain. But did that stop people from heading into the CBD and stuffing their faces? If the turn out to the Fed Square Favourites pop up restaurant is anything to go by, certainly not!
Then again, no one is going to turn down a free feed. In the lead up to the Fed Square Favourites event, the people of Melbourne voted online for what they wanted to eat this weekend. The winners? Peking duck, soft shell tacos, gourmet pizza, fish and chips and pavlova. The damn fine chefs at Damn Fine Food cooked up the fare in a nearby kitchen. Sessions start at 10am tomorrow, with 30 minute sittings that accommodate 32 guests. If you're around Fed Square tomorrow morning, pop your name on the list and score a free meal, spaces fill up quickly... even in the rain.
If you miss out, it's still worth checking out the conservatory-style café. It's designed by Paul Hyland from Glasshaus. The white steel façade is anchored by 9 Eucalyptus trees and is decked out in bright pink bougainvillea flowers and spheres made from branches. They look like wooden balls of yarn.
We made it to the 11.30am session today, and got to partake in the incredibly tasty soft shell tacos, filled with fresh tomato salsa and flavorsome shredded beef.
We were even able to watch Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs playing in the background as part of Fed Square's free foodie flicks (see what's on for the rest of the festival here).
After our free meal, we headed to the lower terrace of Federation Square, where three chefs were banging on pots and pans. Apparently they were actually musos in cooking gear, and passers-by were encouraged to grab a wooden spoon and join in the fun. The three grown men certainly appeared to be enjoying themselves!
Walking from Fed Square down Banana Alley, we came across some docked sailboats stocked with fresh fruit and vegetables. They're advertising Melbourne's magnificent markets and if you're lucky, you'll catch the smiley staff handing out free apples and pears. There was even a juggling chef!
Keep strolling along and you'll hit Les Erdi Plaza, where Melbourne's food trucks are uniting for the food part of the festival. When we visited today, Taco Truck and Beatbox Kitchen had a private function on, but people were lining up for Gumbo Kitchen. They were selling gumbo, po'boys and "The Dom" (beef debris on chunky fries), but we went straight for the lemon ice box pie, which is basically a frozen cheesecake slice. Perhaps not weather appropriate in the rain, but sweet and zesty nonetheless.
Other food van favourites included the less known Dhaba curry truck (which was drawing moans of satisfaction from customers), the boys with their Massive Weiners, and Cournutopia, which was touting itself as the "cheaper, healthier food truck option". A few boys were also handing out stickers for a new website they had started: wherethetruck.at. Aside from the great name, it's an easy way to see where all of Melbourne's food trucks are at one time, without having to scroll through Twitter feeds and Facebook walls.
Across the bridge from the food truck is one of the festival's star attractions: Greenhouse by Joost. It's a pop-up, waste-free eatery created by sustainable designer Joost Bakker.
It features a rooftop bar lined with drums filled with soil and planted with herbs, external walls tiled with strawberry pot plants, indoor seating beside a pumping kitchen and toilets that harvest urine to be used as fertilizer in Daylesford (to grow mustard oil that will power the next Greenhouse).
The building is made from recycled material, as are all the seats and tables. Logs sprouting with mushrooms line the inside walls and the man behind the menu is Matt Stone. Snacks such as rock oysters, spiced almonds and smokey eggplant dip complement drinks on the rooftop bar, while heartier meals like beef rib eye and the spiced chicken with quinoa and yoghurt are also available. For dessert there's strawberry and rhubarb pudding or passionfruit jelly with pineapple granita and mango.
Of course, the menu is local. Wheat is milled onsite and herbs and weeds are picked from pots around the restaurant. The beef is Hopkins River, the chickens Glenloth Game. Getting a table is tricky, so pop down and put your name on the waiting list before you go for a walk and check out all the other surprises along the Yarra. Greenhouse by Joost is only serving customers for the 20 days spanning the festival.
Even some of the restaurants along the Yarra have set up easy-access stalls, where you can buy their products on the cheap. The Ludlow Butchers Stall and Grill was especially tempting, but we had other plans.
Those plans consisted of vising Ponyfish Island, that wonderful bar in the middle of the river, for an Australian BBQ. Wedged beneath the Queen Elizabeth Footbridge, Ponyfish are offering a tasting plate of native Australian meats for $15 with a side salad (spinach leaves, potato, steamed carrots and a creamy dressing).
The boys on the BBQ were cooking up a storm and the joint was full despite the miserable weather. Everyone holding a glass of wine seemed to have an extra big smile on their faces.
The modestly-sized meat selection consisted of tender lemongrass and ginger crocodile skewers, a powerfully smokey section of quail, medium-rare chunks of cumin and chilli kangaroo and fat homemade rabbit and duck snags (the latter were my personal favourite).
Saturday along the Yarra was a successful foodie affair. Although people were ducking for cover in the downpour, spirits were high and the open heavens meant that the crowds weren't overwhelming. According to the weather report, it will be five degrees warmer with only a few showers tomorrow, so head down and check it out.