Four Venues, One Night of Gluttony
Let’s work backwards. It ended at the back of Longrain in Little Bourke Street. Forty people had made it to the fourth stop of Agenda City’s inaugural progressive dinner. We were sitting on colourful rattan stools next to the atmospheric, white-marble bar, contemplating life’s complexities. We sounded incredibly eloquent, perhaps even intelligent and philosophical. Then again, that’s the impression one tends to hold of oneself after approximately ten standard drinks.
The realisation of our intoxication surfaced when we found ourselves silently transfixed by the glowing fish tank set in sea-green tiles, which acts as a watery window through to the kitchen.
When someone says ‘Longrain’ you instantly think contemporary Thai dining. We weren’t there for the food — we were there to get our drink on, and get our drink on we did. The bartenders shuffled and shook to serve our giant posse.
The Ping Pong cocktail was the ‘most ordered’; a tumbler glass of citrus vodka mixed with sweet, lychee liqueur and balanced with fresh lime juice. With the addition of a generous scoop of passionfruit pulp and pitted lychees, we also fulfilled our daily intake of fruit.
The Soho La stuck to the fruity theme: a tall glass of fresh watermelon, lychees, lime and apple juice, fired up with lychee-infused vodka and lychee liqueur. But the winner for me (it had less to do with the fact that it was unbelievably strong and more to with the fact that it was unique) was the chilli coconut martini. A cloudy concoction of vodka, coconut syrup and chilli infused vodka arrived with a heap of freshly grated coconut and julienned chilli. It was spicy, but nicey.
We had just come from Taxi Dining Room in Federation Square, where we sat upstairs in the River Room, a curtained off area around the corner from the impressive modern bar and main dining room. The 360-degree views of the city weren’t too shabby either.
Executive Chef, Tony Twitchett, had prepared an edible, three-dimensional canvas. Calling it ‘dessert’ would be an injustice. Comments such as “I’m not even a dessert person” were mumbled in disbelief through final mouthfuls of Taxi’s signature dessert dish. A square of pillow-soft white chocolate mousse was layered with white chocolate ganache, drizzled with salted caramel containing crunchy peanuts, and crowned with a rich, fudgy quenelle of dark chocolate. A small army of lightly toasted mini meringues surrounded the mousse centrepiece.
Just in case dessert wasn’t sweet enough, we were also treated to a couple of glasses of 2008 Tempus Two Botrytis Semillon.
One of the highlights of the night was stumbling across a beautiful art installation in the middle of Federation Square called ‘Literature Versus Traffic’ by Spanish collective Luzinterruptus. It consisted of a pathway of illuminated books donated by The Salvation Army. Passers by are encouraged to interact with the installation by picking up the books, having a read, or writing in them.
Before we were mesmerised by the books and dessert, we were sipping on a heavy 2010 Nepenthe Shiraz (Adelaide Hills, SA), overzealously poured (not that we were complaining) by the friendly staff at my old, ‘new favourite’, Henry and the Fox. Chef Michael Fox and his team managed to serve perfect pork belly and mouth-watering mulloway to forty people.
The pork belly was cooked for 12 hours at 82 degrees and practically dissolved in the mouth. The brittle, sticky layer of crackling on top was addictive, and the addition of fennel (presented as charred wedges of confît fennel, fennel purée and fennel pollen) cut through the fattiness.
The other option was the mulloway, a beautiful, flaky fish with crisp skin resting on a colourful chickpea and red pepper salad, bound together with an avocado purée. Usually it comes with slices of flavoursome chorizo placed on top, but the pescatarians among us received it without. But was it any good?
According to David Toussaint (Agenda intern, hopeless romantic, suit destroyer and clandestine superhero) Michael Fox “made flavours I didn’t even know existed in my mouth!”
But let’s go back to where it all began, at the French-inspired Mr. Mason, right next door to Henry and the Fox on Little Collins. The rustic décor has an industrial touch, but the elongated fireplace set in stone cladding floods the room with warmth.
The mass of rounded brass lights spurting from the ceiling, the raw wooden beams and the raised yellow stools next to the bar also added to the relaxed atmosphere.
To accompany what seemed like an endless supply of 2011 Nepenthe Sauvignon Blanc (Adelaide Hills, SA), we started the evening with a vibrant lime cured kingfish ceviche, explained to us in detail by Mr. Mason’s manager, Jason.
A harmony of pickled vegetables including slivers of radish, thin slices of carrot and finely shaved daikon added texture. The ingredients were bound together with a mild avocado purée and blotted with a seaweed dressing containing tiny balls that resembled tapioca.
That brings us to the end of the Agenda progressive dinner… or more accurately, to the the start. We could keep rewinding and I could tell you about the train ride there, where I was sardined in next to two people exactly my height who I swear had collaborated earlier and made plans to breathe into both of my ears, or how I picked up my car from the repair shop in the afternoon, or how I watched this video on YouTube of a dog riding a bike, but all of the just wouldn’t be relevant, would it?
What is more relevant is how successful the evening was. Everyone arrived in brilliant spirits and the cheer was contagious. New friends were made, laughter was shared, stories were exchanged and Melbourne’s finest fare was enjoyed in some of our best restaurants. When you consider that the positive energy was enhanced with a few too many glasses of wine and a couple of cocktails, it’s clear that the night was always going to be memorable. If nothing else, Agenda gave us a fantastic excuse to explore the heart of our city and the renowned food scene that makes it so wonderful.
Disclaimer: I work for Agenda City. This does not change the fact that the food was delicious, the company irreplaceable and the night utterly delightful. Just ask anyone who attended!