A Taste of Melbourne and a piece of my mind
Disclaimer: I did not pay for my food, drink or masterclasses. Taste of Melbourne invited me to attend the food festival for free, along with other bloggers. The opinions below are based solely on my experience at the time of my visit, whether they like it or not.
I have an admission to make: I was wined and dined at Taste of Melbourne 2012. My stomach was spoiled, my palate was pampered, and my intestines were indulged (too far?) - and it cost me all of zero dollars. “Sellout!” You yell. “Traitor,” you cry. Whatever, I loved it.
Ed Charles from Tomato says on his blog that, “You’ll find plenty of gushing reviews of Taste of Melbourne thanks to free hospitality and a chauffeur driven tour of exhibiting restaurants for bloggers who were required to guarantee publicity.”
I want to make it clear that I was invited to help Taste of Melbourne “spread the word” this year. I was asked to run a competition giving away tickets on my blog, to tweet during the event, and to write a post-event blog entry about our preview session (this is probably not what the truly lovely folk at Hothouse Media had in mind – but bear with me, I’ll get there). Nowhere did it demand the review had to be positive. In fact, I actually have a bone or two to pick with Taste of Melbourne, but that’s a little bit further on.
For now, let me ask you a question: I swapped a decadent tour of Taste of Melbourne – that I otherwise could not have afforded – for a couple of blog posts that: a) guarantee me web traffic; b) give five competition winners free tickets to Taste of Melbourne and c), provide me with a bloody good time doing what I love to do most (eat)… does that make me evil?
When I’m offered a free meal, I’m flattered. It means a restaurant considers my blog to be worthwhile and my online reach to be significant. That doesn’t mean I’ll always accept a freebee, and it certainly doesn’t mean I’m going to always write laudatory articles about a place if my experience was to the contrary. I would only be lying to myself, as well as my readers, who would figure it out for themselves anyway. Keeping a blog is time consuming, as any blogger will tell you. We get recognised for our dedication to our hobby with an invite here and there – so sue me. Unless there is value in it for me, I’m not interested. I saw the value in Taste of Melbourne.
I do not, for a minute, consider food blogs to be the same as restaurant reviews in say, Epicure, for example. Many of us bloggers pull out our obnoxious cameras, tell wait staff exactly what our intentions are, and tweet during our meals like our lives depend on it (don’t laugh people, it’s an addiction). The argument here is that we get treated differently to your average customer. In some cases, this is true, but again, many food bloggers aren’t trying to go incognito. They’re just trying to eat, take photos and write about it. Sometimes being a food blogger works against you, with wait staff snarling and making ‘under their breath’ comments.
But the top food bloggers, like any well-known food critic, have pull. If you deny that, you’re living in a false reality. In this crazy world of social media and the Internet, that’s just how it works. Regardless of whether you’re a critic for Fairfax or a blogger sharing your experiences, or whether you’re almighty enough to snicker at people who use a harmless word like ‘foodie’ (I’m guilty here), you should always strive to be fair and ethical. That means being open about freebies and not using your ‘status’ as someone who writes about food to your advantage (such as requesting a free meal in exchange for a positive review). That shit ain’t right.
So with my rant in mind, I believe Taste of Melbourne 2012 had enough faith in their food festival to assume that a group of 10 bloggers, including myself, would be notably impressed. They figured we would enjoy ourselves and report favourably. After all, Taste of Melbourne is supposed to be fun. I fit into this category, except for one main criticism, so let’s get it out of the way now.
Taste of Melbourne is expensive. It cost punters $30 to get in, after which you have to buy ‘Crowns’, tokens that are exchanged for food. One Crown equals one dollar. The dishes are small, but then again it’s called Taste of Melbourne, not Feast of Melbourne, and most cost between eight to 12 Crowns. So let’s say you want to go to Taste of Melbourne, have a meal, dessert and a drink. Already you’re about $70 out of pocket.
But think about it for a second. You have MoVida, Mamasita, Albert Street Food and Wine, The Point, Taxi Dining Room, The Botanical, The Atlantic, Mr. Hive Kitchen and Bar, Mahjong, Saké, Libertine and Livingroom all in one place. You are surrounded by some of the best producers and suppliers of food and beverage across Melbourne. Maybe, just maybe, convenience comes at a cost. Surely waiting in line for 10 minutes instead of two hours to get your mitts on a Mamasita taco is worth something? Plus there are costs involved in setting up the entire event, which was spectacular in its new lakeside location on Pelican Lawn in Albert Park.
Something I don’t appreciate is the high percentage of profit Taste of Melbourne takes from the restaurants. When you’ve got names like MoVida in there, who don’t need Taste of Melbourne for publicity, it’s a wonder some of these joints agree to all the hard work when there’s little monetary gain. Especially when back at their restaurants, bums fill the seats every night.
Costs aside – Taste of Melbourne is a fantastic day/night out. It’s the epitome of the Melbourne food scene and the food was up to scratch as well. Below is a list of what I enjoyed, as well as a few hiccups.
The new orange and ginger Rekorderlig. To be honest, I’m not a Rekorderlig fan and find it too sweet and manufactured. Not so with this new variety – perfect for anyone who loves lemon, lime and bitters or ginger beer. I’ll be drinking it this summer.
Laurent-Perrier. It’s a premium champagne, it was never going to be bad. We sipped it in the VIP marquee, where the best dishes of Taste of Melbourne were announced. The Minted Mermaid soup from Albert Street Food and Wine took out first prize while we were treated to some exquisite finger food, ranging from the charmingly described “pigs face” and veal, to high-grade kingfish and asparagus with artichoke crisps.
Entry into this section of Taste set visitors back 100 bucks, but it included $30 worth of Crowns, access to the Laurent-Perrier VIP Suite, a complimentary glass of Laurent-Perrier and another complimentary drink, as well as a $25 Best Restaurant Gift Card.
Sensology. We also took part in the Sensology cocktail masterclass (which cost participants 10 Crowns). Our quick lesson on how to make whiskey sours was good fun, but the lemon juice seeping into my paper cut distracted me, plus I was driving that evening.
Cointreau Fizz. Free cocktail voucher? Sure, why not? Especially when it’s a Cointreau Fizz cucumber and basil cocktail with fresh lime, cucumber, basil and soda water.
Char-grilled tender Moorish lamb skewers by MoVida. This was one of the more affordable and filling options at Taste of Melbourne, without compromising on quality. Served to us by the man himself, Frank Comorra, they had bread rolls speared to the top.
Regal King Salmon ceviche by Mr. Hive. Mr. Hive Kitchen and Bar provided us with a salmon ceviche with smoked paprika yoghurt and fingerlimes. The textures were fantastic but the taste paled in comparison to the King Salmon dish next door…
Livingroom Restaurant beetroot cured salmon. Served with vanilla and lime picked cucumber and a dollop of horseradish cream, it was superior to the Mr. Hive option, although I’d love to see the two battle to the death for the title of ‘best dessert’.
Terrine from Libertine. We sat in at the Dilmah Chef’s Skillery as Nick Creswick from Libertine took us through the steps of deboning a chicken, while we sipped on sponsored tea and shoved chicken and pistachio terrine into our greedy, blogger gobs.
Albert Street Food and Wine desserts. Ashamedly, I still haven’t visited Albert Street Food and Wine (I always forget they are closed on Mondays!). I was thrilled to try dessert queen Philippa Sibley’s stunning lemon tart, which was the highlight of Taste of Melbourne for me. I also sampled her ‘Crowning Glory’ valrhona chocolate tart. It was cookbook picture perfect, but it had nothing on its citrusy sister.
Eton mess from Mr. Hive Kitchen and Bar. Beautiful and light with mini meringues, berry coulis and fresh raspberries and blueberries. Unfortunately it was miniscule – I could have easily eaten 10 of them, guilt-free. Then again, I have an unusually prominent sweet tooth.
Livingroom Restaurant’s chocolate mousse. An impressive warm chocolate mousse with caramel popcorn and a half-melted marshmallow lurking at the bottom, this was criminally good and extremely rich. Had they offered, seconds and thirds would have certainly been on the cards.
Burch and Purchese were also selling their popular ice creams and sweet treats from their studio in South Yarra. The chocolate pop with salted caramel got a great rap from Amy’s Town.
OTHER BITS I LIKED
The amazing creations from 180 Degree Cupcakes. Just look at that cookie monster.
Yarra Valley Caviar – for obvious reasons.
666 Vodka for their creative marketing skills.
Rooftop honey, displayed at The Aylesbury restaurant stand.
Whole pig on a spit by The Point, hilariously positioned next to the Halal stand.
Charitable chocolate mo’s by Monsieur Truffe.
The amazing things happening over at My Other Kitchen, such a great little business for start-ups in the food industry.
Did you go to Taste of Melbourne 2012? I'd love to hear your thoughts: what did you like, what would you change, and will you go again next year? And bloggers - what do you do to ensure your writing remains honest and fair?