Friday, February 17, 2012

March into Merivale, 2012

Every year the 22 Merivale restaurants and venues hold a 7 week food festival that features special events and special offers, showcasing their style and innovation.

I anticipate the launch party with great excitement. It’s amazingly good value – a $20 ticket gets you 8 ‘tokens’ which can be exchanged for drinks or canapĂ©-sized serves of special dishes from each venue. More tokens can be bought during the event. The event is held at The Ivy and is beautifully executed each year with a clear creative theme – this year was lingeried ladies adorned with black body painted words like ‘live', ‘life’ and ‘bite me’. 

Ladies of the edible night
(There were also buff-looking boys who were shirtless 
under their tie-dyed apons and matching chef hats)  

What makes March into Merivale even more exciting is that it’s the chefs themselves who serve the food – so the likes of Dan Hong or Jeremy Strode personally hand you their own creations. I like to think that it’s a way of making the chefs and the dining public more accessible to each other.

But there’s a strategy involved - Arrive too early and you’ll be caught in the crush of the after-work crowd . . . 

Busy, busy laneway

Arrive too late and you'll miss out

I turned up too late to the Felix stand and only found Lauren Murdoch tidying the last bits and pieces on an empty stall and couldn’t see a sign to see what I had missed.

But to arrive early and stick around until later means you’ll hit the sweet spot in between – where there’s lots of food, you can show appreciation directly to the creators of your snack and the serves start doubling in size.

Thursday night was hot. Damn hot. Made even more steamy by the densely packed crowds. The girls and I headed upstairs to the Ivy Room first, as the crowd in the laneway was just a bit too much to bear at the start

Upstairs the Ivy Room was equally busy

There’s nothing for it but to dive into the fray.

While I was keen to see what the old favourites were up to, it was two new kids on the block that had me going back for seconds:

David O’brien’s Tuna carpaccio, fois gras butter, brioche, quail egg

Mr Wong’s 
Steamed scallop shumai

There was so much good food on offer. In addition to getting your timing and pace right, it’s also best to start with dishes that may go early. Just follow the crowd and you’ll guess what will go first. Over at the Bistrode CBD tent Jeremy Strode was carving as quickly as he could.

Bistrode CBD - Spit roast Melanda Park pig with raw fennel and lemon dressing 

Even Justin Hemmes and cricketer Brett Lee couldn't resist.

Sushi Choo - Mixed seafood ceviche

Uccello - Vitello tonnato (thinly sliced veal), piquillo peppers & caper berries.
Having never tried caper berries before, I thought they were a perfect accompaniment to the thinly sliced veal.

Est - Marscapone citrus cannoli, raspberries & violets. 

The Beresford Hotel - Classic panzarotti in three different flavours. 
Everyone thought these were sweet doughnuts – the salt crystals looked like sugar and the fun cone-shaped holders implied sweet, but they were light, savoury and filled with mild cheese and ham/vegetable combinations.
Downstairs in the laneway . . .

Mad Cow - Signature pavlova with strawberries and passionfruit.
There was no more passion fruit when I got there, but I’m not mad for it anyway. 

The pavlova literally exploded into thin air when I bit into it and I was left giggling in shock and holding a cream-covered strawberry. Lucky K was on hand and ran to get another one while I stood in shock and surprise. The pavlova was divine. If I’d had any more room I would have gone for another but I just couldn’t.

Ash St Cellar - Ash st cellar tart of the day with various toppings. I got blueberry, but J had a raspberry one. So good!

Loved the outfit and styling of the Matre'd at El Loco.
And the look on this lady's face - she looks pretty pleased!

El Loco - Fish Taco

El Loco - Special taco.  

A few months ago I’d had the special burger at El Loco and thought/talked about it for days afterwards. So I was all up for the special taco. But when it was in my hot little hands I thought it had an unfamiliar texture and from the first bite I didn’t really like it. Then I turned to see the grill and mounds of chopped liver being put on for the next batch. Then I felt like everything turned a bit Sweeney Todd and I had to put the taco down and move on. It was probably just as well, by this stage I was about to burst a la Monty Python's Mr Creosote (watch the clip here if you haven't had the 'pleasure')

The Merivale team pulled off another spectacular event. It takes a lot of work to have an event run with so much style, class and sophistication. They did so well with the massive amounts of people there - everyone seemed to have a good time, even the maitre'd at each stand who had to tick off the tokens. They were pariahs of patience!

Going to any of the Merivale restaurants is already a treat – the food, service and ambience hit the mark whether I’m at Uccello or Felix or any of the others. The bars are also a lot of fun – Ivy Pool Bar is like a little taste of Californian class on a Sydney rooftop, Ms G’s feels like a den of iniquity and indulgence. March into Merivale is a special time of year for foodie fans – with 66 events over 7 weeks.