I was excited to head to the Taste of Sydney Festival held at Centennial Park over the weekend of 13-16 March 2014. Dubbed ‘the world’s greatest restaurant festival’, Taste of Sydney showcases 15 of Sydney’s hottest and latest restaurants that provide 4 tasting dishes each. There are also over 100 artisan producers (wine, cheese, beer, cider, coconut water, crackers, olive oils, chocolate, mustard and more!) and most provide free samples. (Yay free samples!) With a beer and cider hall, a wine theatre, demonstrations, cocktail masterclasses, food and beverage matching classes and a cookery school on site, there’s something for everyone.
I rarely go to Sydney festivals but am planning to make an effort to go to more foodie events. Tickets to the Festival were $25 per person for general entry where you can select to attend the afternoon session (12-4pm) or evening session (5.30-10pm). We opted for the afternoon session so we could just do a day trip from Canberra. Our group of 4 drove to Sydney early Saturday morning and luckily managed to find a really close park before the event opened.
The Festival only uses ‘crowns’ as its form of currency which can be bought through Ticketek (along with all the credit card and service fees) or bought on the day by finding one of the crown sellers (those in bright pink t-shirts with ‘I sell crowns’ printed on it) who have mobile credit card/eftpos machines on them, or at the two Crown banks on the premises (no fees attached for either). I found it annoying that crowns can only be bought in $30 or $50 lots and there are no refunds if you don’t spend it all. The Taste Menus and information brochure were provided while we were in the queue to get inside. Most dishes were 6-12 crowns with a special ‘icon’ dish by each restaurant ranging from 10-40 crowns. We all purchased $50 in crowns ($50=50 crowns) and tried to prioritise the food we would sample to total 50 crowns. Additional crowns can be purchased to top up the crown card each person receives.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t too packed when we got there. The high tables with fake green turf and outdoor umbrellas were a good idea for people to place dishes on. Best of all, as dishes are rather small, people moved on quickly after eating so you could always find a gap. Most people were eating and walking around to take everything in.
My first stop was at Biota Dining‘s stall for its ham and cheese croquettes (8 crowns). A small handheld device scans your crown card to deduct your crowns from it. So quick and easy. Three large fat croquettes were given with a nicely crunchy outside and soft fluffy inside. I couldn’t really taste much ham (or see it) so it was mainly soft potato and a bit of cheese inside. One and a half croquettes was enough for me as I didn’t want to get too full too early, so the rest were shared amongst the others.
Next was the duck, haloumi and wild weeds mini gozleme with barberries (8 crowns) by Efendy. There was hardly any duck meat in this, but the I did love the string haloumi and the barberries on top gave a nice sweetness to the savoury dish. A bit too much yoghurt on top for me too which smothered the taste of the duck and cheese, so I let most of this drip onto the plate.
I’ve heard lots of good things about the popular Chur Burger, (apparently voted the best burgers in Sydney) so I really wanted to try one of their mini burgers. It was either the vego burger or the icon dish, the wagyu rossini burger. I went with the icon dish (18 crowns), even though this would mean I’d have less to spend. I received a little red coin and told to wait to the left for my order. A freshly made burger sounded great to me! Meanwhile, all the vego burgers must’ve been pre-made as they came out instantly. The wagyu burger came with shaved fois gras, truffle and madeira jus. A very small burger but the wagyu pattie was one huge round ball. The pattie was slightly pink inside and SO juicy. Loved it. All the flavours really complemented each other and went very well with the wagyu. However, I thought 18 crowns for a taste of this tiny burger was quite expensive, especially considering the regular burgers at the restaurant are only $10.
The peanut butter popsicle with honeycomb crunch and dulce de leche (6 crowns) by 4Fourteen/Four in Hand was next. This was a fabulous dessert and received unanimous praise from all 4 of us. The peanut butter was like a semi-freddo/mousse and was deliciously creamy, smooth and thick. The honeycomb crunch added an extra element to the dessert and was ridiculously good. Who doesn’t love honeycomb? The dulce de leche added more sweetness and tied everything in. The small serving was enough for me as the mousse was quite rich. Definitely the favourite dessert of the day!
The pandan and wattleseed doughnut by Chow Bar and Eating House (8 crowns) looked pretty good. I love the contemporary Asian twist to the doughnut. The pandan was in custard form – soft, gelatinous and with such a beautiful fragrant taste of pandan. I found the doughnut too dry though and there wasn’t enough pandan to save it.
I was left with 2 crowns by this stage and there wasn’t anything I could purchase with so little an amount so I was seriously contemplating topping up my crown card with an additional 30 crowns. I was too full and decided against it. I then noticed some stalls accepted crowns OR cash – hurray! I headed to the Croquembouche Patiserrie stall and found it difficult selecting just one of their many brightly coloured eclairs. I ended up picking the chocolate eclair with nuts inside that had been sprayed gold with gold glitter (2 crowns + $2 cash). The chocolate filling was thick and delicious but I only got a taste of the peanuts on one end of the eclair. I’d love to check out the croquembouche at the Botany store. I just need an excuse to go there 🙂
Food porn of some of my friend’s dishes.
I got a taste of Efendy’s icon dish of lamb testicles, pan-fried with almond tarator and isot chilli (10 crowns). I thought there was a very pungent taste of offal with a soft and spongey texture. Definitely not my thing. The others seemed to like it though.
There were many bars, cider stands and wine tasting stands everywhere. Too bad none of us drink.
I saw in the Taste menu that Muse Restaurant would be at the Festival on the Sunday. I really wanted to try Muse so I was quite disappointed I missed out by a day. Ah well, I will be heading to the Hunter Valley towards the end of the year to try it out. In addition to the 15 restaurants that participated in the Festival, I was happy to see a new concept in IconPark. The brochure states it is the world’s first online crowd-funding platform dedicated to bars and restaurants. Restaurant/bar concepts are pitched online and the top 6 are included as part of the Festival. Taste of Sydney Festival goers help decide who wins, allowing the winner to take over a fully-fitted restaurant/bar space for 3 months in East Sydney. The competition starts again for the next 3 month stint. I think this is a fantastic idea to get everyday people dreaming of owning a restaurant/bar a chance at getting their names and food out to the public.
This Festival was organised very well and ran so smoothly. Though I didn’t like the idea of crowns as a currency at first, it proved to be a great idea as there were no long queues while people fumbled with change or credit cards. The small handheld device that all stall holders used quickly scans your crown card, beeps to deduct crowns and your food is presented in front of you. Just like that. Some places you needed to wait at the side for something freshly cooked, like the wagyu burger. But I found everything to be very quick and efficient.
Taste of Perth is coming up soon in May. Taste of Melbourne in November. Adelaide is also doing something similar called Tasting Australia in April. I wish I could visit all of these Festivals! I’ll definitely be checking out Taste of Sydney again next year. It was a worthwhile trip 🙂