So I got these free tickets to Taste Of Sydney, a restaurant, food and wine festival held annually. This year, it was at Centennial Park and the people exhibiting included Porteno, Sake, 4 In Hand, Claude’s, Biota, Three Blue Ducks, Efendy and many many more. I just listed the places that appealed to me most. Normally, you pay like $30 or more for entry and exchange cash or credit for the non refundable festival currency, crowns. You get a card that you can use to spend your crowns on merch, food and drink. Apparently, you’re only supposed to be able to change in multiples of 10 but I heard this girl doing multiples of 2 for this lady later on in the evening. There’s plenty of people walking around selling crowns and also at least 2 large booths so there’s no long queues and whatnot.

The festival opens for lunch and dinner and starts tonight til Sunday lunch. Most restaurants offer anywhere from 2 to 4 dishes, with most costing around $6-12 although there are a few “icon” dishes that run past the $20 mark. At the end of the night, we’d dropped $120 for 2 including 1 beer, 1 glass of Pimm’s, a bottle of water and a good amount of food. I was full and I eat a lot. My girlfriend is contemplating if she ought to vomit at this point because she went back for seconds.

Let’s start off with the best shit. Porteno easily had the best stall. They had a bloody American style smoker there filled with chorizo, beef brisket and cheese, of all things. We ordered one of each. The chorizo ($6) is the same as what you’d get at the restaurant. You get 2 small chunks and it comes with chimmichurri but man is it good. The forcemeat just falls apart with the most loose texture in your mouth and the flavour’s brilliant, especially with the tart salsa. The cheese ($8) is a little meh but it’s stretchy and quite delicious if a little small. The brisket ($12) is great and super value. Smokey, flavoursome and served with a fantastic coleslaw and a bright BBQ sauce, it’s one of the best things to get at the festival. The great thing about Porteno is that they serve a lot of rich, hearty and straight up delish shit but they counter the richness with good acidic dressings and salsas. Case in point being their “icon” dish of veal sweetbreads with salsa criolla ($18) that had corn, onions and peppers in it. Bit pricey but if you love veal sweetbreads like me, it’s great. Rich and super oily but then you get the sweetcorn and the acid breaking it down for you. I just liked that they basically did this festival like it should be done, properly and not like some other guys who came bare bones-ish with kinda paltry offerings. Of course, the guys from Porteno have recently been doing Big Day Out as well so maybe they’re just more into it.

I also really enjoyed Biota Dining. They did a Croquette of Crayfish with Paleta and Garden Onions ($10) from their own backyard. 3 nicely fried little drums come on top of this white shit (yoghurt? cheese? cream?) I have no idea about (paleta) that goes really well with it. This dish was so good, my girl had to get it again. Myself, I think MoVida has the best croquettes down under but Biota’s are pretty good too. They also served Spatchcock with Black Garlic Farro, Garden Sage and Bush Lemons ($12). Half a little birdey sitting on top of a nicely seasoned mound of farro is good value I think. The flavour of the black garlic doesn’t really come through but if you put the lemon, poultry and farro together, it is superb. Dessert was a little Strawberry Sorbet Cone with Wild Strawberries and Bronze Fennel ($6). What they did was stuff the cone with some small chunks of tart berries mixed with a little bit of fennel tops and then some sorbet then more berries and fennel on top with these flat meringue wafers. I think for the money, it’s a great option. The sorbet tastes fresh and redolent of good strawberries and the combination of berries and fennel produces a curious mangoey flavour. I think I’m gonna steal that and serve berries, fennel and mango. The meringue wafers offered a bit of sweetness and bite.

4 In Hand had a suckling pig on a spit. I only tried their dessert because I was full up on the savouries. They did an entree of Mussels with Chorizo and Prosciutto Broth ($10), a Suckling Pig with Coleslaw and Hot Sauce ($12) and a White Choc Ice Cream Sandwich ($6). The pork looked, like Porteno’s brisket to be an excellent choice, particularly if you scored some crackling. The dessert though was bang on brilliant for the money. You get a generously sized rectangle of caramelized white choc ice cream covered with a pile of spiced crumble and it’s just great. So great I had 2.

Claude’s did a Braised Pork Cheek and Black Fungus Relish Roll ($6), Confit Ocean Trout, Saltbush, Anchovy Dashi ($12), Lemon Curd with Muscvado Crumb & Coffee Meringue ($6) plus their restaurant menu Twice Baked Cheese Souffle ($22). We shared one roll, which I enjoyed although it could have done with some chilli or maybe a slice of cucumber or some acid. I like the fatty pork and the umami of the relish but it needed some bazingbang. I noticed a few leftover plates filled with just the pork cheek. Clearly some people don’t like pork fat. I’ll never understand people. I didn’t try anything else but I did watch Chui Lee Luk do a demo of the souffle, which is a classic dish that I’d enjoyed previously albeit not at Claude’s. It’s a bechamel based souffle that you bake once and then rebake with a mound of grated cheese and cream and when that cheese and cream gratinates, it’s just divine. When she popped the souffle out the oven, you could smell the gruyere filling the air. Chui looked nervous and uncomfortable with a mic dangling off her face and people snapping photos and shit whilst she had to negotiate whisking with a pesky host in her ear. She’s definitely the type that prefers to stay out of the limelight you can tell. SG Represent!

Efendy is a place that I’ve wanted to hit up for a while now. They had a charcoal grill or two on with assorted meats filling the air with a pungent smoke. They also offered a special of Sheep Head with Garlic and Cherry Tomatoes Tandir ($14) that sounded awesome, as did the Lamb Shoulder ($6) and the Beef Kebap ($12).

Sake, Ananas and The Cut also did a large tent. The former offering some Aburi Salmon Nigiri (bit pricey @ $10)and Tonkatsu Lettuce Cups ($8) but I got mine for free hahaha! Ananas did a pretty classic tasting Coq au Vin ($10) and their Salted Caramel Eclair ($6) is great but I’ve had it before hehe.

Elsewhere, you had a whole host of tents, like Rekordelig Cider or Pimm’s that had a red and white striped theme. There was also a beer tent that had a few boutique breweries including The Rocks Brewing Company as well as Red Oak plus many more. A wine tent sponsored by Plumm Wine Glasses had Matt Skinner doing a talk. The Woods had an incredibly pricey $36 dish of marron on offer and a nonexistent queue strangely. There was a cocktail bar, a Malaysian tent, chocolates, wines from everywhere, pastries and breads, a Tasmania Pavilion, a Western Australian Pavilion (damn I missed out trying on some Manjimup truffles…), Peter Kuruvita on the grill, an hourly demo show featuring the chefs exhibiting and this Sustainable Living corner tucked away, out of sight, out of mind.

All in all, if you dropped the $30 for the entry fee plus you ate a lot of food and drank a lot of wine, Taste isn’t cheap. However, it’s a good bit of fun and it’s one of the few chances you get to get a little taste of what a few of the top restaurants in Sydney right now are throwing down. Whilst it’s an outdoor event and the exhibitors don’t have access to the same kitchens and equipment they have like in their restaurants, most of the shit I tried was more than worthy. Just be a little open minded that stuff isn’t going to blow your mind or served at perfect temperatures and in massive portions. It’s about quality and in truth, quantity if you so choose. That said, I’m a bit of a fanboy when it comes to these well known Sydney restaurants and it just happened that this year, a good chunk of the places I actually really really like.

It’s like a Laneway for food really. My kinda trip.

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