OK, well here's the thing, I know you're rolling your eyes at another travel piece having sneaked it's way into this recipe blog of mine, but chances are it's the last one - and look - Heston Blumenthal - its food related! And not just food 'related' it's about this most incredible trip I went on recently as part of a Tourism Australia campaign promoting our Aussie neighbours as a foodie destination. I will keep this super-brief (as much as I can) and try and let the pictures do the talking for me.
Day one: fly by charter plane (I know, I know) eating food prepared by top chef Luke Mangan from Sydney to Hobart, Tasmania. You can imagine how I felt as I walked down the aisle of the plane, my heart pretty much thumping out of my chest as I looked around at the other passengers - oh right, yep there's Eric Ripert and Alice Waters, Xanthe Clay and Chef Rubio and Jamie Magazine editor Andy Harris - a veritable who's who of foodie rock stars - dear God - what was I doing there!!!??? Freaking out my friends is what I was doing, FREAKING OUT. Then I had a spectacularly surreal moment as a bright clear voice called out down the plane "Sarah! Sarah! Yay, I'm so glad you're here!" Whaaaaat???! Who could possibly know me? Turns out it was the totally gorgeous Vicki Wild with husband Martin Benn of Sepia restaurant - winners of best chef and best restaurant for Australia 2014. I had met them earlier in the year on my Savouring Australia trip and I tell you, I've never been more grateful to see a friendly face. To read all about it, just click on the recipe link below:)
Anyhoo - plane trip, cool. Next we arrived in Tassie to a beautiful red carpet welcome before being whisked away to our respective hotels - there were around 130 of us in total I think, filling up those lovely Hobart hotels. That first night I was assigned Ethos as my restaurant to dine at - lucky me, not only is it bloody gorgeous, but I had the chance for a good catch up with Vicki and Martin while eating delicious food. The restaurant is in an historic building that dates back to 1820 - originally part of a stable yard and carriageway for the Old Hobart Hotel. From the early 1800s all the way through until 2000 it was home to a range of businesses, from chemist to film developing company, and since 2011 – Ethos restaurant. The restoration is so well done, and they've decorated it so stylishly - chemist’s bottles have become chandeliers, edible plants and herbs are planted in old crates and even discarded film drying reels are used in decoration. The over-all effect is stunning. Dinner was a set menu, each course delicate, refined and innovative. For our meal we had silver trevally with chrysanthemum, nettle and pickled daikon, followed by octopus, beans, green garlic and soy dressing and my favourite, the pork with various onions and smoked bacon, all accompanied by a delicious 2011 Kilbowie Tempranillo. To finish we indulged in parfait, honey caramel, rhubarb and meringue.
Day two: was the initial press event of Invite the World to Dinner at a pop-up marketplace. Each Australian region had a section in which to showcase the very best their area had to offer - wine, seafood, cheese, meats such as Kangaroo and crocodile - all presented by the most enthusiastic chefs and producers sharing their passion. It wasn't only the food that was fantastic, the room was wall-to-wall with foodies I admire from afar - the collection of Australians - Maggie Beer, Stephanie Alexander, George Calombaris, Matt Moran, Simon Bryant, Gary Mehigan and Matt Preston - and the famous trio preparing our gala feast - Ben Shewry (ex Kiwi!), Neil Perry and Peter Gilmore - woah! The international faces were often familiar too, and basically it was a fun-filled morning of snacking, drinking, gawking (although I suspect that was probably just me), chatting and taking pics.
Next it was back to the hotel to glam up. We had been told sensible footwear would be a good idea, but what can I tell you - I have a pair of sky-high Stella McCartney heels I couldn't not wear! (I shoved a pair of emergency flats in my camera bag just in case!). So face on, heels on and camera at the ready I headed off for the first stop of the evening - House of Arras sparkling wine and oysters at the Hobart wharf before heading off in boats in Bond-style formation, roaring up the harbour to our second stop. Here we ate barbecued lobster with kombu butter and char grilled abalone while indigenous performers sang and played guitars and we warmed ourselves at outdoor fire pits. Pretty much the most incredible experience I'd ever had until we boarded the ferry bound for Mona for our main course dinner at the wild and subversive Museum of New and Old Art. It was a logistical nightmare magically made possible by (I suspect) hundreds of well organised souls invisible behind the scenes. All we knew was there were amazing fireworks, waiters with champagne at every turn, exquisite food and wine and, oh yeah, Heston Blumenthal as host (!). The meal was as you expect, incredible - Australia, you did yourself proud! To start we had Salted South Australian red kangaroo and bunya bunya prepared by Ben Shewry, next smoked and confit pig jowl, black lipped abalone, koji, fermented grains, shitake and seaweed by Peter Gilmore and finally grilled sirloin, braised cheek, oxtail and tea smoked oyster red curry from Neil Perry. After dinner Heston chatted with Neil, Ben and Peter on stage before we tucked into our delectable desserts. Let it not be said that I then sensibly gathered up my camera bag and got back to the hotel for a restorative night's sleep, erm, nope, rather I left with the last bus out of there, head hitting the pillow at around 2:30am - I wasn't going to miss a minute of this once-in-a-lifetime adventure!
Needless to say I was down at the gorgeous and wholesome Salamanca markets at about 10am the next morning for a restorative extra strong coffee and cauliflower pie with chutney before wandering back to the hotel around the lovely Hobart waterfront to pack my bags and start the journey home.
Can I just say Australia - when you invite the world to dinner, they will never forget - it was an outstanding experience!