I've just arrived home from a day out in Carlton, exhausted and full to bursting, but satisfied and happy. The wonderful people at Hothouse Media & Events were kind enough to not only provide three double passes for me to give away to some lucky readers for Friday's long lunch; but also gave me a double pass for me to enjoy. At $30 a pop on the door - and considering you need to purchase all food and classes (excluding free tastings) in addition - it's pricy, so I really appreciated not having to pay the entry fee.
Okay, so let's be honest about the negatives: it's a heavily commercialised event where you essentially have to pay to have a bunch of companies market their stuff to you at every turn. It's packed with people, in-your-face and noisy. Events like this tend to turn us into animals; the chocolate stands in particular attracted hoardes of jostling piglets, hogging spaces in front of the free samples, grabbing multiple handfuls as soon as the plates of 70% cocoa were replenished. I'd like to say I wasn't one of them but I'd be lying.
That aside, I still think the festival is well worth a visit. Especially if - like me - you're a passionate foodie with a list a mile long of fabulous restaurants you want to visit, but the budget won't allow it more than once every couple of months. Where else can you sample some of Melbourne's best signature dishes from our top restaurants, for around ten bucks a plate, all on the same day? The highlight for me was the King Island Dairy and James Squire's cheese and beer tasting session. $12 bucks got us generous chunks of several different cheeses, matches with various accompanyments and different kinds of beer, plus a comprehensive commentary from two very bubbly hosts.
Other highlights included dishes from Embrasse (crispy pork belly with purple potato, hazelnuts and chocolate parfait & meringue in the shape of a mushroom on a 'forest floor' of chocolate 'soil'), The European (duck tortelloni with truffle oil), The Palace (wagyu burger), and Stokehouse (bombe - strawberry sorbet, white chocolate parfait and toasted meringue). The exhibitor stalls were ok (some better than others) and the marketing people at Smeg would be pleased to know their new range of bright, pretty, retro fridges took my breath away - although for a 270 litre at over $3200, I think I can get something that holds more food.