WEEK TWO: THE BALANCING ACT
We’re two weeks into Visa WOAP and I’m feeling so grateful that the festival now lasts a month. In previous years, that would have been all folks – done, finito, bar the rating. But here we are 2019, only finished with Beervana and Dine Welly (announcing our favourites below), and still staring down a number of great events, cocktails and – of course – burgers! So far, this year has been all about pacing oneself and picking quality over quantity.
Wrapping up Dine Welly
Jano Bistro – “Mystical Mushrooms”
Once every few years, I have a dining experience that’s borderline spiritual: a moment of food nirvana. In this moment, everything comes together – from the location, to the service, presentation, taste and texture, creativity and showmanship. This is what I experienced at Jano Bistro, August 2019. I didn’t set out to pick a favourite Festival Dish, but here it is, nestled amidst five courses of culinary creativity.
While the Festival Dish mushrooms were my pick of the five courses, each brought something truly unique and exciting: “Same Same But Different” (a fresh take on Jano’s 2016 festival dish winner), “Mystical Mushrooms” (setting mushrooms as the centrepiece tale of a misty morning’s forest forage), “Paint It Black” (Ora King Salmon with cauliflower, spinach & self-painted black yuzu), “Yummm Cha” (duck à l'orange yum cha fusion), and “A feeling of déjà vu” (Fix & Fogg peanut butter, buckwheat, apple, and miso caramel – presented identically to the first course). Each course was also brilliantly paired with a choice of alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverage, and it was the house-made non-alcoholic options that shone through the brightest – from mushroom cappuccino, to magical colour-changing fermented red cabbage.
I can’t speak highly enough of this feast for the senses.
Neo Café – Festival Dish
Another visual and taste sensation this week was the warm vege salad at Neo – comprising smoky campfire Parkvale mushrooms, turmeric roasted cauliflower, Zany Zeus crumbed feta, and incredibly silky sweet-beetroot creme fraiche, topped with candied nuts. Such wonderful combinations, and a perfect lunch dish if you still have time to catch it!
My approach to every Beervana is to try something new. There are always so many exciting fresh concoctions that it would be a shame to keep drinking the same IPA you’re accustomed to. For me, 2019 was the year of the sours. In the past, I’d rarely go out of my way to find a “sour beer” – defined as having a lower pH, typically made by adding potentially unpredictable yeast strains or bacteria, and resulting in a sour taste. It’s easy to see how quickly that could all go wrong, and often it does.
This year, I was treated to a range of silky, fruity, mouth-watering and not-too-sour sours on offer by several brewers. These included Duncan’s raspberry ripple ice cream (a deliciously velvet berry vanilla), Fork and Brewer’s Aronia Syndrome (made with aronia or chokeberry, with a beautiful maroon colour), UK brewery Tiny Rebel’s Rhubarb Custard (exactly as it sounds), and Garage Project’s Half a Brain (topped with coconut foam).
Garage Project also brought the disco with Cosmic Candy (the first beer I’ve seen made with glitter), while Panhead showcased its full new range of Tarmacker brews (Lube Nube, Tyre Fryer, Doh Nutter and Motor Mouth – all sessionable). Also noteworthy were Altitude Brewing’s Zen Shiro (a rare sake ale), and Mean Doses’ Tropical IPA (which remained on the top 10 leader board for much of the day). Food-wise, there seemed to be a bigger selection than ever, with crowd-pleasers Soul Shack serving up Nashville fried chicken thuggets and Boneface Brewing providing mouth-watering meaty and vege options.
The day is never long enough, and for the first time I thought it might be nice to attend a second session.
In the past few days in quick succession, I also made the call to attend three ‘sweet’ events: Sweet Release’s “What Fat Vegans Eat”, Six Barrel’s “Nostalgia, Refreshed”, and Wellington Chocolate Factory’s “Fondue & Tasting Extravaganza”.
The first had us making custom loaded shakes (truly delicious and without any hankering whatsoever for the missing dairy), devouring huge not-double-downs (with seitan and facon), and sampling three of their delicious cakes (the highlight being a carrot cake with not-cream-cheese icing). Kristine knows how to make vegan food delicious, and if you haven’t tried her cakes or brownies yet you’re missing out!
The second was something for all the family, with Six Barrel floats, Crocky’s nitro cola, Wellington Sourdough Co fairy bread, Tommy Million’s much anticipated return of the “I’ll never make one of those” Hawaiian pizzas, and much more. S Club 7 was cranking, and party-poppers were firing.
Last but not least was Wellington Chocolate Factory’s take on a fondue party: an intimate sharing evening of weird and wonderful flavour pairings. Ever wondered whether cauliflower, mushroom, salami, sundried tomatoes, marmalade, or melon would pair well with your favourite bean-to-bar chocolate? These and many more surprises proved just how versatile chocolate can be.
Over the past week, I’ve also managed to tick off a few more cocktails, including – at polar opposites of the bittersweet flavour spectrum – Forrester’s Lane “Chipper + ‘Groni” special negroni served with incredible gin-flavoured crisps, vermouth aioli and Campari mussels (or pickled onions for those who prefer); and Two Grey’s “Mallow Coco” vodka and hazelnut liqueur hot chocolate with coconut milk, toasted marshmallow and chocolate pâte à choux. You’ll already know which of the two will tickle your fancy.
The Show Must Go On…
I’ve also been sneakily previewing some of the top picks for burgers this year… But you’ll have to tune in next week for my rundown on those – same bat-time, same bat-channel. If you need some starting tips: book in to Rogue Burger’s takeover of Stirling Woodfire for a sit-down with the highly-anticipated A5 Wagyu (or simply rock up to their usual spot on The Terrace for takeaways only); check out Lulu’s Pulp Fiction party slinging Big Kahuna burgers in beef, chicken or mushroom; or lock in a sampling of everything at Hippopotamus’ Bourgeois High Tea featuring wagyu, pork, fish, cheese, cookie s’mores, Turkish delight, and more.