Tasting Australia has been one of Australia’s most anticipated culinary festivals since its beginnings in 1997 (see our 2014 Tasting Australia post). So when I was offered the chance to get a sneak peek of next year’s South Australian festival I was more than excited. Tasting Australia 2016 has big things in store, including a new milestone. The festival is celebrating becoming an annual event with eight days of great South Australian food and wine. From Sunday 1st May to Sunday 8th May, Tasting Australia’s Town Centre will entertain and enlighten with Eat, Think and Share sessions.
South Australia’s culinary heroes such as Maggie Beer and Cheong Liew will lead their ‘A Few of My Favourite Things’ tours. These tours will give an insider’s guide to their favourite food and wine spots in Adelaide and give visitors the chance to discover some of the city’s hidden gems.
On my first day in Adelaide, I was fortunate enough to get a preview Cheong Liew’s tour. With a diverse itinerary, every stop on our tour was just as exciting as the last. Cheong Liew became one of South Australia’s best known chefs after emigrating from Malaysia in 1969. Initially he studied engineering before becoming a chef, restaurateur, teacher and icon. He’s been honoured by American Food and Wine Magazine as “one of the 10 hottest chefs alive.” As well as his achievements, what makes Cheong a perfect ambassador for Tasting Australia is his food philosophy that “All food tastes better shared.” With his tremendous amount of success in the culinary world, I was intrigued to see where in Adelaide, Cheong would take us.We began our day in Adelaide’s luscious Botanic Gardens. Surrounded by vibrant greenery and a tranquil lake, we sipped on our teas and coffees whilst Cheong Liew and Simon Bryant discussed the inner workings of the festival. Warmed from our beverages and the beautiful Spring day we made our way through the gardens to reach the Museum of Economic Botany. Inside we were treated to a tour by the curator, who guided us through the cabinets filled with an array of botanic products.
Lunch was at Africola, one of Cheong’s favourite restaurants in Adelaide. The vibrant restaurant was home to some delicious South African cuisine. We began with a glass of the Chopsticks wine from Unico Zelo. This muscat wine had a sweet aroma but surprised with its spice. With strong oregano notes, this wine was an easy drink for the early afternoon. The spices of the wine worked perfectly with the sweet flavours of Africola’s Kingfish ($19). The soft fish melted away as a burst of tangerine filled our mouths with a sweet citrus flavour. The smoked leek and oxalis added to the diverse texture of the dish, creating an all-round amazing starter.
Africola’s Charcoal Short Ribs ($37) followed with a mouth-watering meat that was literally falling off the bone. Paired with a smoky sauce and house pickle this dish was so scrumptious that I probably could have devoured the entire plate. Unfortunately I had to share, so I also got stuck into the double smoked Biryani Carrots ($16). With an assortment of orange and purple carrots, the dish was full of Indian flavours and spices. To finish our meal we enjoyed a glass of Lucy Margaux 2015 Pinot Noir. The unfiltered purple wine was unique in its flavour and texture, with earthy notes of blackcurrant.
With our bellies full of food and wine, we were dreading having to walk through the city again. Thankfully Cheong had organised a special mode of transport for us. With motor-assisted bikes and comfy seats, Ecocaddy is arguably one of the best ways to travel around Adelaide. With no closed windows or doors, these vehicles allowed us to travel and experience the city with the wind in our hair. Our Ecocaddies dropped us off at Adelaide City Markets where Cheong took us around to his favourite shops and stalls. We strolled through the alleys and browsed all of the delicious fresh produce, wishing we could try it all.
We ended our day with dinner at the Mayfair Hotel. After meeting head chef Bethany Finn we got stuck into the Mayflower restaurant’s revived hotel cuisine. We began with some sparkling wine and Freshly Shucked Oysters with Champagne Mignonette Dressing. The oysters were so fresh they tasted as if they had been plucked out of the sea just seconds ago. A touch of lemon helped to balance out the cool seawater flavour.
My entrée was a salad with broccoli, sprouted lentils, pickled zucchini, pinenuts, currants, lemon and falafel ($19). While the falafel was a tad dry, it was full of delicious spices that complemented the zesty salad beautifully. I also had a try of the magnificent Lobster Bisque en Croûte ($24) which was everything I could have imagined and more. The crusty pastry lid was cracked open to reveal the sweet aroma of a creamy and decadent lobster soup. Moving on to the main course I decided to go for a classic steak. Already feeling a tad full from the day’s exploits I opted for a 220g Fillet Steak ($38) topped with a smooth mashed potato and peppercorn sauce. Cooked medium-rare the steak was tender and juicy; there was no need to use the steak knife with which I was supplied! I obviously had to order some chips on the side with my steak. However, Mayflower’s chips aren’t just your regular chips. Hand chopped and triple cooked the chips were perfectly crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, just the way I like it. Being super chunky each chip is almost a meal in itself so I wouldn’t recommend this side if you’re already a little full! After such an amazing meal we could have stopped there. We could have had a small, light dessert. Unfortunately the Mayflower’s dessert cart had been staring at us for the duration of the dinner, sitting in the corner of our eyes just daring us to be indulgent. With so many beautiful desserts on show we decided we had to try every single one! Whether it was the smooth crème caramel or the rich chocolate cake, each dessert was delicious in its own way. Some of my personal favourites were the pineapple religieuse made from choux pastry filled with rum and pineapple cream, the breton with a salted caramel interior and the blueberry tart with a custard-topped crumbly biscuit base. About to lapse into a food coma, we meandered towards the Hilton Adelaide. After a long day and a few glasses of bubbly the soft queen bed welcomed me with open arms. The next day, the adventure began again as we made our way to the McLaren Vale wine region. We met with wine expert Paul Henry and traveled through the beautiful South Australian landscape to Primo Estate Winery where we met with owner Joe Grilli. On top of a hill at the winery, surrounded by the rolling hills and vineyards of the McLaren Vale, we tasted some of the beautiful wines Primo Estate has to offer. If this wasn’t the best way to taste wine, I don’t know what is. It’s this type of connection of place and food that Tasting Australia wants to showcase with this year’s Landscapes theme. While the quality of the food is important, what often makes a meal special is the places you are and the people you’re with, which is exactly what Tasting Australia 2016 wants to celebrate. With our bellies rumbling, we made our way to Primo Estate’s cellar door where we sampled more wines along with wood-fire pizza and fresh olive oil. With a spectacular view of the South Australian vineyards we sipped on Pinot Grigio and Nebbiolo. As an olive oil enthusiast I could not get enough of the Joseph First Run Extra Virgin Olive Oil, which was scattered with grassy and peppery notes. This olive oil was also drizzled over the freshly cooked wood-fire pizzas that soaked up some of the morning’s alcohol. With soft bases and a unique blend of toppings, I was not happy with just one slice! One of the standouts was the duck pizza with coriander. Having tried other duck pizzas in the past I was expecting this pizza to rich and heavy. I was pleasantly surprised, however, by the lightness of the dish. This result was clearly a product of carefully balanced flavours and ingredients.After such a beautiful meal I was hesitant to leave the sunny landscapes of South Australia, but sadly our trip had come to an end. Although we discovered so many of the state’s culinary treasures, I felt that there was so much I hadn’t seen, which is why you’ll probably be seeing me at the festival in May next year. With so many events and tours, Tasting Australia 2016 will have something for everyone.
Tasting Australia 2016 will be held on 1st-8th May 2016 across South Australia. For more information on Tasting Australia 2016 and its upcoming program, visit the festival’s website.
I Ate My Way Through traveled as a guest of Tasting Australia