MFWF Special Event – René Redzepi Lunch at Rockpool

Every year the call goes out to my trusted and faithful foodie friends – the “Save Andrew Campaign”. The campaign is designed to help my other half avoid being dragged around Melbourne from one fine dining event to the other – when he’s a man of simpler tastes!  This year I had selected 3 “must do” events, 3 wishlist events, and a whole host of “I could be tempted” events.  On the wishlist was the $250 a head lunch at Rockpool with René Redzepi.  I just thought – when am I going to get a chance to dine at Noma, San Pellegrino’s highest rated restaurant in the world?  First of all, it’s in Denmark, a 24 hour flight away, and second, it’s extremely hard to get a booking. So, I figured it was a once in a lifetime opportunity – so I threw it out there.

Fortunately for me, ever faithful foodie friend iMac responded saying she would go to all the events. What – even the $250 lunch? Yes – indeedy!!  So, the next day, when bookings opened – I was poised.  8:55am – I started calling Rockpool.  Once, through to voicemail… twice, through to voicemail…. three times, got a real person!! Yay – Can I make a booking for two people please? Yes!  Later that day, I rang them back and asked, just out of curiosity, how long had the event taken to sell out.

Answer: 4 minutes!!

So, it was with much excitement and anticipation that we walked into Rockpool last Thursday to this exclusive event.  We started with a champagne, and mingled with the other guests just near the kitchen.  As we sipped our sparkling, it became clear just how excusive this event was.  Other guests included David Chang from Momofuku (oh.my.goodness!); Massimo Botturo from 3 Michelin starred Osteria Francescana in Modena; and his sous chef, Yoji Tokuyoshi; Mark Best from Marque in Sydney, here to open his new venture Pei Modern; John Lethlean of The Australian and Jill Dupleix, one of Australia’s favourite freelance food writers.  The fellow diners at our table included Will Studd (amazing cheese consultant) and his daughter, Fleur Studd of Market Lane Coffee. We were also lucky enough to sit opposite chef Yoji, who could speak fluent Italian and Japanese – but wasn’t quite as strong on English.  However, the language barrier was successfully bridged with lots of gesticulation and the judicious use of an iPad!

René and Neil confer just before service starts

The scene was set for a remarkable lunch – with 15 Danish chefs flown in for the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, it was like a mini army in there.

We took our seats with much anticipation.  Let the games begin…

 Æbleskiver

These appetisers are apparently a very common Christmas dish in Denmark, and made from a 350 year old recipe.  In this savoury version, the beignets are served with baby herring and cucumber filling.  They were very unusual – because at the centre of the beignet was a ball of warm cucumber.  In another twist, the accompanying wine was a madeira, a fortified wine from the Rare Wine Company in Charleston.

Congee with White Cut Chicken

The two chefs were alternating dishes, so this one was from the portfolio of Neil Perry.  He explained that the congee itself would be quite bland and you needed to stir through all the elements to get the best taste.  The elements included the beautiful white-cut chicken, century egg, crispy garlic flakes, some moss and spring onions, and a beautiful chilli flavoured sesame oil. We dutifully mixed it through, but most of us at the table felt that it still needed a little more seasoning to bring out the flavours. This dish was served with a 2011 Crawford River Riesling from Henty in Victoria.

For the next dish, René explained that it was his Danish attempt at being Australian.  He had gone to the market that morning, to get the largest squid he could find.  He had also foraged the beach front and found some beautifully sweet wild succulents to complement it…

Raw Squid with Whitecurrent Juice and Douglas Fir

This dish was probably the most beautifully composed dish of the meal.  The whitecurrent juice effectively cured the squid, which was firm, yet creamy and buttery in its texture. The succulents were divine, and the whole dish was well seasoned by unripe sloe berries, which had been sliced thinly and provided a saltiness to the dish.  We were instructed to swirl together all the elements. As we ate, you could see the concentration on each person’s face as they focused on the way the dish came together on the palate – it was a surreal and beautiful dish.  The accompanying wine was another reisling, this time from Wittman Estate in Germany.

Drunken Pigeon with Abalone Salad

This next dish, Neil explained, consisted of a few strange bedfellows – but it really worked together. Meltingly rare pigeon was generously garnished with confit abalone, and saucily complemented by the mushrooms which swam in pigeon juices and soy sauce, flavoured with coriander seed. This was a gorgeous dish which was paired with my favourite wine of the day, the 2010 MacForbes Woori Yallock Pinot Noir.

Dried Scallops with Grains and Watercress

This was probably the most unusual of the dishes presented to us. The wafer thin slices of dried scallop, were crispy and evoked memories of the sea.  However, I have to say – scallops are so beautiful – why settle for anything less than their original, plump and juicy form!  The grains were made from 5 ancient grains from the agrarian period, and were bound together by a watercress, parsley and oyster cream. An interesting dish, but probably my least favourite of the day.  It was paired with a Barbera from the Mauro Molino winery in Piedmonte, Italy.

Red Braised Pork with Salt Bush and Warrigal Greens

Another dish from the Neil Perry stable, this was probably our favourite dish of the day.  The pork shoulder was unctuous and tender, served with a fermented bean curd sauce flavoured with five spice. This was partnered with a soft sweet yam puree, and the bitterness of some peppery Warrigal Greens.  Just fantastic.  This was served with a 2010 Pyrette Syrah from Heathcote.

Fig and Hazelnut Tart with White Clover Honey Mousse

Dessert was a stunning tart with a mixture of dried figs and hazelnuts – quite dense, the fresh figs and honey mousse added a lovely juxtaposition of soft creaminess and freshness. This was served with a 20 year old tawny port from Quinta do Vallado, from the Douro Valley of Portugal.

At this stage of the proceedings, the chefs came out to bring the formal part of the lunch to a close.  They were applauded by the very appreciative diners.  However, I think it’s quite plain to see that the chefs had just as good a time in the kitchen, as we did in the dining room!

Cherry Jellie and Peanut Chocolate Bar

The final course consisted of a beautiful petit four – one of Neil Perry’s specialties.  This was a firm set cherry flavoured jelly, on top of a peanut chocolate fudge, topped with dark chocolate, and dusted with high quality cocoa powder.  Not a bad way to finish – along with fantastic coffees.. from Market Lane of course!

Candy Corn

And, of course – no visit to Rockpool would be complete without a serving of this amazing candy corn.  This is like a very delicate version of caramel popcorn – just fantastic!

What an amazing meal – the dishes were provocative, thoughtful, composed, avant garde, and ground breaking. It was what I would call a cerebral foodie event – one where every mouthful you enjoy, also has you thinking about food composition and complementary flavours.  We felt very special to have enjoyed such a special event, even more so for the amazing people we met along the way.

Starstruck!
Me and David Chang from Momofuku in New York.

Me and #1 chef in the world – René Redzepi

Me with Mark Best from Sydney’s Marque, who was in Melbourne for
the opening of his new restaurant, Pei Modern
(I think my invitation must have got lost somewhere…..)

Our fantastic dining partners – Fleur and Will Studd
who were joined by Simon Bell (Fleur’s other half), Natalie Lewicki and newly married Mel.

And last but not least – most faithful foodie friend iMac, 
and our gracious host – Neil Perry (and me!)

What an amazing lunch – provocative food, fabulous and famous dining partners, meeting amazing chefs from around Australia and the world – life doesn’t get much better!  Viva le Melbourne Food and Wine Festival.

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