On a recent rainy and wintry Tuesday, I joined a group of New York-area bloggers for a lunch at The Sunburnt Calf on the Upper West Side. The event was sponsored by Tourism Australia. Was there a better time to join in on an event focused on the sun-drenched continent and its food and wine? Of course, it's summer in Australia right now and I'm sure we all fantasized a great deal about eating lunch outdoors in 80-degree weather. Tourism Australia did put on quite a lunch to transport us, even just a little.
What I really wanted to learn more about was the various international and regional influences that made up Australian food. It's a country that is fiercely proud of its indigenous cuisine yet also celebrates international influences, including those of Britain, continental Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Asia is the closest, so I was especially interested in how Asian food and wine would be paired. (Chef Michael Moore mentioned during lunch that he loved experimenting with flavors such as lemongrass and galangal.)
I didn't have to wait long to have my curiosity satisfied. One of the first courses served was a dish of steamed buns with red-braised pork belly and a vegetarian variation with wild mushrooms and five-spice crispy tofu. The red-braised pork belly was spot-on tasty and unctuous, and the vegetarian version was amazing as well. And the first wine served, the Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay 2008, went perfectly with the buns. It was light, crisp, slightly sweet, with hints of pear and peach, which definitely matched the sweet flavor of the pork and veggie buns. As it happens, the Chardonnay was also great with these Oysters "Kilpatrick," a classic Australian dish of fried oysters, served here with pickled shallots and Worcestershire-bacon butter.
The other two appetizers were a classic prawn cocktail and stuffed mushrooms with wild mushroom mousse, olive tapenade, and Manchego.
Some of the points mentioned in the presentation during lunch were that Australia had abundant seafood, a farm-to-table approach, and sophistication with a relaxed attitude. It does seem to be a culture that is always looking to expand and experiment, a feature that showed clearly on Tuesday's menu. For the entree I went with the BBQ'd Barramundi fillet. I don't recall having tried Barramundi before, but it's a great firm white fish with a slight buttery flavor. (And it's eco-friendly.) And I absolutely loved the large, perfectly seared sea scallops that came with the dish.
On to the desserts! The peach melba was tasty, but the star was the pavlova, with sweet, sticky meringue, fresh cream, kiwi, mango, and passion fruit sauce. Wow. The meringue lived up to the name and stuck a bit to the plate, but it was definitely worth the effort of removing it. The pavlova also went very well with the medium-bodied Brokenwood Shiraz my table was drinking by that point.
All in all, it was a great event for sampling what Australia has to offer and for catching up with other NY food bloggers. I knew very little about the country's food and wine culture beforehand, but there seems to be a huge diversity in terms of both the food cultures and wine regions. The country has always been on my list of destinations to visit, but after Tuesday it is definitely going to the top of the list.