The annual Taste of New Zealand took place from the 19 – 22nd October this year, a month earlier than usual to coincide with the Rugby World cup celebrations and visitors. A smaller teaser event, called Taste at the Cloud at Queens Wharf had primed my taste buds.
Taste of New Zealand is Auckland’s premier culinary event, with participation of top* (comment end of post) restaurants, food and wine exhibitors and cooking masterclasses. This year’s chef ambassadors included Rick Stein (representing Malaysia Kitchen programme), Gary Rhodes, Annabel Langbein, Josh Emmet and Justin North. There were 7 evening or afternoon sessions across the 4 days; a session ticket allowed you into the event for one of the 4-hour slot.
13 restaurants took part, each showcasing 2-3 dishes which can be purchased using plastic tokens called crowns. Each crown is equivalent to $1. It was difficult to pick what to sample across the 35 plates on offer, but here are my final choice.
Southern Glory oysters, yuzu ponzu vinegar, kabosu citrus foam, karengo seaweed dust (12 crowns)
Yuzu is a Japanese citrus, and ponzu a citrus-based vinegar, typically used with tataki meats. I was disappointed with these; the saltiness simply overwhelmed the other flavours. I wondered if there was just too much vinegar, or if the oysters sat for too long in the dressing. I so wanted to love these, but they were certainly not worth $6 each. I adore fresh raw oysters; the briney freshness and slippery flesh, so any tinkering to this should only to enhance the already glorious flavours.
Petite steak sandwich – grilled sirloin on small ciabatta roll with Kapiti blue cheese, caramelised onions and watercress (8 crowns)
This was a good, safe plate; the sirloin was lightly seasoned and meltingly tender. If the roll was toasted just before serving, this would have been so much better. Cold bread and hot meat reminds me of a backyard barbeque and not in a good way.
Corned duck, bacon, egg and pea salad (10 crowns)
This is such a clever dish; tender, salty duck breast, partnered with a strip of dehydrated bacon and minced egg. I needed some bland carb to counter the duck, but still, this was the winner by a long way of the dishes I tried.
Te Whau Vineyard and Restaurant:
Waiheke honey & lemon bavarois, lavender apricots, macadamia praline. (8 crowns)
This was a generous serving of bavarois layered with rhubarb compote, but there was too much of the bavarois and a bit skimpy on the lavender apricot and macadamia praline. A crumbly macadamia praline would have worked better than the macadamia bits and caramel shards.
Malaysia Kitchen had a stand with Rick Stein doing demonstration of the curry snapper and nasi goreng that they were offering. His wry humour and down-to-earth presentation made for an entertaining session. The Rick Stein recipes were cooked by the chefs from Sri Puteri’s for purchase. I confess that as a Malaysian, I would never pay 8 crowns for a tasting of nasi goreng, no matter who makes it. (okay, perhaps if my amazing cook of an aunt makes it)
The good aspects of ToNZ;
- Overall, the presentation was superb, the layout is elegant, the tents were beautifully presented (the Mac tent with their bean bags were the ultimate in outdoor picnicking).
- It was great to sample the menu of several fine-dining restaurants.
The not so good:
- The administration in terms of ticket collection was poor; I waited in line for 40 minutes to collect my ticket (tickets purchased online which included crowns had to be collected just before the event).
- The quality of the food was not as good as I had envisioned. I understand that it is difficult to maintain a high level when you are trying to plate up dishes in two minutes in a pop-up kitchen, however, when you are paying top dollar (on top of an entrance fee), there are high expectations. I was surprised to see Monsoon Poon(*), – not what I would consider a fine-dining establishment or even truly authentic Asian cuisine.
- I wished the servers representing the restaurants interacted more with the patrons, – they were simply plate shufflers, and lost the opportunity to market the restaurants.
I would still make a repeat visit, albeit with much lowered expectations.