The Melbourne Food and Wine Festival is an exciting time for food lovers in this city. Twitter feeds and Instagram pages are flooded with stories of $40 express lunches, exclusive chef and wine dinners and open kitchens with multi-story rain gardens. When it comes to food, Melbourne sure knows how to put on a show. A few weeks ago, while planning my moves for the two-week food fest, I received an invitation to the Southgate Fiesta for MFWF. For one day only some fantastic local and interstate wineries set up along the yarra offering free tastings and the opportunity to have a chat with the wine makers. It was a great idea and a fantastic event to kick off the festival.
We were invited to dine at two Southgate restaurants of our choice to sample the tasting plates being offered as part of the Fiesta. Patrons who purchased one of these dishes gained free entry to the wine tasting area. I desperately wanted to go to Pure South. After our spectacular meal a few months back (check out review here) it was definitely the stand out option. But after some discussion we decided to branch out and try a few spots we hadn’t visited before.
First up was PJ O’Briens Irish pub, the Southgate stalwart that has been serving hungry (and very thirsty) locals and visitors for years. My man chose this spot exclusively because it meant gorging on a tasting plate of fish and chips, or Kilkenny beer battered Atlantic cod with chunky fries and a house made tartare sauce if you are reading the menu.
Served in a newspaper cone, the dish was good and what I would expect from an average pub meal. The crisp, crunchy batter had a light flavour and housed a generous piece of flakey cod. I always like chips but when I hear chunky fries I dream of hand-cut potatoes deep-fried till crispy and served with handfuls of salt. These were ok pub chips in my opinion but nothing to jump on the table and dance around about.
La Camera, an Italian restaurant on Southgate’s first floor, was our next tasting plate venue. We were presented with a gorgeous spread of springy calamari, shavings of salami and mortadella, plump eggplant under oil and a smorgasboard of other antipasto goodies.
The fat, juicy chunks of calamari came chargrilled with a sprinkling of parsley and a good glug of olive oil. Superbly tender and super tasty those little morsels of heaven were the absolute stand out dish of the day. Whilst La Camera’s tasting plate lacked prosciutto there was just enough pig and salt to satisfy. The mortadella and salami were quite good and worked well paired with a bite of the crusty ciabatta bread. The disappointment for me though came with the eggplant and zucchini. Marinated in a strong dressing I found the flavour of vinegar overwhelming and would have preferred the vegetables simply grilled with a drizzle of olive oil.
After our meals we whiled away an hour or so at the wine tasting arena. This was truly the highlight of the day with every variety of white, red, pink and sparkling you can imagine. It was fantastic being able to chat to the producers and sip the wines as they told us all about them. We walked away with five bottles including a Sandhurst Ridge Shiraz and a couple of bottles of sparkling Cabernet Sauvignon cuvee from Kersbrook Hills in Adelaide.
The Southgate Fiesta was truly a great event. Many of the wines offered for tasting aren’t available for sale at the local bottle shop so it was nice to have the wine makers come to Melbourne and to taste and enjoy their wines all in the one place. Overall, we had a glorious afternoon by the river nibbling on Southgate specialties and tasting some truly magnificent wine. I would do it again.
My Fair Melbourne enjoyed complimentary tasting plates at PJ O’Brien’s and La Camera and free entry into the wine tasting arena as part of the Southgate Fiesta for the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival.