I can’t believe it’s already March. Is it too late to say happy New Year and happy Valentine’s Day? I’ve been so busy juggling between work, wedding plans and numerous other things that blogging has been pushed to the bottom of the to-do list. Yes you read right, wedding plans!!
Yuye proposed towards the end of last year and I’ve been stressing over the details ever since. Now I totally understand why there are so many bridezillas, I feel like I might just turn into one of them (fingers crossed not..).
Even though we’ve been quite busy, we still made time for the Iron Chef Dinner that took place over the Valentine’s Day weekend this year. I’m not sure if we made the right decision to choose this event over Heston’s Fat Duck (even though we probably wouldn’t have scored a table anyway) but that’s something I would never find out.
At $380 per person, it was quite a heavy burden on my wallet. This meal included a 6 course meal cooked by the Iron Chefs from the renowned Japanese cooking show of the same name – surely if you’re a foodie you’d know of the show – and (forced) wine pairing. Yes, you didn’t have a choice even if you don’t drink.
As I am a huge fan of the show, Yuye and I along with 4 other friends decided to fork out the big bucks to attend the event.
The evening kicked off with numerous finger foods and drinks in the RACV building where the dinner was held. I tried to hold back from pigging out on the finger foods as I wanted to keep some stomach for the main dishes. The finger foods were mostly just average.
The foie gras brulee with candied grapes and gingerbread was inconsistently salted – one was very salty and another completely bland – if they were well seasoned, this would have been a great little nibble to get me salivated.
The cauliflower soup with avruga caviar was a little on the bland side as well and didn’t excite me much even though I love cauliflower.
The beetroot jelly and chevre with gold leaf was interesting and I did enjoy this one a bit more than others. It was lightly sweet and creamy from the goats cheese.
The roasted quail and thyme dome with crushed peas was well seasoned and tasty but none of us could tell it was quail.
The pulled pork bun though was my favourite as there was crispy pork skin coupled with juicy pork, how can anyone not like this?
This was all enjoyed with stunning views across the Melbourne city skyline.
After the finger foods, mingling and each buying a $30 signed apron, it was time to head inside! At the time of booking, we had a choice of which table to sit on. As there was no map of the hall, we had no idea where each table would be situated so basically it was a random choice – we picked table 23. It was right against the window towards the back of the room. It provided great natural light (for however long there was light for) but it was a bit far from the stage.
We were introduced to the chefs – Iron Chef French Hiroyuki Sakai, Iron Chef Italian Masahiko Kobe and Iron Chef Chinese Chen Kenichi’s son, Chen Kentaro. At the time we didn’t know that Chen Kenichi was actually present so when he came out of the kitchen to take photos with every single person in the room, we were all pleasantly (and excitedly) surprised. Although it would have been a total chore for him the poor guy.
I’m sure you’ve all read enough about how excited we were to meet the chefs, it’s time to move on to the food.
From all the episodes of the show, I knew I was looking forward to Sakai’s dishes the most and I wasn’t wrong. His first dish, Crystal Bay prawn and avocado, daikon wrap with abalone marinade was the best dish of the night. It had a yuzu dressing which gave it a wonderful acidity that balanced so well with the sweet prawns and abalone. This dish was very refreshing and worked great as a cold dish. It also set the standard for the rest of the night, which unfortunately didn’t turn out as good as I was expecting.
The wine that was paired with the dish was the 2013 Grace Koshu from Grace Wine, a Japanese winery by the Misawa family. It is a light and dry style white wine made from the koshu grape that is native to Japan. Not a grape variety that is well known but it definitely has been gaining recognition around the world in recent years. It pairs well with light flavoured Japanese dishes.
The second dish was by chef Kobe, the petuna ocean trout and eggplant stuffed tomato with basil pesto and wholegrain mustard. It was an interesting dish and again a cold one but we didn’t think it was as good as Sakai’s. For starters, the ingredients chosen just wasn’t as lavish. The tomato was beautiful and very round. It looked almost fake. I was excited to cut it open to reveal the petuna inside and the dish mixed well with the pesto and sauce. It was just a regular dish though and lacked a bit of wow.
This dish was paired with not one but two wines. One was the Dassai 23, a sake from Yamaguchi in Japan. The name was derived from the rice being milled to 23% of its original size, which is the highest commercial milling in any sake. As a result, the sake was sweet and smooth, although I wasn’t sure it paired all that well with the dish due to the pesto overpowering the faint sweetness.
The second wine was 2014 Holly’s Garden Pinot Gris from Whitlands, Victoria. I wasn’t too big a fan of this wine although it wasn’t as bad as some of the wines to come. It was a dry style pinot gris with an okay complexity and mild notes of citrus, but it wasn’t all that memorable so not a standout wine in general.
The third dish was by Chen Kentaro and it was the roast duck breast with sweet and sour berry sauce and simmered duck leg with Szechwan duck jus. The roast duck was a little bit overcooked but it was still a good dish. The sauce was wonderfully aromatic and the slight thickness coats the meat with its subtle sweet and sour flavours which we all know goes very well with duck meat.
The thing was, as this dish was coming out, Chen Kenichi came out to greet people so I (and for many others I’m sure) didn’t pay as much attention to the dish itself. By the time I dug into it, it had cooled down a bit but it was worth forfeiting a bit of heat for the photo. 😀
The dish was paired with the 2011 Curly Flat Pinot Noir. I don’t like pinot noirs as much in general because of the light flavour but this wine was especially light so not many of us liked it much. 2011 wasn’t a good year in Australia in the winemaking industry as there was greater than average rainfall, making the fruit watery. This resulted in a watered-down flavour and not as much complexity. Or perhaps it was just the way the wine was made but either way, we weren’t very impressed.
The next dish was Sakai’s lightly steamed harpuka with seasonal vegetables, with tom yum essence and shellfish soup. This was probably my second favourite dish of the night alongside the duck. I wasn’t sure why Sakai chose tom yum as the base flavour of this dish since it’s not French at all but it was quite flavoursome and all the ingredients worked well together. The spiciness of the dish was toned down significantly to cater for the non-spicy eaters in the room, although I was secretly wishing it had a tiny bit more heat.
Sakai’s dish was paired with the 2012 Savaterre Chardonnay from Beechworth, Victoria. Beechworth isn’t a known winemaking region, at least not like its neighbours in the King Valley and Rutherglen. The chardonnay itself wasn’t too bad, probably the best wine of the night. It was still a bit light for a chardonnay, dry, reasonably complex and fruity. I did a search online afterwards and was surprised to see how expensive it sells for – a whopping $72 at Dan Murphy’s. Although not bad, I wouldn’t think the wine was worth the price tag.
The next dish was Chen’s signature mapo tofu. Part of it was cooked on the stage and the smell was very tantalising. It was very tasty and had all the good elements of a good mapo tofu, but it was way too salty. The amount of rice we were given wasn’t enough to mellow the saltiness. I’m guessing there’s nothing wrong with Chen’s recipe but rather a fault of the catering staff.
It was paired with the 2013 Moondarra Conception Pinot Noir from Gippsland, Victoria. Again quite a light bodied pinot noir which lacked a bit of flavour for me so it wasn’t a very memorable wine. I wouldn’t really pair a wine with mapo tofu, but then if you asked me what I’d pair it with, I wouldn’t really know…
The last dish of the evening was Kobe’s roast veal and Rockliff’s Queensland spanner crab cannelloni with fresh tomato sauce. I must say, when it came out I was a little disappointed because it didn’t look like a fine dining type dish. It looked and tasted like a dish you’d get in a pub. In fact, it reminded me of roast beef at higher class buffet restaurants. The meat was, however, tender and juicy and the sauce paired well with it.
The dish wasn’t complemented by the wine paired – 2009 Sally’s Paddock Shiraz. I didn’t like this shiraz at all, it had a very astringent tannin and wasn’t smooth at all, making this wine very difficult to finish a glass of. Shiraz in general don’t pair well with food I find, because of its strong flavours which tend to overpower the dish and especially not with a white meat dish like this one. I’ve tried quite a few shirazs, this is not one of the better ones.
Patisserie chef Pierick Boyer of Le Petite Gateau (just downstairs of the RACV building) was the dessert chef that evening. He presented a series of Asian inspired desserts on a plate for each guest and a platter of chocolates to share.
The chocolates were on top of a impressive chocolate slab so you can literally eat the whole thing if you wanted to. There were both western style chocolates and Japanese style candies.
The dessert trio was mostly good. I liked the Yuzu macaron tart which had the right amount of citrus versus sweet and my favourite was the green tea mousse with red bean paste at the bottom and topped with raspberry coulee. It was a nice consistency and the flavours mixed very well together. I didn’t like the creme filled chou pastry though as it was soggy and didn’t have any distinct flavours.
I didn’t get to enjoy my cup of tea though as at that stage we all rushed out to line up for photos with the iron chefs. Each person was only allowed one photo (no exceptions) and I wasn’t too happy when I got told to line up again when I asked if Chen Kenichi can sign my apron as we had missed our chance to do it when we took the photo with them. We ended up lining up again but then was denied another photo because the first one turned out bad.
Overall it was an average meal with some great dishes and some not as good. I did not like the compulsory wine pairing but in hindsight it would be quite difficult for staff to keep track of who have and who do not have wine pairings. The food would also always be as good (or as bad) as the catering staff’s capabilities so the same dishes would never taste as good (or at least the same) as the ones served at the chef’s own restaurants.
Another downside was the constant ad placements by Kirin throughout the whole event. I’m sure the chefs were told to drink and advertise for the brand since they were the major sponsor but the exposure was excessive to say the least.
If I was asked if I would do the event again, I’d have to say no because I didn’t think it was worth the money spent, (that is, unless if Michiba somehow turned up) however doing it once might be worth it for those avid fans of the show and we did get photos and saw the chefs in action. I was sad that no Japanese chef was featured though but I can’t have everything right?
Hopefully this post gave some insight for people deciding whether to fork out the big bucks when they decide to hold the next Iron Chef event.