Last night, Fabio, Nicki and I trundled off to a free dinner, Modena Delicious, showcasing the cuisine of Modena.
The event was held at Al Ponte Restaurant which, despite having to navigate through the neon-lit Harbourside shopping centre to find the entrance, was an elegantly subdued venue with a spectacular view of Darling Harbour. And because we were on the ugly side, the view across to Cockle Bay Wharf was great.
The event was organised by PROMEC (a promotional agency for the Chamber of Commerce of Modena), Modena a Tavola (an importer of Italian goods) and the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Australia. The premises was to trial Italian products on the public to see which items they liked and which items they think they'd buy themselves later. The menu included a canapé, appetiser, entrée, main and dessert.
The canapé was a crusty tigelline, little crisp breads traditionally made by the poor. It was topped with olive oil, parsley and porcini mushrooms. These were the slimy roasted kind I have enjoyed in Italy, not the rehydrated ceps we're forced to endure in Australia. I just adore roasted porcini so even though the tigelline was a little dry and plain, I was happy with this snack.
Next came an unappetising dish of artichoke hearts, dipped in batter and deep fried. The batter was light and the artichokes were well flavoured, but they arrived at our table cold making them quite unappealing. The artichoke pieces sat on a bed of green leaves dressed with exquisite honeyed balsamic vinegar and they were encased in a basket made of parmigiano reggiano. Unfortunately the tepid temperature of the dish accentuated the oiliness in the cheese and batter.
The pasta entrée was quite delicious, although nothing out of the ordinary. The napoletana sauce was made from roasted cherry tomatoes and good quality olive oil, but the pasta was a generic brand and the presentation was terrible. It was as if the chef just threw a cup of pasta into each bowl: there was a messy pile in the centre of a huge plate and then stray maccheroni plopped all over the place where they had landed. And Fabio received practically one third of the portion I did!
I was very happy with the main. I don’t really like chicken because I usually find it a dry and bland (and why kill an animal for mediocre flavour), but this small roast "bocconcini di pollo" had been skewered then chargrilled with rosemary, then wrapped with pancetta and served with a balsamic sauce. I really enjoyed it.
The dessert was an assiette: a gorgeous crème brûlée, a slice of a heavenly dark chocolate tart and a small spoon topped with cubes of clear coffee jelly. I was content with each one.
Overall, I walked away fairly unimpressed by the event. It was hard to understand which elements of the menu were the items on display and which were just local produce making up the rest of the meal. The chef in the restaurant didn't seem to care about the food he was producing, which was a bad career move considering that anyone attending will associate the final result with the chef, restaurant and products.
Nicki seemed to have a similar response to me and Fabio was not impressed at all (but then nothing much impresses Fabio).
But it was a free event and there were certainly elements of the meal that were happy discoveries.