Last night Jonas and I enjoyed the Wasted pop up dinner at Ten Buck Alley, celebrating the unloved bits of animal and vegetable often neglected from restaurant menus. It's a limited time event on Thursday 12th, Friday 13th and Saturday 14th May.
Despite it being Friday 13th, our hosts, British chef Douglas McMaster and self-confessed pop-up restaurant vigilante Kym Lenoble, put on a good show.
It sounds cliché, and Jonas will certainly roll his eyes at me, but it’s great to see chefs so excited and passionate.
I’m a big fan of these pop-up events because they give younger chefs and sommeliers a chance to be inventive and test their mettle.
We filed in, group by group, into the tiny café. It had been spruced up for our arrival with some quirky decorations and scenes from the 1995 post-apocalyptic film Waterworld projected onto the wall.
As Kym said, Waterworld is what we’ve got to look forward to if we don’t start eating and living more sustainably.
Seating was tight. Tables were flush against each other and elbows knocked. The small, backless stools were a touch uncomfortable for such a long meal, but the squashy set up meant I could lean on the person behind for support. Lucky for me that person turned out to be a blogger I already knew, Minh from Eat.Show.Tell.
|Dragon Fruit Bellini|
The night got rolling with a wonderful Dragon Fruit Bellini, the dragon fruit (pitaya) giving an elegant flavour to the sparkling wine, which became tinted a pretty pink from the fruit. Unfortunately there’s a certain sliminess to dragon fruit that floated to the surface of the bellini, forming a lipidic foam, but it was easily dispersed with a quick stir.
Visually it needs some finesse to avoid the foam, but I could easily steal this one for a dinner party.
|Salt pork, pickled celeriac, celery leaves|
Two amuse bouche kicked off the food.
First a spoon of salt pork, pickled celeriac and the fresh celery leaves. As a celery hater I was surprised to discover the celeriac root gave a fresh flavour when pickled and the leaves were very mild. The salt pork was delicious. A nice intro.
|Chicken heart, dock weed, wheat|
Next up was a tiny green jar with an equally tiny chicken heart, smothered in puréed dock weed and accompanied by some roasted wheat kernels. The dock weed’s acidity was a perfect match to the iron flavour of the heart. Another winner.
|Anchovy chips, anchovy mayonnaise|
While we waited for the team to prep our first course, they passed around ikan bilis (dried anchovies) and anchovy mayonnaise. It was like fishy chips and dip, enjoyed by many more people than I would have imagined given the strength of flavours. Tick!
|Nettle soup, back fat, nasturtium|
Fortunately, tiny cubes of crackling-like back fat floated throughout providing mouthfuls of nutty pork flavour. The decorative nasturtium tasted like wild salad leaves.
It was a restorative course, served with an unwooded 2010 Printhie Chardonnay (Orange, NSW). Without the food it tasted a little unfinished, heavy on alcohol at the end, but after tasting the soup the wine balanced out perfectly.
|Blood, brains, skin|
The anxiously awaited Blood, Brains & Skin course was the most frightening dish for the majority of the crowd. Thickened blood sauce, flavoured with caraway seeds, was a bed for lamb brains fried in a mixture of breadcrumbs and pork crackling. It was all topped off with micro herbs and tart pickled apple.
Served on large square tiles, this was my favourite course of the night. It could easily have featured on any 3 hat/star restaurant menu.
The pickled apple gave fresh acidity, the brains were flavoursome and soft, but not limp, and the crackling added a wonderful crunchy texture contrast. The blood sauce was a rich punch to the softness of the other flavours, but many found its presence psychologically overwhelming.
Not me. I could have eaten another two plates of the stuff!
The brains were paired with the gutsy 2009 Devil's Ridge Block 22 Cabernet Sauvignon (Barossa Valley, SA). This wine was lovely. Low on tannins, and strong with cherry and anise. I’m going to keep a look out for this one in the stores.
|Yabby, dill stem, wild rocket|
Ironically, the yabby course was the most challenging for me, simply because it contained dill - my most hated of herbs.
The velvety texture of the yabby tartare was perfect, a sweet and striking contrast to the intense vegetal flavours of the wild rocket granita. In the dim light and intense green of the plate, the finger lime caviar disappeared visually, but the bursts of fresh acidity in the mouth proved they were there.
Again, a sprinkle of salt flakes would have lifted the flavours of the yabby and rocket dramatically, and perhaps curtailed the overpowering dill. The flavour from the stems is stronger and more anise than the commonly used tips and the stringy texture was also a turn off. Jonas and our neighbours had no such issues with the dill, adoring the fresh, clean flavours, but everyone agreed salt was needed.
I love that they served the yabby course on plastic black Frisbees. Afterwards we checked out the bottom and discovered they were promotional items from Espirit. Talk about recycling!
It worked well with the 2009 Brokenwood Semillon (Hunter Valley, NSW), matching the acidity of the finger lime.
|Intercostal, potato skins, cauliflower root|
One of the groups sitting next to us were extra anxious as to what intercostals might be, but I assured them it was nothing dramatic: merely the muscle tissue between the ribs.
The matching wine was the 2008 Grant Burge Miamba Shiraz (Barossa Valley, SA) fruity and thick with chocolate, liquorice, plums and cherries.
|Whey sorbet, feijoa, violet|
The palate cleanser and first sweet course was a whey sorbet, sprinkled with crushed crystallised violets and chunks of fresh feijoa.
Jonas found the feijoa fruit overwhelming and pungent, whereas I enjoyed the sweet-sour tropical flavour, similar to a guava. The whey sorbet was quite sour, almost salty and entirely delightful.
This came with a delicate and sweet 2009 Batasiolo Moscato d'Asti (Piemonte, Italy).
|Smoked wood custard, molasses, pomegranate|
Our last course was a salute to the New Nordic food movement. A layer of molasses sauce was topped with natural yoghurt, a smoked custard mousse and splashes of reduced pomegranate juice. All decorated with glistening ruby pomegranate jewels and chewy crumbs from an ANZAC type biscuit.
The yoghurt counterbalanced the sweetness of the molasses while the earthy pomegranate mixed well with the smoky wooded custard. And who doesn’t like ANZAC biscuits? C’mon!
This was paired with the Buller Tokay (Rutherglen, VIC), sticky and strong enough to match the smoked custard, but probably the weakest wine pairing of the evening.
We left the evening impressed with these young whippersnappers.
The food had focused on sustainable nose-to-tail or foraged ingredients and the wine matching was inspired with inexpensive options signing like a well practiced choir beside their partner course.
They'd managed to turn the ugly and the under-utilised into something wonderful.
Overall a thoroughly enjoyable evening, heralding many good things to come from Douglas McMaster and Kym Lenoble.
~ ~ ~
Anna & Jonas were NOT guests of the Wasted team and paid $123pp for 6 courses with matching wines.