Even though I’ve been to St Ali before and reviewed its delectable breakfast options before, it hasn’t been very long that they’ve been open for dinner. Understandably, the Melbourne food and coffee loving community was excited. St Ali are remarkably savvy – they’ve shown their support for the inaugural Eat Drink Blog conference in March this year, and at the time of writing this, I learnt that they are hosting a degustation with (alcoholic) mixmasters Der Raum.
Not too long ago, St Ali hosted another degustation dedicated to the duck and I got to attend. Upon welcome, diners were invited to browse the food blogger photography exhibition in St Ali East (you can find out more about it here at Tomato) and greeted with a glass of pinot gris. It was there that the first course of “duckfest” was also served – the humble Peking duck pancake. So often, I’ve had Peking duck pancakes and the pancakes have been unbalanced – too much hoisin, not fresh enough spring onion (which is a bitch to chew if not chopped up) and stodgy pancakes. Ugh. These were the most perfectly balanced ones I’d ever tried – the duck had the right amount of meat, skin and fat, the vegetable content provided a satisfying crunch to attest to its utmost freshness, and the pancake! Whisper-soft. Like eating air. Gush.
When we were ushered into St Ali proper so that the table dining experience could begin, it was communal seating. My partner and I were very fortunate to be seated opposite a Der Raum bartender and his partner – I cannot thank them enough for their patience as we photographed the dishes that were designed to be shared equally.
The first sit-down course on offer from duckfest masterminds St Ali head chef Benjamin Cooper and MuMu Grill head chef Craig Macindoe was the duck parfait with shiraz jelly and biodynamic rye bread.
A lot of people on my table were put off by what is essentially pâté – but not me. Scrumptious. The shiraz jelly was the perfect contrast – wonderful texture, and not too sweet. Comparatively, more successful than Libertine’s similar such course at their Valentines’ Day dégustation.
Next up, duck consommé. Whenever I see the word ‘consommé’, I’m reminded of the scene in Tampopo when the middle-aged Japanese businessmen all order it at a fancy French restaurant. Duckfest’s consommé was served in a shot glass. I found it a little salty and a bit of an umami overload, but very warming. It seemed very Asiatic in flavour, and not just because of the spring onion.
Literally and figuratively, we get to the real meat of the meal, beginning with the crispy duck breast with deconstructed XO sauce. I’m not entirely sure how a sauce can be classified as ‘deconstructed’, but I’m guessing perhaps this one had less ingredients? In any case, it whet my appetite for more duck. I may have demolished it gracelessly due to enthusiasm.
The next offering was duck san choi bow (with shredded duck leg), accompanied with freshly shucked oysters and kim chi. Oh my. It was pretty hard to share this! The duck was so delicately flavoured, and so tender, and the kim chi very addictive. Regarding oysters – you will never hear me utter a complaint against them. This was a very well received dish, even though the duck had a similar flavour profile to the consommé: the latter being more concentrated. It’d be wonderful if this were a regular main – somewhere, anywhere. It has me a little enchanted.
Alas, all good things must pass…onto better things, the roast duck breast with wilted tatsoi, poached pear and sherry glaze. Again, I found it a smidgen too salty but oh, how succulent the breast was. What a tasty tease.
The last savoury course was much anticipated given it is often thought of as a grotesque gustatory offering – turducken. It sounds so junk-food indulgent due to the fact that it contains so much meat. However, in Tudor times, it was customary at feasts to ‘invent’ imaginary animals as a spectacle no doubt to impress guests. This meant constructing a beast made of the meat of several existing animals. The immediate popular culture reference that might come to mind is Heston Blumenthal’s recreation of the Tudor feast. If you search appropriately on YouTube, the relevant clips will come up. A slight digression. So, turducken: it has its origins in aristocratic dining…
Accompanied by a gorgeous mixed leaf salad. There were also duck fat potatoes.
Our table seemed to have divided opinions on this dish, and it wasn’t gobbled up as enthusiastically as the other courses. It’s definitely a lot of meat to scoff down. I think I was just glad to have tried it. It wasn’t literally a turkey with a duck with a chicken inside of the duck, but rather a very refined meatloaf-terrine hybrid. We also had the added bonus of guinea fowl (keep up! turkey stuffed with duck, then stuffed with chicken, and lastly stuffed with guinea fowl). Quite the grotesque, fascinating culinary masterpiece.
If some of the diners had trouble processing the idea of turducken, it was immediately forgotten when dessert came out: duck egg caramel served with fresh papaya and pineapple pieces which were meant to be dipped into the caramel. A lot of the diners around me found the duck egg too rich and unsurprisingly, too ‘ducky’. My main concern was whether or not I was still allergic to duck eggs! As a child in the Philippines, I enjoyed egg flans made from duck eggs, which were larger than chicken eggs. I loved it, but my body rebelled and broke out in itchy hives. It’s challenging, but I’ll be damned if I leave any dessert unfinished! We were instructed that the fresh fruit was meant to be dipped into the caramel, and I feel that this didn’t quite work. Papaya, when ripe, is very slippery, so perhaps it needed to be served slightly green. The caramel didn’t adhere to the fruit, so the serving suggestion was rendered unsuccessful. Perhaps, rather than chunks, the fruit could have been cut up a little thinner so that the suggested method of enjoying the dessert could be achieved? I realise this seems nitpicky, but I gave up in frustration and ate my fruit and caramel separately.
There was an extremely tempting wine list for the evening, but due to driving duties (sob!), I only had a single glass of the Delta Pinot Noir 2008 from New Zealand. I have however included the complete wine list below, much thanks to Ben Cooper.
pinot_list_for_duckfest_2010.doc (14 KB)
MuMu headman Craig Macindoe has provided heaps of wonderful infomation on his blog about the origins of his produce for the evening. Reading through it was most certainly illuminating.
Having paid $65 a head for dinner for the evening was ridiculously good value. There will be the more expensive Der Raum one this week and if you’re able to go, you should be in for an absolute treat.