Disclosure: I was invited to dine as a guest by the Melbourne Racing Club
The Spring Racing Carnival. Renown for the beautiful racing grounds, the fashion, the stunning thoroughbreds and the jockeys who become mainstream tv stars, just for a season.
What's it generally not known for? Let's be honest, it's food.
I've been a huge fan of the races for years, especially the ones at Caulfield, with its more relaxed atmosphere than at Flemington. I had taken horse riding classes for 10 years, so have always loved the statuesque creatures, and in university, loved the thrill of watching the races, with a little money on the line, and having an excuse to dress up. Oh and eyeballing all the smartly dressed men too of course.
Since uni days, food at the racecourse has improved, with Grill'd setting up shop in more recent times, and a much better range of options generally being available, but when I was invited to see what was on offer at the Black Caviar restaurant for the high rollers at the Crown Golden Ale Caulfield Cup Carnival, I definitely could not turn it down!
We started our evening in the foyer of the restaurant, with a glass of bubbles as we waited to see Ian Curley (of the European and more recently Kirks Wine Bar) and Julian Robertshaw would be serving up.
A delicate mini fishbowl of meredith goat's cheese, edible soil and pickled heirloom carrots got the palate started, with a nip from the cheese, and a touch of vinegar from the carrots. The edible was a bit too salty, but I still cleaned up the little bowl.
Our second canape though, was simply perfection, a tartare of tuna topped with finely sliced green apple batons, green apple jelly, cavaiar and green apple, champagne and wasabi sorbet. So refreshing, light and zesty, one fishbowl was not enough!
We were soon ushered into the kitchen, where in the throng of the Crown Golden Ale Caulfield Cup Carnival, they can expect to be serving 1000 people a day! Wowch!
Master Brewer, Tully Hadley, from the Carlton United Brewery, talked us through their new Crown Golden Ale, which just from pouring out, you could instantly see is darker and richer looking compared to the Crown Lager that most of us have come across (at some point or rather I'm sure anyway…) and this translates to the palate. I was surprised to learn that we should be drinking ales at about 5 to 12 degrees, not fresh out of the fridge or esky that we seem to be accustomed to, which gives more flavour to the beer (makes sense when you think about it really now though…)
Following the Master Brewer, it was time for the slightly gruff, but friendly Ian Curley to demonstrate how our dinner, a fricassee of john dory with oyster and mussel escabeche, was made.
The kitchen was filled with beautiful and aromas, making me feel like I was more at the beach on a summery day rather than a commercial kitchen. Especially when I greedily volunteer myself to eat the first oyster that Ian shucks on the spot. Bliss.
We also had jockey's Michael Rodd and Chris Symons helping out…although I'm not sure if Michael is really helping out that much!
I also jumped in to give a hand scooping out the escabeche on to plates and making sure we had precisely three micro herbs on each plate as well. We just had to do 20 plates, I can only image what it would be like to do 200!
When we finally got around to eating the dish, it was just lovely. Although the night we were at the Black Caviar Restaurant was a bit cool, I could imagine this on a warm sunny afternoon, a fresh and sweet, light and bright flavour, with perfectly cooked john dory and mashed potatoes with smoked eel. He went there. Swoon!
Between mains and dessert, the Carlton United Brewery spoilt us, and let us sample two of their beers from their Ambassador range, a 2012 vintage and a 2009 vintage, which in the wine world would equate to reserves (or so I would imagine). These beers have three times as much malt in them compared to the Crown Lager, and are aged in 4 months in French oak barrels, imparting vanilla flavour notes.
Served in big bulbous glasses, it was easy to forget you were drinking beer almost, until it is poured and the golden molten colours remind you that this isn't any white or red wine you've ever seen before! The 2012 was big and fruity on the nose and palate, a bit of punch and playfulness, whiles the 2009 was dark and rich, with caramel and toffee notes creeping throughout. The latter was definitely my preference.
As we sipped on the fanciest, and possibly most expensive beer I have ever had, dessert came out in the form of a rhubarb and ginger pudding with mint caramel ice-cream, hot and steaming. The rich ginger went perfectly with the beer, and was surprisingly quite light, with the sweet rhubarb beneath. The mint caramel ice-cream was quite intriguing as well, and not a combination I would normally imagine to put together, but it all worked somehow. Got to love the creativity that chefs have!
So whilst we were treated to the best of the Melbourne Racing Club, I do hope this starts a trend in the Spring Racing Carnival and be providing great food, no matter where you are in the concourse. I do hope to pop by with fascinator in hair to see for myself, or see if I can just name drop Ian Curley and gate crash at the Black Caviar Restaurant on the day…think that'll work?
Rupert Clarke Grandstand