Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Willy Wonka Themed Pop up Degustation

Willy Wonka Themed Pop up Degustation by Cody McKavanagh

Late 2015, I announced an exciting pop up event hosted and created by chef Cody Mckavanagh. This was to be a Willy Wonka themed degustation that sounded so intriguing I convinced both Marc and Jenny to come with me. It happened last Sunday and now,  I can finally give some insight to our experience.

Wandering Cooks in West End hosts many food events at their Fish Lane location. I had been there once for a food truck cook off that was so popular there was no food by the time we got there. Because of that, I knew where it was but hadn't had a taste (excuse the pun) of what it was like to eat there.

I imagine the venue space is very adaptable. For this degustation they transformed it into a lovely fine dining hall with candles, hanging bulbs and long tables for groups to share. We three took up a table with three other ladies but it was spacious enough to still feel like we were at our own table.

There is a bar at one end of the room and we were able to set up a tab for the rest of the night. There were organic wines, beer and soft drink on offer.

I'm impressed that one of the waitstaff must have heard me complaining about my lactose intolerance because he came and asked if it was ok for me to eat dairy. It sure is! I'm not a fan of drinking plain milk but I won't let a little bit of bloating get between me and delicious foods served as it's meant to be served.

Our courses were brought out sequentially with a little introduction from Cody explaining what we were about to eat and the significance to the theme. For those who missed this initial explanation, the waiters who came around with our plates were also great in summarising the dishes. I like some mystery with fine dining but it's still good to know vaguely what type of food I'm eating.

Late summer cabbage with cucumber and frozen cream

The first course was a cold cabbage soup with cucumber and frozen cream. This was a simple and effective appetizer to get our juices flowing. Cabbage soup was an interesting way to start the night. It was tasty if you managed to get all the components into one spoonful. Jenny mentioned that the flavours were not infused evenly through the cucumber as she found a few plain cucumber pieces.

Chicken liver parfait and rye toast with bergamot jam

Next came the dish that won 'most attractive plating' of the night. It was a chicken liver parfait with rye toast and bergamot. I enjoyed the striking flavours but Marc commented that he didn't like the raw sprouts.

Some mysterious paper bags containing dry ice was placed on our table. It looked so much like a bag of chip I was tempted to dig my fingers in. We later realised it was part of the spectacle of our next course. This was titled ‘A Moment of Clarity’ and featured an all-white plate of food. The dry ice was activated to produce a cloudy haze around us as we dug into the dish.

Chicken, milk and air

Marc was skeptical about the messiness of the plating but the flavours were delicious. The white sauce had a bonito umami tone that was so very moreish. The chicken was poached perfectly tender. We felt that fish or some kind of seafood (calamari?) would have been a more complimentary protein to the other elements but there’s no denying the chicken was cooked well.

Pork jowl cooked in butter with cucumber in a dried forest

Our next dish was pork jowl with cucumber, in a ‘dried forest’. This ended up being one of the highlights of the night for me. The pork was cooked well and served with finely sliced cucumber and crispy fried leaves. I don’t know how they manage to keep the leaves so green but they looked vibrant on the plate. I’m not convinced about cucumber and pork as a pairing but it wasn’t distracting either so I’ll leave my opinion open for now.

Bread and cultured butter with black salt and burnt scallions

We were presented with bread, butter and black salt next. Bread is important to me because I’m a Bread Head and bread is my favourite main carbohydrate. The rolls we had on the night were warm, soft on the inside and crunchy on the outside. The butter was rich and delicious and I love the simplicity of salt and butter as condiments. The salt was black and ashy and made an otherwise standard course look a bit more interesting.

Beef cheek cooked in apples and local beer with blueberries

Our final main of the evening was the beef cheek cooked in apple and local beer. This looked rather striking on the plate as a mound of deep, brilliant red with thin sheets covering the beef underneath. Jenny wasn’t a fan of the look of this dish but Marc and I both agreed it was the best tasting item of the night. The beef was melt-in-the-mouth tender and so full of flavour. It was delicious and left me wanting more.

'Golden Egg'

We were treated to a palate cleanser before our dessert courses. These were an orange jelly served in real egg shells, symbolising the ‘golden egg’ of Willy Wonka narrative. The jelly had a firm texture and although Jenny managed to get to hers by slurping, I used the back of my spoon to dig it out. The jelly was like any other jelly but the egg shell serving provided novelty.
Dessert of milk and freshly brewed tea

I’ve grown into more of a savoury than dessert person as the years have progressed but towards the end of this meal, I found myself really craving dessert. Our first course of dessert was a delicate dish of milk with freshly brewed tea. I thought this was a pleasant-tasting dessert that was refreshingly light on the palate. Jenny’s critique was that she could taste the bitterness of her flower garnishes. She did have a lot more flowers in her bowl than mine. Marc summarised it as ‘milk and cereal made fancy’.

Our next dessert was a chocolate and caramel affair unlike any I’d tried before. In my excitement at seeing a chocolate course I forget to take a photo. The chocolate fudge was rich and dark with an almost savoury crust (Jenny kept thinking of ‘bacon’, which I don’t totally agree with but I did think it was unique). The salted caramel was also very savoury, rendering the entire dessert to have more bitter than sugary tones. The tart passionfruit cut the bitterness but I did find myself looking for something sweet amidst the other elements. I don’t like overly sugary desserts but I still think a dessert should have some degree of recognisable sweetness. Having said that, we each practically licked our plates clean.

Wine gums from the 'Granite Belt' region

There was one more surprise for us before the end of the night. These were red wine gums, served camouflaged among some pebbles. I heard ‘wine’ and my ears instantly pricked up. The texture is more accurately described as wine gummy lolly and as much as I wished a boozy wine gum to actually exist, I doubt there was a lot of alcohol in this. That’s probably a good thing since we had a designated driver in our group.

Our Sunday night degustation was overall an enjoyable event with beautifully presented dishes. The element of theatre very much suited the Willy Wonka theme and added some excitement to our courses. My favourite course of the evening was the beef cheek braised in apple. I would be thrilled getting a main-sized version of this at any fine dining restaurant. Some of the dishes could do with minor tweaking here and there but I’m very interested in Cody’s future Brisbane endeavors.

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