Sunday, September 16, 2007

Foodbloggers Getogether 2007: Colin's review

I know it's taken us awhile to get down to writing a review and we've (both Colin and I) have read the other reviews put up by all the foodbloggers and held ourselves in disgrace. We've also been recently reading Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl which is based on the premise that a food critic writes two reviews, one from when she visits a restaurant as a recognised critic and the other from when she visits in disguise as an insignificant old lady.

While we're not about to go dressing up for dinners or anything, we thought it'd be quite entertaining to write two versions of a review on the same dinner. The thing is, most dinners are rather like that, some people at the dinner will find particular dishes good, some others find it bad, some are interested, some approving of the decor or the ambience- the experience is really differentiated by personal standards, preferences and perspective.

First, we begin with the review by Colin:

In a way, the annual Foodbloggers' dinner is a bit like the foodblogging community's version of the Oscars. It comes round once a year, everyone talks about what the star attractions are, and someone always gets the prize.

And what prizes they were! This year's prizes were generously provided by a number of patrons:

1. Fiji Water provided the artisanal water, a magnanimous gesture once you consider how much water 30 thirsty bloggers would otherwise have to pay for. While I'm not snobby about my water, Fiji Water does taste different; an impercetible sweetness and softness makes the water a pleasure to drink.

2. Razor Sharp sponsored more prizes again this year, with a line of knives, Dutch Oven and Lasagne Pan. They also provided several vouchers offering 50% discounts on their products and free knife-sharpening services.

3. EDM Books sponsored a number of glossy cookbooks

4. Cathay Photo provided a nifty piece of photo-editing software - the ColorVision Monitor Spyder.

5. In line with it being a food event, The Cellar Door and Green Grocer sponsored some essential shopping vouchers for food items. Les Amis and sponsored a dinner invitation and a cooking class respectively.

As with the acceptance speeches, it seems only appropriate to thank the parties who made the event possible. Apart from the generous sponsors; to June, for organising what is becoming an increasingly sizeable and challenging affair; to Chef Anderson and his crew, for toiling away in the kitchen and submitting his cooking to criticism (both constructive and otherwise); and to the foodbloggers and readers who showed up, proving to be most excellent company.

But now, on to the main event. Unlike last year's dinner, which involved fewer courses but bigger dishes, Chef Anderson elected to serve more courses but in smaller portions - allowing him to showcase slightly more unusual combinations and presentations.

The first course was something I'd heard about, but had never actually tried - Chef Anderson's signature amuse-bouche of watermelon and pesto goat's cheese. I rather enjoyed this dish; one of those that seems unlikely at the outset, but where the flavours and textures unexpectedly work well together. The sweet, juicy and firm watermelon, rich and creamy goat's cheese and the fragrant, nutty pesto were an excellent means to whet the appetite.

First course was a Hokkaido Scallop Carpaccio, with Barracuda Fish Mousse and Miso Cream. I'm not a great seafood lover, so I didn't quite take to the scallop carpaccio like a fish to water. I also thought the fish mousse was rather salty. Still, this was a technically difficult first course to pull off, and kudos to Chef Anderson for attempting it.

Next up was a Jasmine Tea-perfumed Duck Consomme, made with Fiji Water, and accompanied with Foie Gras Tortellini. Good consommes are difficult to pull off, as you need to ensure that the texture is clear and the taste is clean. Chef Anderson's use of Fiji Water helped with that, and the duck flavour came through quite nicely. Deliciously complementary were the little parcels of foie gras, lending a rich unctuousness to the consomme. My only gripe was that the soup was somewhat tepid, though perhaps this was unavoidable with the need to serve so many at a time.

A tasting portion of Escargots with a Herb-Garlic Butter Crust on Button Mushroom Gratinee, Parsley Oil and Arugula Salad followed. An excellent way to prepare escargot, as the traditional herb-garlic butter is absorbed by the gratineed crust, and offset by the slightly meaty, robust mushrooms. I could have had a dozen of these without much difficulty.

The pasta course was Rigatoni tossed with Crustacean Oil, Tiger Prawn, shaved bottarga and Parmesan. I don't recall being amazed by this dish, but the seafood-lovers sitting near me were clearly enthralled, so I must have missed something here. To me it was rather like most other conventional seafood pasta, though perhaps with a stronger oomph from the crustacean oil.

Next was fish, which was a grilled King George Whiting filet with toasted Mustard Seeds and a Saffron-Tomato sauce. I actually quite enjoyed this, though I felt the delicate fish was overpowered by the spicy mustard tomato sauce. With my taste buds piqued by the mustard, I couldn't taste much of the fish.

An intermezzo of blood orange sorbet was just what was needed to cleanse the palate and prepare us for the main course and dessert. Cold, refreshing and sizzlingly ascorbic, blood orange is an excellent fruit to use as a palate-cleansing sorbet. There was a bit of a foul-up here, as the kitchen ran out of blood orange sorbets and started serving raspberry sorbet (though it looked more like ice cream). Not quite an Unforgiveable Mistake, but definitely not an error to commit in front of so many food bloggers.

The main course was Oxtail in a Feuille de Brik parcel with Truffle Butter and Jus Gras. This was one of the best courses of the night, as the oxtail had been slow-cooked to perfection and was fork tender. The feuille de Brik was wafer thin and just as crispy, prompting some comparisons to the local tissue prata. The creamy truffle butter provided a moussant, luscious texture, while the jus gras enhanced the flavour and richness of the whole dish.

Finally, ending on a sweet note, dessert was a Passionfruit Symphony of Souffle, Creme Brulee and Macaron. Passionfruit is one of my favourite dessert fruits, for its amazing colour and fragrance. The creme brulee was a bit over-sweet, as passionfruit is already naturally sweet, but the souffle and macaron were great. The souffle, especially, was intriguing - not hot, but not deflated either; rather something in between the billowy cloudiness of a hot souffle, and the foamy chewiness of marshmallow. The dessert ensemble went down very pleasantly with the fantastic Australian port generously provided by Ivan.

Regarding the food, I thought Chef Anderson did a good job, though perhaps he might have over-extended himself with the number of courses. Still, in terms of technicals, Chef Anderson's fundamentals are definitely strong and his cuisine is inventive. His team of cooks in the kitchen are also clearly competent and provide valuable backstage support.

Service could most assuredly be improved however, as the service staff seem to change each time I come, and not for the better either. Unfortunately, this seems to be indicative of the service industry in general - with low standards being the norm.

Still, the raison d'etre of the foodbloggers' meals has not been to criticise restaurants and poke at food, but to enjoy the company of like-minded individuals, as well as some great food and excellent conversation.

When the curtain goes down and the nominees have won their awards, what's left is not to dwell on the glories and shortcomings of the concluded event, but to look forward with anticipation to the next Oscar's ceremony of the local foodblogging community, which coincidentally enough, is to be hosted by us here at Only Slightly Pretentious Food.

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