Spoiler Alert: If you are attending the Calle to Cavern Crave Sydney pop-up dinner during the month of October, we strongly recommend that you do not read this review beforehand.
“Meet at a laneway in Surry Hills then a Secret Den Location,” he states in the advertisement.
I feel I am spoken to in hushed tones. A secret whisper in my ear, a knowing glance pointing me in a direction, a reserved smile that hides much anticipation.
He follows it with an email. The tone is precise and controlling. “You will need to be in Crown St (near Campbell St) at about 7.20pm and the rest of the info will follow shortly.”
He leaves me hanging. And I can do nothing but wait for his instructions.
At the designated coordinates, dusk bathes the streets in an eerie blue hue. Like wearing a satin blindfold that allows a glimpse of light, my curiosity peaks with excitement. My hands firmly grasp my phone. In the meantime, he has upped the game with rhyming prose and visual clues. He sends a treasure map where I must seek to find my reward.
He leads with verbs and I follow. Walk. Stand. Turn. I do as I’m told. “Don’t worry, there isn’t much more.” I sense warmth in the last few words.
I take the last few steps… and see it unfold.
Ryan (L) and Liam (R) of Emmilou in the laneway
In a dimly-lit Surry Hills laneway, an intimate group of people are gathered at the inaugural Calle to Cavern Pop-Up Dinner held by Emmilou Tapas Bar. Part of the Crave Sydney International Food Festival which runs during October, this event has proved so popular that additional nights had to be added.
Champagne Laurent-Perrier in a Refuge Island
Clues from the treasure hunt map
We mingle in the narrow laneway with a glass of Laurent-Perrier Champagne in hand, the reward for our treasure hunt efforts.
Champagne, canapés and Chris Cranswick-Smith welcoming guests
Canapés are served with the champagne and set the theme for this pop-up dinner. There is slow cooked white rabbit with baby coriander and my favourite, olive oil poached salmon with baby radish. Chris Cranswick-Smith, owner and chef of Emmilou Tapas Bar welcomes everyone in the group and introduces the concept behind the event.
Chris, Liam and Ryan in front of the location of the “secret den”
We all follow the Calle to Cavern team through the back lanes and await the unveiling of the location of the secret den. A back door opens and we enter through a narrow inferno that is the Emmilou kitchen.
The “inferno” entrance, or the Emmilou kitchen
Candlelight and fresh produce
Past the bar area
The terrace is closed and Emmilou is beautifully transformed into an intimate space with mood lighting, flickering thick candles and tea lights floating in silver goblets. The guests include small groups of diners, couples and a solo diner. The ambience is relaxed, romantic and as sensual as always.
The menu tonight has a paddock-to-plate ethos with five set courses using locally sourced, organic and farm-style food. There is also an option to match wine with each course but being a weeknight, we opt for a bottle of 2010 Telmo Rodriguez ‘basa’ Verdejo from Rueda in Spain, a fruity and aromatic white wine to share between the four of us.
Good friends and conversations ensure that the almonds with chilli and sherry vinegar don’t linger on the plate. Neither do the glossy marinated green and black manzanillo olives, which are incredibly soft and release their flavour on contact in the mouth.
Split Pea and Ham Soup
The first course, Split Pea and Ham Soup, is served rustic style in an earthenware dish with an accompanying board of sourdough bread, a knob of butter and a little salt on the side. Warming and comforting, the soup is velvety smooth, with tender and smoky pieces of ham hock and asparagus.
Golden and Red Beets
Next are the Golden and Red Beets, a textural salad that marries the fresh flavours of crunchy beets, manzanillo olives and cherry tomatoes with the creaminess of the Woodside goats cheese from Adelaide Hills. A dish that is blamed for “stealing the last bit from your boyfriend’s portion”.
The music tonight is more laid back than on the previous occasion and that of the happy hour, matching the intimate and romantic mood of the dimly-lit Emmilou. The mix of Frank Sinatra, Bob Marley, Gorillaz, Manu Chau, The Roots and the odd French song take me back to my interview with Chris Cranswick-Smith when he talked about his taste in music.
We move on to the 2008 Buil y Giné ‘giné giné‘ Samsó, Garnacha, a spicy and earthy red wine from Priorat in Spain.
The sensory journey continues with the tantalising aroma from the Grilled Spatchcock, served simply and in rustic style. The spatchcock is moist and tender, with a hint of smoke. The sweetness from the pumpkin chutney and muscatel grapes is balanced with the fragrant flavour from the lemon thyme and makes it a moreish dish.
Braised Beef Shin
The fourth course seduces the eye with its depth of colour. The melt-in-the-mouth texture of the Braised Beef Shin, the rich and decadent jus, and the delicate flavours of the young ginger and baby turnips make it a hearty and comforting dish. Grilled corn, jacket spuds topped with sour cream and chives are served as an accompaniment.
Bread and Butter Pudding
Dessert soon follows with a generous portion of Bread and Butter Pudding, with dates and cashews and served with tinned peaches. While the presentation alone makes an apt finale to the meal, the luxuriant taste with a hint of spice is one that lingers on the memory the following day.
Dutschke Tokay, Giné Giné red, Basa Verdejo
I end the meal with a glass of Dutschke Tokay from the Barossa Valley, a great match with rich and decadent dessert.
Fresh produce and wine on display
Calle to Cavern is a well-executed and fun event that combines the thrills of the unknown with a themed menu and delivers a sensory journey. From the sounds of Emmilou, to the tantalising tastes of the paddock-to-plate menu, the presentation and aroma of the dishes, and the frissons of excitement as each step in the evening unravels, you are treated to a sensational experience that you will be longing to repeat.
The inaugural Calle to Cavern Crave Sydney event was held on Wednesday 5 October 2011.
Our warmest thanks to Chris Cranswick-Smith and the Calle to Cavern team at Emmilou Tapas Bar for having us as guests at this inaugural event.
Emmilou Tapas Bar
413 Bourke Street
Surry Hills Sydney NSW 2010
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