Wellington on a Plate is New Zealand’s largest food festival, an annual event with offerings from lunchtime set menus to dinner deals from 110 of the region’s finest eateries.
Now in its fifth year, the festival will run from August 9 to 25 and will include hands-on activities such as dumpling making classes and a special event, Stag Night by Chef Jacob Brown of The Larder, which is a venison degustation dinner.
At a media dinner held at Sean’s Panorama in Bondi, here across the Tasman, Chef Jacob Brown presented a preview of Stag Night. Five courses of venison, with offal on the menu, were an experience that challenged the senses and preconceptions. Jacob is no stranger to Sydney, having worked at Tabou in Surry Hills (closed) and at Bennelong under Janni Kyritsis, who was present at this dinner. Cooking offal is his speciality and the Stag Night menu was “deer to his heart”.
Stag Night Menu
The menu card listed nothing but the part of the animal in relation to each course leaving everyone to ponder what would be served.
Chef Jacob Brown Introducing Each Course with Pete Gillespie
Each dish was paired with craft beer from the Garage Project, a boutique brewery from Wellington, which head brewer Pete Gillespie introduced with every course. Garage Project was started by two guys with a passion for brewing as a hobby who ended up turning it into a growing business.
Garage Project Craft Beer
Guests mingled over a zesty and bright Garage Project VPA (Venusian Pale Ale – 7.3% ) with lemon grass, kaffir lime leaf and grapefruit peel characters.
The first course was a fragrant and warming venison broth with marinated smoked heart with farro, celery with a little antler velvet added. The velvet, which is known for its medicinal and aphrodisiac properties, is removed from the antlers, dried, then ground and used in the broth. The smoky flavour of the soup was the highlight of the dish and the heart was very tender and flavoursome.
The dish was paired with Garage Project Red Rocks Reserve. Red Rocks is an area on south coast of Wellington, and the volcanic rocks are super heated to 500C in a wood fire then run through the grain and through pile of hot rocks. The process gives it a lot of caramelisation resulting n a beer with toffee characters and subtle fruit. The beer is aged in Pinot Noir barrels for six months.
Tongue and Cheek
The Tongue and Cheek Salad was a delight, with tender pieces of cheek lightly braised with juniper berries and stock. The tongue was poached, lightly salted for a couple of hours, then grilled, and served with orange segments and peppers.
The dish was paired with Garage Project Sauvin Nouveau (7.6%), a Pilsner base made using New Zealand hops to which 10% of unfermented Sauvignon Blanc from Palliser Estate Wines was added before they are fermented together. Crisp, intense with aromatic fruit, the beer has the nose of a Sauvignon Blanc wine with a dry finish.
The next course gave a nod to the burger competition that makes up part of the Wellington on a Plate festival. Seared venison liver was served in a burger with baby beetroot, onions and tomato. Piled high with a thick bun that was a little dry, the burger was difficult to eat and unlike previous dishes, the texture of the liver was not easy to mask.
The burger was matched with Garage Project L’il Red Rye, an aromatic and tasty brew with a spicy character from the rye, as well as caramel malts.
Venison sweetbread is difficult to obtain and is normally reserved for dog food, Jacob explained. The next dish pushed the boundaries of most guests’ comfort zone yet it had nothing to do with the dog reference. Sweet, creamy and succulent, the sweetbreads were lightly crumbed and served with a seasoned and very tender venison tartare topped with a raw egg. The challenge was to guess which part of the animal was used in the tartare. Later, it was revealed that it was heart, and the organ was circulated on a plate for all to see (photo).
The dish was paired with Garage Project Pernicious Weed, a brew that takes its name from the label given to hops in the 1500s when the tradition of using it in beer came into Britain. Hops were referred to as “wicked and pernicious weed” and the beer is a celebration of hops with a full hoppy flavour with grapefruit characters.
Dessert, which was made of tendons, was the most intriguing dish. The tendons have been dried then cooked slowly in acidulated water for 8 to 9 hours. After they were drained, they were cooked in sugar syrup which had its density increased gradually over the next few hours. The sugar seeps into the tendon and it turns into a candied tendon which is turned into a dessert, with chocolate parfait and pieces of pear to add a chewy texture.
The beer was equally impressive. With a label stating, “Tastes Like War”, the Garage Project Lord Cockswain’s Courage, Double Barrelled Edition (12.3%) is a delicious porter beer aged in ex Makers Mark bourbon barrels for 12 months. Rich, complex, with an oaky sweetness on the nose, the brew was by far the best Porter ever tasted.
L-R: Chef Jacob Brown (The Larder), Pete Gillespie (Garage Project)
Stag Night demonstrated that the nose to tail philosophy in dining can make a lasting impression and in some cases, it can convert diners with a new appreciation. Aside from the liver burger, every dish was delicious with the sweetbreads and heart tartare being the favourite. The range of craft beer from Garage Project complemented each course well, from the easy drinking VPA to the sensational Lord Cockswain’s Courage.
This taste of Wellington on a Plate was a well-executed teaser. Wellington is only a three hour flight from Sydney and the festival runs from August 9 to 25, 2013. You can find more information on the website below.
Stag Night media dinner was held at Sean’s Panorama on Tuesday 18 June 2013.
Wellington on a Plate
270 Campbell Pde
Bondi Beach, NSW 2026
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