Last month I joined the Sydney food faithful at Lambfest, hosted by Urban Food Market‘s owner Tim Elwin. Having been to the original ‘Goosefest’ (with thanks to Karen from Citrus and Candy for the fantastic review in the link), a concept inspired by the desire for traditional Chinese roasted goose, I was both excited and intrigued at the prospect
“What’s a ‘Lambfest’?”, you may ask. Or a ‘Goosefest’, for that matter. Essentially, it’s an opportunity for Urban Food Market to showcase the fantastic produce they have available, which is all sustainably produced. This time around, it was Bultarra Saltbush Lamb, and the venue was the warm and friendly Coast Restaurant in Darling Harbour.
According to Bultarra’s website, ‘Saltbush Lamb’ is given the name due to what it predominantly grazes on. Old Man Saltbush, or Atriplex nummularia, draws salinity from the ground, which flavours the meat of the sheep that graze on it. The plant is also high in Vitamin E, which natural tenderises the meat as the animal grazes.
O.K, science lesson over. There’s pictures of food to drool over.
On arrival we were given a glass of the 2008 Taltarni Brut Tache. While I am all for being greeting with sparkling wine as soon as I walk in the door (readers, take note), this one just didn’t do it for me. I kinda felt like I was being welcomed with a glass of Jacob’s Creek Reserve.
The canapé accompanying the sparkling wine (and officially the first course) was the Saltbush Lamb sausage made by Dolce Vita with red currant gel.
The sausage was perfectly seasoned and a great salty contrast to the fizz of the sparkling wine. Unfortunately, by the time it got out to the crowd, it was cold. The congealed fat seemed to mask most of the lamb’s own flavour, which meant that there wasn’t much of a chance to savour what was meant to be star of the show.
However, the idea of getting the crowd to mingle before being seated for the rest of the courses was a sterling one, as it gave me the chance to meet the farmers themselves.
Time came for the crowd to be seated, with many rushing around trying to find their name on a seating list, much like a wedding.
Waiting for us at the table was a good quality olive oil and bread. There’s nothing quite like it when you’re absolutely starving and hanging out for your first course to turn up, is there?
Next course was a Consommé of Saltbush Lamb with Truffled Sheep Feta.
The consommé was dubbed by some as the ‘New Jewish Penicillin’, being likened to a classic chicken broth, but with a distinct and quite lovely lamb flavour. The star here, in my opinion, was the truffled sheep feta with came on a small croûton with a sliver of lamb. It had an absolutely gorgeous umami flavour to it, and I could have skipped the consommé all together and just had a big plate of the feta and croûtons
The course was served with a glass of 2009 Philip Shaw ‘Dreamer’ Viognier.
The wine was lovely, though not outstanding, however, perfectly matched to the saltiness of the broth and the umami of the feta. Nice work.
Then came the most was the most intriguing dish of the menu, the Kibbeh Nayeh.
According to the menu, the Kibbeh Nayeh was twice ground, Middle Eastern spiced, lamb, which is traditionally served raw. A cooked version was served along side. The general consensus on our table, much to our surprise, was that the raw minced lamb was far superior to the cooked, with much gentler seasoning that gave the quality and flavour of the lamb a chance to shine.
The Kibbeh Nayeh was served with the 2008 Philip Shaw ‘The Wire Walker’ Pinot Noir – a fitting name, consideration the trepidation with which we tasted raw lamb.
Fourth course was the Slow-cooked Saltbush Lamb breast, celeriac puree and seared scallops.
Apologies for the low quality photography, may camera is on it’s way out. Anyway, the slow-cooked lamb was gorgeous! The scallops were perfectly cooked, sweet, and perfectly matched the heartiness of the lamb. But the celeriac puree? Hello? It tasted more like Paris Mash. I got the impression the restaurant ordered in one celeriac and decided to spread it out amongst the 100 or so diners.
But all was not lost – the course was perfectly matched to an outstanding wine, the 2009 Innocent Bystander Pinot Gris. It was, by far, my favourite on the night.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a photo of the wine in the glass, so you’ll just have to imagine the beauty of the crystal clear colour.
Next was the Braised Neck Agnolotti with Balsamic and Gremolata.
Beautiful braised lamb inside lovely silky pasta. Hard to screw that up, you’d think. ARGH! BALSAMIC VINEGAR IS NOT A SAUCE! Well, that’s my personal opinion. Give me plain old olive oil, that’ll do. Adding balsamic to the pasta dish makes it look like you have no idea what you’re doing, in my books – but maybe that’s just me.
The course was served with another 2009 Innocent Bystander, this time the pinot noir. Again, another fitting name in that a surprisingly perfectly matched and (not surprisingly) lovely wine was a party to this crime against food.
The last of the meat-based courses was a Roasted Saddle of Lamb, Chicory Tartin and Broad Beans.
Again, apologies for the quality of the picture – I had to take the rest of them with my iPhone as my camera decided it was going to bed for the evening. Maybe because it saw that we had been presented with fantastic lamb, but surrounding it were vegetables that were out of season, in the broad beans and roasted tomato. *headdesk*
Despite that, the chicory tart was lovely, though extremely sweet. It almost overpowered the lamb.
This course was served with a 2007 Brokenwood Shiraz. Absolutely beautiful stuff, and perfectly matched, once again.
As a palate cleanser, we were given an absolutely delightful pomegranate granita. It was perfectly sweet and tart, and exactly the foil for the heaviness of the previous lamb dishes.
Finally, we had the Sheep’s Yoghurt Pannacotta with raspberries and crostoli for the dessert course.
This was probably the ‘Wow’ dish of the night. The pannacotta was sweet, silky and not too tart, as you would expect. The raspberries provided just the right amount of acidity. However, the crostoli was revolting. Let’s face it, it was stale, and covering it up in icing sugar does not hide that fact, no matter how hard they tried. Luckily, the pannacotta itself was so good, I almost forgot about it.
The final course was served with Sandalford ‘Element’ Late Harvest wine.
The wine’s label describes it as a ‘soft sweet wine’, as opposed to a dessert wine, so I was expecting something a little drier and with a little more bite. Instead, it tasted just like a dessert wine. Not usually being a fan of dessert wines (there are the rare occasion when I do like them) and preferring something that contrasts the sweetness of the dessert, I found it a little disappointing. Nevertheless, on it’s own, it’s a lovely wine.
The idea of having dinners intended to show off great produce is on only a stroke of genius on the retailers part, but an excellent way to meet up with like-minded, food-loving, folk, make new friends, and catch up with old ones. Rumour has it that Urban Food Market will be hosting more of these dinners soon, so keep an eye out, as they really are a fun way to sample some of the best sustainable produce around.
Tim Elwin, Managing Director
Urban Food Market
Phone: 0411 727267
Fax: 02 8079 1124
The Roof Terrace
Cockle Bay Wharf
Darling Harbour NSW 2000
Phone: 02 9267 6700
Fax: 02 9267 6711