When planning a dinner event, it can be difficult to impress all guests. Differing tastes, opinions and needs must be taken into consideration, and catered to. Now imagine hosting a room full of passionate foodies with discerning palates – that’s a challenge. And once your guests take their first bite, you’ll know whether your event is a smashing success, or a frightening flop.
As a soft hush fell upon the elegant Fireside Room at Woolshed in Docklands, guests sampling their first entree of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival Australis Wine Dinner, it was obvious this night was already a smash hit.
The group, welcomed by traditional Indigenous dancers performing pieces from their home near Gariwerd, or the Grampians, embarked on this Australian culinary journey in the highest spirits.
The event promised delicious wines from Oakridge and Taltarni vineyards, expertly paired with fantastic food, created with some uniquely Australian ingredients. A promise that, from the first taste of Gippsland eye fillet carpaccio with Warrigal greens and horseradish mascarpone, was delivered.
“The Woolshed loves to work with local ingredients where possible,” says Woolshed Event Manager Lee Cleal. “We are big supporters of using ingredients which are unique and different, that you might not see in everyday supermarkets or kitchens.”
This championing of local, often native ingredients was highlighted in every menu item. Stunning seafood, local fruits and cheeses the hero of each dish. Bush and heirloom tomato salsa with grilled baby octopus and butter sauce was a delight. Performing a precarious balancing act of rich, umami and salty – the end product was a sensory success.
The wine pairing for each course was no mere afterthought. Like all good relationships, each glass brought the best out of the dish, and vice versa. Representing Oakridge and Taltarni vineyards, each wine was presented in detail.
“Yarra Valley is known for its pinot and chardonnay varietals,” smiled Leon Thomas from Oakridge Wines. “The area produces world class whites and light reds.”
It was a beautiful scene – long, grazing-style tables adorned with a rich palette of wines and dishes, Victoria Harbour glimmering at one end of the impressive Fireside room. As the evening progressed and bellies filled, many a guest would gaze out over the harbour with a look of complete contentment.
“We decided to hold our event in the stunning Fireside room this evening,” says Lee. “The rustic backdrop of the Fireside room really works with our theme.”
Often a space for lavish social and corporate events, the dark, earthy tones of the room enhanced the focus of the evening – a celebration of beautiful, native ingredients, from the soil of Victoria. Ingredients which, thanks to the hands of Woolshed’s talented chefs, were transformed into true culinary delights.
“We were so excited to bring in native elements to our food,” says Lee, “and to include a performance from our traditional Indigenous dancers, as a true representation of our great country.”
Each dish effortlessly married native ingredients with European influences, forming a whole new take on tradition. This ability to flow between styles can often fall into a trap of appearing forced, or disjointed. But the flow between the dishes, wines and atmosphere moved without pause.
Therein lies Woolshed’s greatest strength. On the same night half of the restaurant was delivering regular menu items to hungry patrons, a room full of guests with discerning palates were experiencing great fine dining. The space itself, which is often host to cocktail parties, canapés and boisterous events, was cleverly rearranged to complement the mood.
It was a wonderfully faultless night, celebrating the best of what Australian ingredients have to offer. But also, showcasing what this chameleon of a venue is capable of.