Wow. When did managing to grab a canape at a restaurant party become trickier than scoring a table at El Bulli or a front-row seat at Paris Fashion Week next to Anna Wintour??
Earlier this week, I attended the launch party of "March Into Merivale" and I swear, I had to deploy guerilla tactics and my best jiu-jitsu moves to even get near a piece of food. I mean, kudos for Merivale for hosting such a popular party and treating everyone to free food and drinks, but I kind of felt like a BBC reporter in a war-zone refugee camp, with a UN truck about to unload relief rations.
I saw people elbowing their way to the food stations, trays of tiger prawns and mayonnaise disappearing into thin air before you could say 'yum', and waiters stepping out of the kitchen into the ballroom as if going to war.
Some of the veteran waiters seemed to think that surely, if they held their trays long enough high above their heads, they could reach the back of the room to supply people with much-needed liver parfait canapes and mini-bowls of lobster bisque. Think again.
In the end I had to retreat downstairs to a much less crowded space and was able to snatch a couple of (really good) sushis from Sushi Choo.
Food in danger
Sushi chef "Samurai" Nobuyuki Ura from Sushi-e and his team feeling the heat
Having said that, I urge you to check out the March Into Merivale Program - the two-month food extravaganza promises to be a much more civilised affair than its packed-to-the-rafters opening party. For the second consecutive year, hospitality superstar Justin Hemmes and his team of talented chefs have put together a stellar line-up of special events and dinners, with a quirky 'superhero' theme. Think poolside dinners, pop-up laneway dinners, vintage Champagne night and dining by candlelight. Now we're talking.
March Into Merivale... on a budget
If you're on a budget, there's plenty for you to choose from without hurting your hip pocket. Wanna know my Top-5 favourite picks?
1) $33 lunch and dinner offers across Merivale's all 9 restaurants, Monday to Friday, 12-2pm and 6-8pm. Hard to beat. Menus change regularly but just to give you an idea, you could feast on a pan-rosted jewfish fillet on pepperonata at Est, or a Teppan grilled Western Australian marron, with laksa dressing and jasmine fried rice at Teppanyaki.
2) Monday Night Movies at Ash Street Cellar. Each night, chef Lauren Murdoch will create tapas that match the film's origin (Italy, France, Spain, Germany) - treating guests to an outdoor urban experience like no other. The price is $35pp and includes the film, tapas and a glass of wine / beer. I'm so going to see "Amelie" on March 15th, go France! Besides it's a nice tie-up with the Sydney French Film Festival (March 4-21).
3) $25 Wine Trade Show in the Ivy Room on March 30. Linger over more than 80 wines from around Australia and the world, and have a chat with Merivale's award-winning sommelier, Franck Moreau.
4) $30 cheese & wine night at Tank Stream Bar, Establishment on Feb 23 and March 9th. Taste a wide selection of Australia's most amazing cheeses (yes, there is such a thing) and tap into their sommeliers' advice about wine matching.
5) Duck and Pinot Noir night at Bistrot CBD on April 8th, a $50 two-course dinner for Sydney's flock of duck aficionados.
And of course, don't forget to enter the Oodles of Doodles competition - it's free! Bring a pencil, pen and your artistic flair to any venue and leave a doodle on a festival serviette to be in the running to win an indulgent weekend for 2 at Establishment Hotel, with drinks and dinners on the house.
March Into Merivale: events worth the splurge
Now if money's not an issue, knock yourself out!! You'll love March Into Merivale's exclusive events and wine tastings. My own favourite best include:
1) Raid the Cellar: every Tuesday during the festival, Merivale's head sommelier Franck Moreau encourages diners to raid the wine cellar. I know I will. Spend $100 or more per person on wine and enjoy a three-course meal on the house. The perfect opportunity to try all these very special wines you've dreamed about - Grange, anyone? PS: you must book for this event, no walk-ins.
2) Vintage Champagne night at Est on March 20. As guests sample a diverse range of Champagne from multiple regions and houses, the Est kitchen will send out complementary taste sensations. I must confess to having a soft spot for this event, considering I'm getting married in the Champagne vineyards later this year. Will feel like a wedding rehearsal! $120pp.
3) Generation Next dinner at Establishment, on April 12 and 13. Merivale and Australian Gourmet Traveller magazine have joined forces to select 6 up and coming chefs from around Australia. Come and experience their flamboyant cuisine at this special 6-course dinner. $170pp including matching wines.
4) Poolside dinners at Ivy Pool on Feb 23, March 9 and March 23. While sitting under the stars, guests will enjoy a candlelit three-course dinner held poolside. How romantic is that? Beware, this is an Ivy first so hurry up for bookings. $90pp including wine.
5) Nose to Tail cow degustation at Mad Cow on Feb 24. The ultimate multiple-course degustation dinner for beef maniacs. $80pp + wine.
So tell me, which of the above events would you rather go to? Anything else in the March Into Merivale program that caught your attention? If you're going to any event or dinner, I'd love to get your feedback. If not, is there any other poolside dining experience you'd like to recommend, in Australia or beyond? Let us know!
March into Merivale - 15 February to 15 April. Visit www.marchintomerivale.com.
Bookings essential for all March Into Merivale events. Call 02 9240 3000 and mention March Into Merivale.
For your daily chance to win a meal, you can also tweet about what makes your mouth water from the March Into Merivale lineup (you'll need to include the #MIM2010 hashtag). You can also follow the Merivale chefs at @merivalechefs.