One of the things I love about Good Food Month is that I get to experience food from all inspirations and cultures, all at my doorstep.
And this time, at Meat Market South Wharf, it’s a bit of the Maori culture, with an Urban Hangi.
A Hangi is basically a method of slow cooking meat – a big hole is dug in the ground, where a fire is lit and specially chosen rocks are heated, before having meat wrapped in wet sacks lowered and buried into the ground, where it cooks in the residual heat for the whole day, resulting in fall apart, tender meat that’s earthy and delicious.
But here in South Wharf in Melbourne, there is a bit of a lack of, ground, so to speak. And so the team at Meat Market, lead by Chef Tony Moss, has decided to create their own bit of dirt – in a skip.
meatres metres of dirt is shovelled into this skip, compacted, and then a hole dug out again to begin the hangi process. Chef was there at the restaurant lighting fires at 6am, and the meat put in at about 11, to be unveiled at about 6:30, after a long 7 and a half hour cooking time.
But as excited as I always am to get straight to the main event (the food!), the Meat Market had very kindly planned some other activities to make our night memorable.
But yes, a bite first. In this case, it came in the form of New Zealand oysters, still brimming with their briny liquor.
Then on to a gumboot tossing competition!
Don’t know what that is? Well I didn’t either. But it’s exactly that. Whomever can fling/throw/float a gumboot furthest wins! There were many attempts, but it really got tense when it came down to the last two men: one of whom threw it like a discus, the other like a frisbee. It was close, but after a lot of gumboot-in-tree-action, Mr Discus-man took out the trophy with his superior technique.
After this bit of pre-dinner workout, we were seated, and warmly welcomed by Chef Tony in Maori, and were informed that we could have opportunities to have free drinks…if we could answer trivia questions about New Zealand. For example: What is the original name of kiwifruit? Chinese gooseberry!
And free drink for you, and you, and everyone gets a free drink!
We started with a Cold Entree Platter to share. Marinated NZ Mussels, Smoked Eel pate, Seaweed Salsa, House cured King Ora Salmon and Sea Urchin butter were served with sweet fermented potato bread. The salmon was deliciously firm and lightly cured in a salt and sugar cure for two days, and the bread, oh the bread! Steamed potato is mashed and mixed with sugar and a touch of flour, and left to ferment. The result produces a cloud of vodka fumes, and a starter that produces a lightish yeast-free bread! Not quite light-as-air, but the lightest bread I’ve had that’s been sans yeast. Very impressive.
Then it was onto the main event: pork shoulder that’s been cooked in the hangi, served on ‘edible dirt‘ – black bread that’s been flavoured with coriander seeds, fennel and other flavours – with vials of jus, and sides of sweet potato, indigo potato, and a watercress salad.
The pork had been brined in a salt and sugar solution, with the addition of Kowa Kowa, a type of bush basil. A touch of vinegar was added to help firm up the proteins in the meat, and the result was a delicately flavoured piece of meat that held all of the moisture and tenderness that brining and slow cooking could give you. I especially enjoyed cutting off bits of the fat beneath the rind and pairing that with a mouthful of leaner meat – it created a bite so satisfying that I nearly forgot all about the jus!
When had with the abundance of sides, I was just about ready to roll home in a self-induced food coma.
So it was probably a good time to take a breather and have a wine raffle! Because, well because.
Lots of laughs were had all around, and then dessert: Smoked pear frangipane, served with a mascarpone gel and a slice of dried kiwi, for crunch. Thin slices of sweet pear was smoked in-house with beech wood, adding a coarse, raspy flavour that kept all the other sweet elements grounded. The mascarpone gel added a much-needed note of acidity to cut through the richness, and the dried kiwifruit – my favourite part of dessert – tasted a bit like kiwifruit candy that you can get, but much more delicate and light.
I was singularly impressed by the thought and knowledge that went behind the food, then found out that Chef Tony had actually worked in the Fat Duck with Heston’s team, and also holds progression, understanding and learning about how food works in high regard.
It was such a fun night, and what really struck me, beyond all the delicious food, was the laughter. Everyone at the table seemed to either be from New Zealand or have close New Zealand connections, and I was completely bowled over by the hospitality and welcome by the team behind the dinner, and the easy camaraderie that was instantly fostered amongst the diners with the encouragement of the Meat Market.
Too bad the hangi doesn’t happen more often. Although, there is Ribs night on Tuesdays…
Insatiable Munchies dined as guests of The Age’s Good Food Month and Meat Market South Wharf.