If you read Part 1 of my George Calombaris story, you’d know how I nearly missed this invite of a lifetime.
It was a privilege to be one of the invitees for this 6 Course Press Club Lunch put forth by George Calombaris and his team. 15th August, 2015, will be a day to remember as far as culinary memories go.
We were asked to be there by 11.30am so that we could hob nob with the other invitees and be there in time for the sit down lunch that would start at 12.30pm. I feel this was a cunning ploy to ensure that people don’t walk in as per usual IST standards, well after the service has begun.
The lunch started off at 1.15pm. The organization of the event was spot on. There were 15 tables, 8 people to a table, with pre-assigned seating and our meal choice had been noted down a few days before the event.
The first course was common for the vegetarians and non vegetarians. It was Beetroot, Feta, Poppadum and Yogurt.
If you’re a follower of Masterchef Australia, you’ll realise what a hot favourite beets were in the last season. While no further details were revealed about this dish, I could taste beets done a few different ways. There were roasted beets, pickled beets and a beet puree for sure, each with some difference in intensity of the beetroot flavour. The pickled beet complemented the sweet, somewhat bland flavour of the roasted beets and the puree.
There was a poppadum (pappadam) or a fried South Indian papad sitting on top of the beet melange, something that George explained was a local touch to the dish. Small dollops of yogurt plus feta, beet puree and grated Parmesan topped the Poppadum. There was also a delicate fennel shoots garnish. If someone had told me, here, eat this beetroot with papad, I’d totally say no. But here, a handful of ingredients were presented in a completely sophisticated and minimalistic way, that made you want to dig in and clean up the dish.
The non-vegetarian option of this course, was the same as served in the tasting menu of the previous day – Sea bass with miso eggplant and celery. The vegetarian version of this course was bell pepper stuffed with a kind of herby pilaf, placed on top of an eggplant and miso puree, garnished with celery and some microgreens. The miso in the eggplant puree gave it a hit of umami, and the celery bits adding a crispness to the dish. I could not figure if the rice was more Greek or Indian in origin though.
If you followed Season 7 of Masterchef Australia, this was Greek Salad – Monokrome, served in the Press Club Challenge, which Georgia had to prepare. While the menu listed this as course 4, George announced that he was serving this as course 3. I’m assuming it was to break the monotony between two fish-seafood courses back to back.
It was all things green and green has never looked this stunning or tasted this good. The non-vegetarians got a similar looking salad. I presume that there were crispy bacon bits as the garnish while the vegetarians had some seed-grain based crumble on the top. There was broccoli, asparagus, crispy fried basil leaf, all sitting on top of a verdant green puree. The flavours were complex, and there was nothing bitter in the green puree, which the greens tend to acquire if prepared in advance and sitting around for a while. Everything was liberally doused in extra virgin olive oil, which is GC’s favourite ingredient after all.
That’s how you clean up your plate of greens when it is as delicious as this.
While the menu read Prawn Saganaki, Tomato and Mustard, the dish was more of a giant tortellini. Saganaki is a Greek / Turkish appetizer of fried cheese, and it was more relevant in the vegetarian version where it was a large tortellini stuffed to its gills with feta. Cherry tomatoes bursting with juices, swimming in mustard flecked extra virgin olive oil made the simple sauce for this tortellini. While I’m a big lover of feta, there was way too much feta stuffed into this, even for my liking. This may come across as a nobody picking a fault in an epic chef’s menu, but 75% ricotta and 25% feta would have been a much better option. My fellow diner loved the prawn filling and did comment that the portion was quite large, given that it was part of a 6 course meal.
The vegetarian version of this course was a filo pastry pie with spiced potato filling, an onion-leek puree, fondant potato and a grilled eggplant. The South Indian touches to this were fried curry leaf garnish and onion rings done onion-bhajji style.
The meat version was Lamb, Onion and Fondant Potato. The lamb cutlet was beautifully Frenched (not visible from this angle) and it was accompanied by a Filo pastry cigar stuffed with lamb mince. Instead of the leek onion puree, the meat dish came with a lamb jus.
Rice pudding, salted caramel and rice cream – if I had not already tasted this the previous day at the tasting session, it would have completely blown me away. Rizogalo is a traditional Greek rice pudding, which George said they had prepared with Japanese sticky rice. Paired with a deadly salted caramel sauce, a ‘rice cream’ which I’m assuming was an ice cream made using rice milk and a crunchy crumble of pistachios and crushed shortcrust pastry, it was an absolutely smashing finale to what was one of the most memorable meals of my lifetime.
The entire meal had George on the microphone, explaining each course, taking questions from the audience, going to every single table, taking photos, signing autographs for each of the 140+ people. While I was already a big fan, I came back home a bigger fan of his patience, and his love for people in general, and his affable, down-to-earth personality. He shared some gems in responses to people’s questions and I hope to do a post on that sometime soon!
The cherry on top of this afternoon was a signed copy of George’s book, George Calombaris (Lantern Cookery Classics) and a photo with the man himself.
Many thanks to Zomato, Gold Rush Entertainment, George Calombaris his team, JW Marriot Bangalore and the entire team of chefs who worked hard to get out these beautiful plates of food.