Tuesday, 12 March 2013

'Pura Tierra' at True South Brewery with Chef Martin Molteni from Buenos Aires

The Melbourne Food and Wine Festival is resplendent with unique, flavoursome one-off events. Take the Everleigh Tram Car, that turned Melbourne's beloved tram restaurant into a speakeasy on wheels, serving cocktails inspired by our magnificent city. Or the famous Langham Masterclasses, a focal event that draws international crowds every year to see the discussions and demonstrations from some of the leading chefs in the world today.

One particularly unique event that took place for the first time this year was the Pura Tierra event held by True South Brewery in Black Rock. A contemporary Argentinian restaurant, the dining area surrounds the brewing room where True South brews their own beer on site. Upstairs you will find the stunning events area, cleverly themed white to reflect the evening sun bouncing off the ocean. The front of the large room opens out onto a large balcony area, directly facing the sun setting over the sea. Tonight, the events room is decorated in line with this years festival theme of 'earth'. The tables are white, decorated with wooden beams, recycled paper and studded with freshly baked loaves of sourdough topped with charred rosemary spiders. The entrance holds a cleverly styled pile of fresh vegetables, and a smiling hostess offers a tray of house-brewed cider as you walk in.

Chef Martin Molteni, flown in for the event from Buenos Aires, designed a contemporary Argentinian banquet along with True South Brewery's head chef Mauro Callegari. Each course was matched with a beer or wine - all beers of course, brewed on site. Most spectacular was the fact that the beers were brewed in consultation with Chef Callegari to perfectly suit the flavours and textures of each dish. Most peculiar was the corn and chipotle beer, with the distinct scent of sweet roasted corn and finishing with a delicious warmth from the chillies.

Our hostess informed us that Pura Tierra is a 'make or break' event. For the evening they certainly pulled out all the stops; custom decorations; celebrity international chef; what must of been months of planning on behalf of the kitchen, front of house and brewery; and an absolutely spectacular menu right down to the little touches of smoked beetroot tasting spoons and Pao De Queijo to keep diners happy while seating everyone. It was the little touches that really made the event - the tango dancers, a serenading guitarist, the talks from the chefs and brewers and all the food and drink that appeared on our table over and above what was listed on the menu. At half the price of similar festival events at other restaurants (most not including alcohol), the evening was an absolute bargain.

To start the five course banquet was a fresh, crisp dish of kingfish ceviche (Pesca Marinada), a perfect cool start to a long meal on a hot Melbourne summer day. Next came my favourite, the Humita, a meat pastry-free pie with a distinct sweetness (from sweet potato perhaps?), topped with meringue. I was previously under the impression Humitas were in the same family as the Mexican Tamales, corn cakes steamed inside corn husks. Regardless of the vocabulary, this pie balanced the intense sweetness with a rich meatiness perfectly. Course three had me a little scared as an intense avoider of offal, but in the excitement of the event I found myself eating Molleja Glaceada; sweetbreads glazed in an intensely flavoured sweet glaze. Stunningly prepared and with delicious sides, I am sure that a more experienced offal eater would have enjoyed this course more than me. However, to its credit, I ate more of it than the entire amount of offal I have eaten previously.

Course four and we were starting to feel quite full; however, this was the main course and there was no way we would miss out on this one: Ojo De Bife (ribeye) topped with intense green, herby chimichurri. Tasty but the least interesting of the offerings, it sat atop a pile of roasted potatoes and tomatoes. The dessert was perhaps the most unique: Cacao, Zapallo, Maiz. A combination bowl filled with various tasty treats, each element was interesting on its own yet it was when those flavours combined that they really shone. Smooth chocolate combined with thick, creamy dulce de leche and small pieces of a super sweet pumpkin (zapallo). Studded with white corn, an interesting Argentinian delicacy that had a unique consistency in that it was less juicy and firmer on the inside than conventional corn.

To see a restaurant put so much effort and soul into a once off event was refreshing. Some of these pre-pay once off events seem to cheapen things up as diners have already paid for their meal - I think they sometimes feel less of a need to impress. However Pura Tierra felt like it could have been the reception for a wedding. More food and drink than you could ever hope to consume, a beautiful communal vibe, and meticulously designed and decorated.

I give Pura Tierra 10/10 stars as far as Festival events go. I will certainly be returning to try their conventional restaurant menu, and will let you know how their everyday menu stacks up to their magnificent first impression.

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