For various reasons I have always missed out on the highly acclaimed ‘Taste of Joburg’ which takes place every year at Monte Casino. Determined to set wrongs to right, I finally made a plan over the past weekend to attend what has been described as the culinary event of the year.
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It’s easy to see why Monte Casino has been selected as the venue for this event which made its Johannesburg debut in 2006. Monte’s sun-kissed Tuscan style façade and well groomed surrounding gardens and attractions make for an incredibly appealing location which smacks of Europe.
Typically, the event spans four days featuring afternoon and evening ‘sessions’ during which time a variety of upmarket restaurants and gourmet food producers offer visitors a taste of their wares in exchange for ‘crowns’, the event’s official ‘currency’. At this year’s event, 16 restaurants including Blue Feather, dw eleven-13, La Cucina di Ciro and Yamato amongst others set up shop alongside a large variety of producers under white marquees.
On entering the event grounds, my partner and I made a beeline for the restaurants but were diverted by United Meat Packer’s range of delicious pork cuts and chorizo sausages, and ‘Daniela’s’ luscious, rainbow hued macaroons, both a treat in their own right.
Also en-route to the restaurants was Independent Liquor’s range of exotic cream liqueurs, ‘radical’ sours and Penderyn single malt Welsh whisky (or wysgi) as the Welsh refer to it. I admittedly initially balked at the cream liqueurs which included bubble gum and strawberry flavours but found them to be fairly likeable in small doses. Needless to say such drinks are perfect for nightclubs and the like.
Next door’s ‘High Road’ Bordeaux style red blended wines were more refined as was ‘Kong Tai’s’ sushi which is arguably the best I’ve ever tasted. Not far from Kong Tai was ‘Aficionado’s’, a specialist premium online liquor retailer (which sold out of certain brands before Saturday’s afternoon session was over) as well as the distinctive black and orange coloured Jägermeister truck which served all manner of Jägermeister based cocktails throughout the afternoon to an enthusiastic crowd.
Deciding it was high time to try something substantial, my partner and I spent seven crowns or R35 each on Piccolo Mondo’s citrus-soy, slow braised pork belly paired with a cheese potato croquette, rosemary ratatouille and apple Calvados puree. Oddly enough, although it sounded amazing, it proved rather disappointing. Keeping in mind the nature of the cut, my partner and I both thought it was overly fatty, bland and under heated.
Moving on in search of something to cleanse our palettes, we came across ‘Arte Gelato’ where we bought cups of unbelievably flavourful watermelon sorbet and hazelnut gelato which we washed down with wine tasters from Whalehaven. While relishing our wine, we noticed people queuing up for BRM’s sticky ribs which were obviously a hit.
‘Olive Pride’s’ olive oil, ‘Naughty’s But Nice’ decadent seven deadly sin themed chocolate truffles, Sally William’s nougat and home-made Thai cuisine were but a few of the products we came across on the way to our next taster meal which was served by Taste’s ‘Pop-Up’ restaurant. This particular mini meal consisted of gnocchi accompanied by pancetta, parmesan foam and pea fronds. A respectable nibble, I felt it could have done with a little more zest.
One of the highlights of the day was next on the, ahem, menu. ‘Fine Brandy. By Design’ offered three meal pairings at their stylish marquee. I chose the braised lamb shoulder with polenta and mint sauce which was partnered with a robust Klipdrift Gold Julep. The lamb was cooked to perfection, the polenta was creamy and the mint tones of the sauce and julep created just the right balance. The fact that the pairing cost just six crowns (or R30) was an added bonus in my opinion.
Myriad additional products were on offer at Taste including health appliances, Falksalt’s salts, Darling Beer’s slow brewed beer, Kleiner Keiler’s spicy cherry liqueur, Fine & Raw’s chocolate (‘cunningly absent of sugar, dairy, additives and other kak’) jam and cheese from La Petit France, ‘Black Mamba’s Swaziland chili sauce, beautiful cupcakes, delicious pestos, fudge, olives, candy infused vodka…the list goes on. Visitors could also hone their cooking skills at the Pick ‘n Pay Wine and Canapé experience or be entertained at the Fresh Living Chefs Theatre.
We rounded off the afternoon session with pina coladas from ‘Rocket’ and a delicious mini chicken souvlaki wrap from ‘Prosopa’ which we ate at Taste’s tables while listening to a live band. Suffice to say I’m glad I finally made it to the Taste of Joburg. It’s a great concept and was well worth the wait.