The Masterchef phenomenon has spread far and wide – originating in the UK, the Australian TV show has been running for several seasons, featuring some of this country’s (and the world’s) greatest chefs and dishes. It’s also achieved a foothold in the biggest TV market in the world – the US, with Gordon Ramsay presiding.

The brand is a marketer’s dream and, as such, it has been leveraged in various ways. American Express has got behind what foodies could consider the ultimate test – presenting Masterchef food to the masses, through a pop-up restaurant. Sydney has played host to the pop-up before but this year, for the first time, the concept has been rolled out in Melbourne – in a ‘big top’ constructed on a patio rooftop area usually occupied by tennis courts apparently, at the Crown complex. It’s a little ‘Cirque du Soleil meets fine dining’. A soaring marquee (with a mezzanine cocktail bar) hosts around 50 patrons on the main floor for two sittings a night.

The members of the Clean Plate Club reconvened for the pop-up experience. It felt a little odd being seated at 5.45pm for dinner but there was no way Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband (an honorary club member for the evening given the table booking was for four) would have survived until the late show at 8.30pm. On a typical Melbourne spring evening, we sat down to four courses featuring dishes created or inspired from various seasons of the TV series.

Masterchef pop up

Starched tablecloths and a bevy of waiters on hand.

There was a bevy of waiters clad in starched aprons, and an open view of the kitchen where Nuts About Town and FullAsAGoog (both huge fans of the show) did their own celebrity spotting. All of us slightly under the weather, for various reasons, we opted not to drink. After reviving the sommelier from his dead faint (just kidding) we tucked into the basket of ‘brasserie bread with Pepe Saya butter’ from series four of the Australian show. Greedy Girl couldn’t help but notice that, on the tables for two dotted around, they received the same amount of bread as our group of four.

There were choices for three of the four courses. First up was the Masterchef Garden.
Masterchef garden

Eat your veggies!

This was a bowl of sauce gribiche (somewhere in between a mayonnaise and a tartare sauce) topped with freeze-dried olive ‘soil’, with a range of pickled and raw vegetables. The batten of beetroot promptly went over to gluttonous husband. The sauce had a nice tang and the texture of the olive and the vegetables was quite nice but the ratio of ‘dip’ to vegetables was significant. Greedy Girl didn’t want to eat so much mayo.

Next up we chose from two starters. Greedy Girl and FullAsAGoog had master stock poached chicken with eggplant cream, white radish (daikon), soy and ginger.

Masterchef chicken dish

Asian-style poached chicken

This was an attractive-looking plate but Greedy Girl would have liked a little more seasoning – there wasn’t much flavour of the master stock or soy in evidence in her dish. Still, it was quite refreshing.
Nuts About Town and gluttonous husband took the oysters, a recipe from the season one winner Julie Goodwin.
Masterchef oysters

Oysters from the season 1 winner

Both commented they were pleasantly surprised to receive five Smoky Bay oysters topped with a Thai dressing and some crunchy shallots. It was a well-received dish.

Choice of main was next. FullAsAGoog and Nuts About Town both had pork.

Masterchef pop up main course

Maggie Beer’s pork loin

This was a Maggie Beer recipe. Roasted Northern Rivers pork loin with crackling, apple puree and a bacon jus studded with caraway seeds. While the crackling was a little schizophrenic (both crunchy and chewy), both girls commented the pork was soft and moist and the apple puree a lovely counterpoint.

Gluttonous husband had salmon.

MasterChef salmon

Salmon with one of my faves, zucchini flowers

This was baked Tasmania Petuna Atlantic salmon, served with Snowy River sea herbs, vine tomatoes and a zucchini flower stuffed with scallop. The salmon was beautifully moist and the stuffing in the zucchini flower very tasty. Gluttonous husband said he enjoyed the dish.

Greedy Girl had pappardelle tossed with mushrooms and beans with a splodge of pesto and parmesan cheese.

MasterChef pop up pasta

Looked good, but a bit gluggy

The flavours of the vegetables were very good. The beans were still slightly crunchy and the mushrooms well cooked. There was a sweetness to the sauce which was unexpected and not entirely welcome and the pasta tended to clump together which became a problem towards the end of the dish.

And so to dessert. FullAsAGoog, Nuts About Town and gluttonous husband all had strawberries and cream.

Masterchef strawberries

An outrageously sweet dish

Another Julie Goodwin dish, this was incredibly sweet. The strawberries had been reduced to almost a jammy consistency and were topped with a whipped orange blossom crème fraiche and some little strawberry jellies. The olive oil shortbreads were a highlight but sadly for Nuts About Town, she missed out on that element because of her allergy. She commented she would have welcomed another crunchy texture to round out her dish.
Greedy Girl, of course, went for chocolate.

MasterChef chocolate

‘Cadeau’, not gateau

This is a ‘Zokoko’ black forest ‘cadeau’ (not a gateau – mousse rather than cake, Greedy Girl was informed). This was served with cherry Gelato Messina and biscuit crumbs. It was quite pleasant, if a bit boozy.

As we prepared for our final little sweet tweet and to hit the road, one of the evening’s other sponsors, Lipton, offered us all our choice of tea from a new range of teabags. It was presented for us to choose in a very nice way- checking out which aroma appealed most.

Tea selection

A nice touch – the herbal tea selection

 It was then time for the Vegemite caramel chocolate cup.
Vegemite caramel cup

I know I’m an Aussie, but …

Non-Australian readers of this blog may not know exactly what Vegemite is. It’s a by-product of beer production, a paste made from leftover brewers’ yeast. Greedy Girl despises it, but decided to give this a go. Biting in, she got the full dollop of vegemite which completely ruined the chocolate and caramel ganache. Quickly, she drained the rest of her tea.

Despite the second sitting rapidly approaching (indeed, some diners had already been seated for the next round), we were not rushed through the food and the service was very good. The kitchen and cocktail bar area looked markedly more atmospheric in the night light.

FullAsAGoog and Nuts About Town were most content with their star spotting activities and chatted to a previous contestant who did the rounds of the tables. The kitchen itself was overseen by chef Monty Koludrovic, who was head chef for a time at Sydney’s Becasse, a fine-dining establishment that closed its doors in July 2012.

For a foodie experiment, it was a perfectly acceptable and fun evening. Was there enough of a ‘wow’ factor to encourage Greedy Girl to tune-in to Masterchef Australia next year? Probably not but she’s certainly better disposed towards watching than before this dinner.

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