By Becca Johnstone
70-76 Alexander Street
Cow, Pig, Rabbit. It sounds like the start of a Beatrix Potter tale, full of wilful optimism, polite adventures and probably a little girl named Fanny. Cow, Pig and Rabbit are probably the best of friends – in reality it turns out they are… on a plate at least! Last week Danny and I were lucky enough to attend the Cow, Pig, Rabbit dinner held at MUMU Grill in Crows Nest, hosted by MUMU, Alvin Quah and Denea Buckingham.
A little about our hosts…
Supplying the Cow we have MUMU Grill, Sydney’s only sustainable steakhouse, owned by Chef Craig Macindoe. It is also home to Sydney’s first Jamon Bar. Keen participants in the Slow Food Movement, MUMU believes in sustainable, seasonal and regional produce. Located in central Crows Nest, this relaxed and funky restaurant was our setting.
The Pig for the evening came from Alvin Quah. Most people will be familiar with Alvin from his efforts on the past season of Masterchef – and what great efforts they were! Life PMC (Post Masterchef) has seen Alvin launch his own website, Cinnamon Pig, featuring a blog and recipes. He has also been cooking at a number of great restaurants around Sydney, and even a couple of TV appearances on Keri-Anne and The Circle.
The night’s Rabbit was brought forth by Denea Buckingham, aka Jess Rabbit, Editor in Chief of Gourmet Rabbit magazine. A simply brilliant food magazine, written by industry pro’s for industry pro’s and Foodies alike. Denea brings together exploring, creating, foraging, sipping, discovering and munching in Gourmet Rabbit – a crash course in local gastronomy.
It was a delightful, warm Spring night and it kicked off with 18 month Jamon Serrano and a glass of Poverty Hill Riesling 2008 at the Jamon Bar. All wines were provided by United Cellars. The Jamon was passed around and Danny and I shared the exact same thought: the Italians do it better. Blasphemous? Possibly. But we had only weeks earlier experienced the best Prosciutto di Parma at the Italian Festival. It’s really just something that comes down to personal preference, and we prefer the pungency of prosciutto more. The Riesling had a bit of hype around it having been written up by Huon Hooke a week prior. It didn’t have much freshness on nose or palate, and not a lot of fruit either – if you like those keroseney type Rieslings than go for it!
We took our seats and after a brief introduction from our hosts, the first course arrived: a tasting plate of pork and rabbit rilletes with an orange and date chutney with beef knuckle onion rings. What I loved about the rilletes was it really tasted like rabbit – often I find that rich flavour can be overladen with too many herbs in rilletes, but this was well pronounced. And perfectly matched with the chutney. The beef knuckle onion rings were the highlight though – an absolute revelation! The knuckle had been slow cooked, then thinly sliced, fried and served with caramelised fried onions. It was sticky, meaty and absolutely delicious, Alvin aptly described it as meat popcorn. This was matched with the Paco and Lola Albarino 2009, a highly aromatic wine – lots of rich tropical fruitiness on the nose. It was actually quite mellow on the palate, not too sweet and no great length. It was a good match and a very pleasant drop indeed.
Next up was the white bean, dark ale and rabbit soup topped with crisp Guanciale (pig cheek). A dark, rich and all too enticing soup, again with that really strong taste of rabbit. It was super intense, which I really enjoyed, but for those that found it a bit strong, the white beans in the base balanced it out nicely. The crispy Guanciale was a great textural contrast and packed full of flavour – this was a truly hearty dish. This paired well with the Brown Magpie Pinot Noir 2006, which was my favourite wine of the night hands down. From Geelong, the wine had a wonderful savouriness, made more in the Burgundian style of Pinot. And as it sat in the glass a while, really opened up into a complex and enticing wine.
The fourth course was a wonderful blend of flavours and temperatures. We were served beef shin and rabbit ravioli, truffled mushroom wonton with tomato jelly. I really enjoyed this one, the tomato jelly stopped me mid-sentence to say “oh my God, this is delicious.” And what I loved most was the contrast of the sweet and cold tomato jelly against the earthy and warm ravioli and wonton. It was a really exciting course for the palate, both with bright and hearty flavours. This was served with the Lowe Preservative Free Merlot 2008. Unfortunately, I don’t feel this wine did this dish justice: it was just a little lacklustre. Admittedly, I’m not a Merlot drinker, and there was a certain mustiness to the wine I didn’t enjoy. But I had a little of the Pinot left, and enjoyed it immensely with this dish also!
Following this we had Alvin’s offering for the night: caramelised pork hoc with bok choy, chilli vinegar and black sesame rice. I think this one was definitely the crowd favourite – it certainly was ours! It’s very similar to a Sailor’s Thai dish I’ve had before, but with a little more heat from the chilli. And the whole hoc was served, sort of pressed into this brick shape. It was sweet and sticky and completely naughty. I challenge anyone who doesn’t enjoy pork not to devour this dish greedily! The wine for this one was a Sanguine Tempranillo 2007 – a good match I felt. It had some nice fruit weight, but a few fine, drying tannins to clear the fattiness of the pork from your palate, encouraging more consumption!
The final savoury course was a simple offering that truly let the quality of the ingredients sing. Slow roast grass fed Sirloin with duck fat potatoes, asparagus and bone marrow sauce. The King Island beef was melt in the mouth tender and had a flavour like no other I’ve tried at steakhouses across Sydney, and it’s no wonder you normally have to take out a mortgage to buy a few steaks. The asparagus was as it should be peak of season – sweet and perfectly cooked, I love it still a bit crunchy. The duck fat potatoes and rich bone marrow sauce rounded out the dish. It had the feeling of French bistro, but the quality and sophistication of fine dining. It was served family style, dropped in the centre of our tabe, and I honestly thought a dish of that calibre should have been served individually – but I’m knit-picking. The wine it paired with was an unconventional one – the Gemtree ‘The Phantom’ Petit Verdot 2008. It was by no means a bad wine, but I question why it was matched with the dish. As Danny said “why couldn’t we get a hearty Barossa Shiraz?” Touche good Sir.
For desert we were served cardamom poached fruits with sheep’s milk Labna alongside the Delatite Late Harvest Riesling 2009. A delicious combination and a favourite of mine. The poached fruits were rich with spice, cardamom, cinnamon, star anise and I found myself rather greedily digging out as many peaches as I could find. The Labna was rich and creamy and helped carry the sweet, fruity and spicy flavours around the mouth. The Delatite Riesling was a good match – but it needed all elements on the spoon to really do it justice. Otherwise it was just that pinch too dry on it’s own. It was a perfect end to the meal – not too heavy and really celebrating what’s in season.
All in all it was a wonderful night at MUMU, filled with tasty offerings from three very talented people. It also made me very keen to come back and sample MUMU’s actual menu. A huge thankyou to Craig, Denea and Alvin for a great night out!
These chappies are all on Twitter as well! Denea @GourmetRabbit, Alvin @cinnamonalvin and Craig @Chefmumu. Don’t forget to look us up while you’re there @bonvivantblog.