Last weekend I had brunch with Ottolenghi. Just me, Yotam Ottolenghi, and about 400 other people at Aerial at South Wharf. Admittedly not an intimate little coffee catchup together but it was still very thrilling to meet my favourite chef and to eat an amazing brunch showcasing his recipes. Thanks to Cathay Pacific who invited me along to the Good Food Month event.
Brunch for the day was cooked up by Shane Delia and Karen Martini, both chefs whose food really works well with the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean flavours in Ottolenghi’s food. I remember reading an Ottolenghi recipe years ago and noticing that he credited Martini in one of the recipes. I’m a big fan of Martini but I was surprised to see her influence had reached all the way to London. After seeing how well Martini’s food works with Ottolenghi’s I’m not surprised at all.
We started with pillowy Turkish breads and big dollops of cream ricotta. There was also a controversial pumpkin and cinnamon hommus which Delia had made. That wasn’t even the end of the tweaks – it was also topped with shredded chicken, herbs and nuts. Ottlenghi is a hommus purist but even he had to admit the sweet but savoury hommus was a hit.
While not much to look at, Delia’s dish of small spicy little Lebanese sausages sliced and braised with beans, saffron and sumac was also sensational. Lots of earthy, rich flavours and a great sauce for mopping up with the Turkish bread.
Martini made the most delicious sumac potatoes dotted with cornichons and topped with crispy fried tongue. It was like the ultimate warm potato salad. She was also responsible for saffron scones (which I sadly didn’t get to try) and small pastries topped with crumbled lamb and almond.
Then it was on to Ottolenghi’s dishes. All of them were from his new book, Plenty More, and I am already replicating a few at home I loved them so much. A dish of humble lentils was transformed with the addition of tahini and cumin adding a little heat and spice. An ominous sounding “cauliflower cake” was actually similar to a a quiche with slow roasted cauliflower and red onions giving a lovely nutty and sweet flavour.
To really top things off Ottlenghi’s take on banana bread was brilliant. The bread was really dense and sweet and served toasted then drizzled with tahini and shards of honeycomb.
The only criticism I have of the brunch was the strange absence of tea or coffee. Caffeine is a brunch essential in my book. But they probably didn’t want to get people to over caffeinated otherwise Ottolenghi would have suffered even more from his adoring fans. Yes I was one of them. Finally at the end of brunch I got the chance to line up and meet the man himself. I think I totally freaked him out by telling him that I used to live around the corner from his shop in London. He now thinks I am some weird stalker but at least I didn’t squeal! Serious self restraint on my behalf.
Thanks to Cathay Pacific for inviting me to the brunch.
Cathay Pacific is running a competition where you can win two return economy flights to an Asian foodie destination. To go in the running, entrants need to take a picture of their favourite Asian food or flavour, and share it with the hashtag #TasteAsiaWithCathay and of the destination they would like to visit (for example, #Shanghai) via Twitter, Instagram or Cathay Pacific’s Facebook page.
Details: Brunch with Ottolenghi at Aerial, South Wharf, Melbourne.
Damage: Budget breaking. Tickets were $180 each and included a copy of Plenty More. But on this occasion I did not pay.