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Form guide to the Melbourne Cup Carnival Birdcage

It's Melbourne's biggest party. With 350,000 racegoers expected over four days, 17 million dollars' worth of prize money and 6000 glasses of Champagne to be poured in the Emirates marquee alone, there are few racing events in the world that rival the scale of the Melbourne Cup Carnival at Flemington Racecourse, and fewer still that match the glamour of its famed Birdcage enclosure.

"It's basically a village of the best hospitality facilities," says Judy Romano, of Judy Romano Event Management. "We've had people come from Royal Ascot and many racecourses around the world, and they say that there's nothing like it."

Romano has been involved in the planning of the marquees for more than two decades, working with the likes of Saab, Moët & Chandon, and Tooheys, and she has watched the Birdcage transform from a car-boot party to the multimillion-dollar extravaganza it is today.

"Even the celebrities who come - you just can't prepare them," she says. "We call them marquees but they're basically houses. You don't see any plastic walls; it's a full-on custom fit-out and the detail that goes into it is extraordinary. We start building in August - that's how big it is."

Today, the Birdcage enclosure includes 32 marquees, each individually fitted out with lounge areas, multi-level viewing decks and restaurants.

"One thing that I've noticed since cooking shows have become the trend is that everyone's getting celebrity chefs to design their menu," says Romano. Among this year's big names are Simon Denton of Melbourne's Izakaya Den and Hihou, and Rockpool's Neil Perry, who both have pop-up restaurants at the Hecker Guthrie-designed Lexus marquee. Pilu at Freshwater's Giovanni Pilu will be cooking for Lavazza, and Mark Best of Marque has designed the menu for Mumm.

Channel Nine reporter Emma Freedman also knows a thing or two about the Birdcage, her father being five-time Cup-winning trainer Lee Freedman.

"It's like a little party village," she says, "and all the big corporate investors to the VRC [Victoria Racing Club] get their kind of square-metreage and create a marquee or a bar or a tent that reflects their brand and that they can entertain clients in."

Her pick of this year's hottest marquees? The Schweppes bar for its "fun up-and-coming, younger crowd"; Emirates, because "they don't spare any dollars when it comes to creating a little magical world that reflects one of their destinations"; Lavazza for its top-end entertainment and "to go and grab a coffee at the end of the day when you need a bit of a caffeine hit"; and Mumm "because it's Mumm".

And her tip for surviving the day's festivities? "Frock up and be on your best behaviour."

The Birdcage marquee form guide
The décor Spanning two levels, the 20-square-metre interior will have oak-lined walls, decorative motifs of Australian fauna and flora and a leather and brass 10-metre bar.
The food Catered by Melbourne's The Big Group: cheddar, bacon and thyme damper; beetroot-and-orange-cured tuna with cucumber, radish and peppercorn aïoli; steak sandwiches; barramundi burgers with gremolata; barbecued prawns with potato and sweetcorn salad, smoked mayonnaise, coriander and crisp pancetta.
The drinks GH Mumm and cocktails such as Bush-lime Mojitos.
The people Model Tyson Beckford, entertainer Dita Von Teese, TV personality Whitney Port and model Jennifer Hawkins.

The décor Designed by Hecker Guthrie, the Lexus marquee will feature Japanese motifs and artworks, 200 lanterns and custom-made ceramics. Guests can relax in daybeds on all three levels, or retreat to the "Sky Deck" designed by landscape architect Jamie Durie.
The food Neil Perry's Rockpool Bar & Grill slider; roasted asparagus wrapped in pancetta with soft-boiled eggs and parmesan; fried calamari and zucchini; and Rosetta's tiramisù. Simon Denton's Hihou pop-up restaurant on level two will serve crisp miso cigars filled with wasabi tuna tartare, yuzu salmon tartare, and miso-braised wagyu, plus Hihou hot dogs with pickled cabbage and onion.
The drinks GH Mumm Cordon Rouge NV Champagne, and Australian and New Zealand wines.
The people Performer Timomatic, fashion designer Josh Goot, and singing duo The Veronicas.

Johnnie Walker
The décor An explosion of colour and light featuring three monolithic podiums where British jellymongers and installation artists Bompas & Parr explore the three natural states of solid, liquid and gas, thanks.
The food Jelly installations (not all of which are edible), a free-flowing cocktail fountain of honey-infused and gold-flecked Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve and breathable smoke-infused fog, reminiscent of the whisky. For simpler sustenance there'll be bresaola with green apple rémoulade and potato hash, honey-roasted beetroot with white-bean purée, and vanilla-bean tarts.
The drinks Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve-inspired cocktails and drams.
The people Jellymonger Sam Bompas, Diageo Reserve World Class Bartender of the Year Luke Ashton.

GH Mumm
The décor Moulin Rouge-style with a motif of red and white, inspired by the GH Mumm Champagne label.
The food Mark Best's kingfish tartare, green rice cracker and egg-yolk jam, chicken with burrata and confit bullhorn pepper, and lamb stifado and smoked polenta.
The drinks GH Mumm Cordon Rouge, 2006 Millésime, Brut Rosé, and Cuvée R. Lalou.
The people Dancers direct from Paris's Moulin Rouge, model Pia Miller, singer-songwriter Samantha Jade, actress and model Tahyna Tozzi and her sister model Cheyenne Tozzi, designer Johanna Johnson, media personality Deborah Hutton and actors Grace Huang, Sullivan Stapleton and Alex Russell.

The décor A reflection of Melbourne's laneway bars and restaurants, with an interior of white tiles, industrial-style fittings and hardwood finishes.
The food Jamón, Manchego and tapenade panini; Peking duck bao; beef ribs; green chicken curry, and toasted brioche sliders by chefs Benjamin Cooper of Chin Chin, Adrian Li of Saigon Sally, Scott Pickett of Saint Crispin and William Balleau of Chingón.
The drinks Race-day-inspired cocktails with Schweppes mixers including the Giddy Up Spritz (a vodka, Aperol, lemon juice and Schweppes Agrum Citrus Blend), plus classic G & Ts.
The people Swimmer Michael Klim and wife Lindy, musician and television personality Natalie Bassingthwaighte, footballer Tom Hawkins and chef Karen Martini.

The décor A towering façade of traditional wind towers soaring to nine metres, Bedouin-style awnings, lounges and a central well.
The food Emirates' Dubai-based Arabic cuisine expert Nasser Iskeirjah has teamed up with Epicure catering to bring a taste of Dubai to Melbourne with the likes of snapper with tahini harra sauce, and honey-roasted duck with spiced pumpkin, eggplant, cress, and walnut and pomegranate sauce, along with a Middle Eastern mezze-style grazing menu.
The drinks GH Mumm Champagne and cocktails inspired by Dubai's Armani Privé nightclub: Citrus Spring (gin, orange juice, cardamom and mint), Dubai Dream (vodka, pomegranate and grapefruit juice) and Desert Rose (Lillet Blanc, blood orange and St Germain liqueur).
The people Singer Geri Halliwell, ad man John Singleton, racing identity Kate Waterhouse, model Jordan Stenmark and TV personality Kerri-Anne Kennerley.

The décor Green garden hedges surround an interior with a black and white contemporary colour palette with touches of gold, and bespoke trattoria-style furniture.
The food Giovanni Pilu's Sardinian-style ravioli with burnt butter and sage sauce and three kinds of bite-sized pizza from DOC's Tony Nicolini, with toppings including yellow tomato, anchovy and caperberry.
The drinks Sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, shiraz and sparkling wine, James Boag beer and Lavazza Gran Riserva coffee.
The people Former Spice Girl Mel B, DJ-presenter Georgia Sinclair, footballers Chris Judd and Campbell Brown, and model Alex Davis.

Photo gallery

Can't make it to Melbourne Cup this year? Take a virtual tour of the festivities with our Melbourne Cup Birdcage slideshow.


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