The Little Sydney marquee space at Royal Randwick, featuring pop-up versions of five of the city's best restaurants, was a sure bet for hungry punters, writes Maya Kerthyasa.
The races are, of course, only partly about the horses. With the opening of the BMW Sydney Carnival in March, Royal Randwick stepped up its game with the unveiling of Little Sydney: a VIP enclosure presented by The Australian Turf Club and Gourmet Traveller featuring pop-up versions of five of the city's hottest restaurant players - Chiswick, Longrain, Four in Hand, Icebergs and Merivale.
The marquees were designed to recreate the look and feel of the parent restaurants, for a unique taste of each. Four in Hand replicated the artwork that hangs in its Paddington dining room; Chiswick brought their kitchen garden concept indoors with fruit, vegetable and plant centrepieces; Icebergs was all bright and breezy, replete with a sandwich bar and smartly attired bartenders dispensing Aperol Spritzes; and Longrain gathered its guests at a long wooden communal table reminiscent of those at its Surry Hills HQ. Merivale commissioned artist Annette Barlow to paint an autumn-inspired mural just for the occasion, which acted as a fitting backdrop to a pretty arrangement of crackers, Iggy's Bread, autumn fruits and "four perfect cheeses", and installed a white timber-panelled bar pouring a selection of master sommelier Franck Moreau's top drops.
For Icebergs' Maurice Terzini, nailing the fit-out was all about bringing the Bondi restaurant experience to the track. "We wanted to create something that was a little bit more permanent than just going out and hiring furniture," he says. "I think Icebergs generally sells a lifestyle and design is a part of what we do… we wanted a really good bar to work from, a good kitchen, and it evolved over that week."
At Icebergs, punters were treated to little bowls of risotto Milanese with spanner crab, plates of heirloom tomato and peach Caprese, and salumi with fresh figs, basil and grissini. Pork appeared to be the protein of choice for the occasion, with a suckling pork roll showdown between Colin Fassnidge at Four in Hand, and David Lovett and Jeremy Strode at the Merivale marquee. Da Orazio's porchetta rolls made a début at the Icebergs marquee, too, virtually evaporating off trays come late afternoon. Longrain carried on the trend with a dish of caramelised pork with prawns, peanuts and sour pineapple, as well as duck pancakes and chicken curry with cucumber relish and jasmine rice as part of its Thai spread. Over at Chiswick it was all about DIY as guests helped themselves to a buffet table piled high with platters of roast chicken, with turnips and kale, roast Moran Family Lamb shoulder with pumpkin, baby carrots and a yoghurt dressing and red quinoa tabouli salad.
The crowd, a mix of bright young things, media types, professionals and racing regulars, seemed unfazed by the day's rain, as did the chefs. "We love these sorts of events with other restaurants," says Longrain's Sam Christie. "You can work alongside your mates and make a bit of a day of it as well."
In fact, in the midst of all the excitement, you could almost forget you were there for the horses at all.