A food-and-wine takeover of a heritage hotel, mind-bending ice-cream from Brooklyn and the world's big thinkers on sustainability and food. Where will you start?
After the madness of the World's 50 Best Restaurants coinciding with the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival earlier this year, you'd think Melbourne might want to put the brakes on when planning the 2018 program. But then you remember that this is a city where locals are prone to discussing their favourite coffee spots at length and can visit a different CBD wine bar every night of the week without breaking a sweat. Mailing it in is not an option.
While this year's focus is less on red carpets and accolades, there's an impressive exploration on the relationship between food and communities, and how we might bring sustainability into our dining habits. But it won't all be chin-stroking moments. The program still dangles enough big names - Chris Ying and Shinobu Namae among them - and high-octane concepts to lure punters from around the country.
Armed with the first details of the 2018 festival, we've rounded up the events we think are most worth your attention.
The House of Food and Wine - It's back and it's all grown up, shifting from a warehouse space in Little Lonsdale St to Hotel Lindrum at the leafy end of town, where Matt Stone and Jo Barrett (Oakridge Wines) will stage a takeover of the hotel's food and wine offering. Meanwhile, Chris Ying brings his ZeroFoodprint ethos of to life with a series of dinners that are low on greenhouse emissions and high on talent. ZeroFoodprint disciple Anthony Myint of San Francisco bar The Perennial and Shinobu Namae from Tokyo's Michelin-starred L'Effervescence will join locals Ali Currey-Voumard (The Agrarian Kitchen Eatery), Analiese Gregory (Franklin), Paul Iskov (Fervor) and James Viles (Biota Dining) throughout the festival.
Matt Stone and Jo Barrett of Oakridge Wines
Enjoy dinner with your own personal sommelier - A five-course meal by Danielle Alvarez (Fred's) is an enticing prospect on its own, but throw in some of the country's brightest winemakers and sommeliers designing unique pairings for your table and that's a dinner you won't want to miss. This year's Winemakers' Feast is focusing on women in wine, so Jane Lopes of Attica will be matching Emily McNally's Jasper Hill wines with each course, while other guests will enjoy drops by Sandra de Pury (Yeringberg) and Sarah Crowe (Yarra Yering), and the talents of GT's Sommelier of the Year Caitlyn Rees, also of Fred's.
Drink up Melbourne's history - If you're the type of person that remembers a night out by the cocktails you were drinking rather than the people you were with, you'll want to make it to Famous or Infamous, a night devoted to Melbourne's globally celebrated bar scene and the drinks that have made it what it is. Hosted by Eau De Vie - one of the best in the business - the evening will walk you through Melbourne's drinking history one glass at a time with guest bartenders mixing some of the city's legendary contributions to cocktail culture.
Eat ice-cream like you've never eaten before - Experimental New York ice-cream parlour OddFellows, opened by WD-50 alumnus Sam Mason and partners Mohan and Holiday Kumar, are known for their unlikely yet tasty flavour combinations, including grapefruit-jalapeño and absinthe with chocolate chips. And they're out to open your eyes to the endless possibilities ice-cream holds, using Victorian ingredients at their MFWF stall on the banks of the Yarra from 16-18 March.
Eau de Vie will host the Famous or Infamous event.
Get to know the Aboriginal history of Fitzroy - Melbourne's Aboriginal community has strong roots in the inner-city suburb of Fitzroy, which is also home to native ingredient-led restaurant Charcoal Lane. The restaurant, run on a social enterprise model, will serve up three three-course dinners with a pre-dinner walking tour of significant Aboriginal sites and reflections from local Aboriginal elders between courses giving insight into the local history.
Hear from the food world's game-changers - Jill Dupleix will be asking the big questions at this year's Theatre of Ideas, a day-long schedule of talks featuring Ron Finley, LA's champion of urban (or 'gangsta') gardening, Hong Kong food writer Janice Leung-Hayes and Maori chef Monique Fiso, among others. There are two sessions - one devoted to community, the other to sustainability - with speakers taking the floor for five- to ten-minute slots run in a TEDx-style fashion, followed by a panel discussion.
Pull up a chair at the World's Longest Lunch - Coming in at 500 metres, this year's table is a touch shorter than last year's record, but there'll still be plenty of guests to feed - Adam D'Sylva of Tonka and Annam's Jerry Mai have their work cut out for them on the pans. This year also marks the first time the event has been held on the banks of the Maribyrnong River in Footscray, the gateway to some of Melbourne's most diverse eating. Expect plenty of heat.
"Gangsta gardener" Ron Finley
Try some of the world's most interesting cheeses - When London's Neal's Yard Dairy and Vermont cheesemakers Jasper Hill come to town, you know you're in for a treat. At cheese-and-wine-pairing event, Victoria vs The World Tasting Room, the internationals will join with local cheese- and winemakers who value small scale and traditional methods, exploring the differences and similarities in their approach to food.
Learn how to make cannoli from the best - Legendary Melbourne pasticceria T. Cavallaro & Sons will let you in on the tricks of the trade, showing you how to make amaretti and the traditional Easter treat of a marzipan Pascal lamb, as well as their signature ricotta- and pastry-cream-filled cannoli.
Watch an artist at work - While there's plenty of artistry on show any given night at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, for two evenings in March the dining room will become both a stage and an artist's studio as David Bromley, the man responsible for several bronze sculptures at Dinner, paints a canvas as diners look on. The finished work will be sold via raffle on the night, with the money raised going to the Children's Cancer Foundation. Ashley Palmer-Watts's own creativity will be on show over four courses, including an autumnal take on the meat fruit and charcoal-grilled marron in a sherry mushroom broth.
Meat Fruit at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal
Catch Adam Wolfers cooking Chinese - Lee Ho Fook is taking the tradition of Jewish families eating at Chinese restaurants to its logical conclusion, inviting chef Adam Wolfers into the kitchen to present his Jewish-leaning riff on Chinese. The latest instalment of Wolfers' Ételek dinners, the evening might include blintzes stuffed with pastrami-spiced duck or sang choi bau of salted eggs and fish floss.
Eat well, act well - Put your money where your mouth is by supporting some of Melbourne's most popular chefs at Taste of Asia, a fundraiser for the work of Blue Dragon Children's Foundation, which tackles child poverty, slavery and human trafficking in Vietnam. On the pans will be Spice Temple, Lucy Liu and Mama's Buoi, with Coda chef Adam D'Sylva in attendance to dish up his yellow duck curry with taro chips. Four Pillars Gin will be pouring cocktails including It's Not Me, It's Yuzu, made with Maidenii La Tonique, Marionette Cassis and yuzu soda, and the aromatic South East Spritz, a mix of the Spiced Negroni Gin, orange bitters, green mango and curry leaf.
It looks like March will be a busy month.
The 26th Melbourne Food & Wine Festival runs 16-25 March 2018. Information and bookings at melbournefoodandwine.com.au