International design firm, HASSELL, will once again transform Queensbridge Square, in the heart of the city, into the vibrant hub of this year's Melbourne Food and Wine Festival (MFWF), following 2013's impressive Urban Coffee Farm and Brew bar that sprung up on the giant red steps in the same space.
This time round, the former Sandridge rail bridge will become The Immersery: Festival Kitchen, Bar and Raingarden, with a unique take on Melbourne Food and Wine Festival's theme for 2014, 'water.' The vast, three-storey structure, crafted from a plethora of reclaimed pipes, will be anchored to the banks of the Yarra, offering a new vantage point to check out the city, with the pipes funnelling water into big barrels filled with lush greenery, showing just how easy it is to harness Melbourne's frequent downpours and grow your own garden.
An open kitchen on the ground floor will play host to several of Victoria's best eateries, joining forces to curate unique lunch and dinner menus with water-based cooking techniques. Peter Rowland Catering will showcase dishes dreamt up by renowned chefs including Silo by Joost's Florent Gerardin, formerly of Vue de Monde, Huxtable and Huxtaburger guru, Daniel Wilson, and Jesse Gerner of Añada and Bomba.
Gerardin says he'll be focusing on a bento box affair at lunch with share plates in the evenings. "I took some of our signature dishes and tweaked them a little bit, so they can cater for that amount of people, but we haven't changed much. I have a miso eggplant dumpling, our signature quinoa salad and our fermented brown rice risotto."
Silo owner, Joost Bakker, has a long history with the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival and a passion for sustainability, so the water-recycling theme of The Immersery fits right in with his and Gerardin's ethos. There will be plenty of vegetarian options, as you'd expect from Silo, and Gerardin will be making regular appearances to make sure things are flowing freely. He's looking forward to showing off their skills. "It's a great platform that gives Silo a bit more exposure, as well as introducing new ideas to MFWF-goers."
A riverside bar will be stocked with vino from Victorian wineries Seppelt, Coldstream Hills and T'Gallant, while local bars team-up with interstate interlopers to create ingenious cocktail creations, including Brunswick Street's Black Pearl working alongside Sydney's Bulletin Place, and Vue de Monde's sky-high The Lui Bar with MONA's Void Bar crew from Hobart.
Sebastian Reaburn, a former Australian Bartender of the Year and The Lui Bar's resident cocktail historian, says he's itching to work alongside the Void Bar guys, with Vue's chef-owner Shannon Bennett a confirmed art lover. "He's had a long involvement in Australian contemporary art within his venues, so it's a really great match up, to work with MONA."
Each venue presents one drink, with Lui's creation an insane chemistry-like concoction infusing water with foraged foods found by Native Oz Cuisine. "We've requested things like strawberry gum, which is an amazing native eucalypt with flavours of strawberry and guava, and we're also keen to have a couple of native Australian myrtles, like lemon and aniseed."
Using nitrogen gas infusions, the water is imbued with the flavours of the foraged flora. Thankfully, they'll also be adding vodka to get the party started. "We'll also use citrus water we make in-house that tastes like lime juice but is completely clear, so it will look like you're just drinking water, in keeping with the theme," Reaburn says. "We're not super-competitive, it's more collegiate, but there's still that element of wanting to know who makes the best drink on the night."
With Void and Lui going head to head on the Immersery's opening night, February 28, you don't have to wait too long to be the judge of who wins that particular challenge by water. The bar team-ups continue on Thursday through Sunday nights for the duration of the festival – check the website for more details.
The Immersery: Festival Kitchen, Bar & Raingarden | Queensbridge Square
Friday 28th February - Sunday 16th March | 8:00am - 11:00pm
For more info, please visit the website
Read more about our picks of the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival here.