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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Anna Polyviou's Dessert Degustations and Sweet Street at the Shangri La Hotel (Sydney), all my dessert dreams come true.

      This blog post is to let you all in on a secret. You see, for a while now I have been indulging my sweet tooth. Well, I suppose it's not such a big secret if you've been stalking me on Instagram or Facebook but you've probably been wondering how I have gotten myself into such wicked situations.
      I first stumbled across pastry chef Anna Polyviou when she went down to Melbourne and collaborated with her friends Bernie & Yen of LuxBite in South Yarra to do a dessert degustation ('Damn those Melbournians!' I was thinking at the time). I had been a long time (secret) follower and lover of LuxBite (way before their Masterchef fame) but this was the first I had actually heard of Anna, thanks to the power of the internet and social media.
      Anna was appointed as the head pastry chef at the Shangri La Hotel Sydney in May 2013 and launched the first dessert degustation around June. My social media network was obviously missing a few links because I was completely unaware about this until afterwards when I saw some photos pop up on instagram. I won't repeat anything here but if you want to find out more about Anna Polyviou, just google her name and you will find a stack of articles and sites on her awesome achievements to date. She has quite a rep in the pastry world.
      Fast forward a month or two and I saw that Luxbite were coming to Sydney to colloborate with Anna again at the Shangri La for another dessert degustation. Heck yes! was my instant reaction. I texted my BFF (best foodie friend)and before I could blink we were booked in for the dessert degustation.

      The day finally came around and we found ourselves in the lobby lounge of the Shangri La. We were served some sushi and a glass (or two) of champagne while we waited and then we were escorted down the service lifts to where the pastry kitchen was located. I was giddy like a school girl, it was all pretty exciting to get exclusive access to the pastry kitchen and to see the 'celebrity chefs'. I was also mega excited that my dinner was going to be made up of 5 to 6 courses of desserts!
      There were two benches in the middle of the kitchen and it was an intimate group of 20 people divided amongst the two benches. Anna welcomes the group and introduces Bernie and Yen, there's also a bit of product/sponsor plugging for Kitchen Aid and Heleila Vanilla of course. Let the eating begin!
      'Asian Dessert Degustation Part II' - continuing with the theme of the previous degustation that Anna did with Luxbite in Melbourne. Please excuse my faint memory... apart from everything was amazing I struggle to remember all the elements of the dishes going back so far... shame on me for not keeping a log but I really wasn't sure that I was going to blog out these events... I really did want to keep the secret all to myself.

First course: 'Anna goes Asian Malaysian'.
      Flavour elements include lychee, raspberry, chocolate and black sesame. I loved the bursting pearls of Lychee.

It was pretty cool watching the team plate up our desserts.

Waiitng for the second part of the dessert to come out of the oven.

Second course: 'Banoffee Hot vs Cold.
      This dish was by Bernie. Banana Souffle and a Chocolate and Banana Opera Cake. Essentially two desserts in one.

Third course: 'Passion...ate about Yellow'.
      This dessert was by Anna and was a bit of a refreshing palate cleanser. Passionfruit was the game.

Fourth course: 'Tooth paste'.
      Something fun and interactive. I can't remember the flavour, it may have been lime, a scoop of sorbet some some mint sherbet and a tube of mint gel 'toothpaste'. I didn't quite get this dessert but it was just a bit of fun.

Fifth course: 'Drunken Sake Baba'
Bernie's take on a rum baba. With a potent extra shot of sake.

Sixth course: 'Everyone thinks they're a Masterchef'.
      We all received a lemon tart and a whole heap of garnishes to plate up our dessert. This was a bit of a fun competition for us all to unleash our inner Masterchef and there were prizes up for grabs.

      My abismal attempt at plating up dessert. I've noticed over time that I have a thing about symmetry.

'Take Luxbit Home'.
      Something to take home, a couple of macarons - pandan and a bamboo and a little jar of (Heilala) Vanilla Caramel Spread. Too awesome. Luxbite were also selling portions of their Masterchef famous lollybag cake in the Lobby Lounge, of course my friend and I had already bought a couple of the cakes - unknowing that we were going to get one to take home as part of the degustation.

      Fast forward to 2014, Ryan and I were at the Shangri La again for the 'Chinese High Tea' during Chinese New Year with our friends the Pascuals and I was telling Jessica about the honey themed dessert degustation promotion for Valentines that I received an email about. I didn't need to convince her anymore and booked us in for the second session.

      We arrived at the lobby lounge and this time we were served some small canapes while we waited. As before, we were then escorted down the service lifts to the pastry kitchen.

      'Dip Me in Honey' was the theme and it was promoting the Shangri La's own 'rooftop' honey. And I think the Honey part was to attract the lovers for Valentines but it was actually weeks after anyway and there was no 'love' theme associated with the desserts.
First course: 'Breakky'
      Vanilla pannacotta, strawberry gel, can't remember what the dome was, and some house made granola on the side that included honey in it. I really liked this one.
Second course: 'Fun Time, Gay Time'.
      A take on the all time favourite Gaytime ice cream. Vanilla ice cream dipped in milk chocolate and covered in shards of chocolate biscuit and honeycomb.

Say 'AHHHH'.

Third course: 'Cleanse Me'.
      This was a take on the Quay snow egg... as a palate cleanser! Made by Anna's talented apprentice, Phil Khoury. Flavours were pineappple and mint I believe... or some refreshing herbal combination.

Cute as a button miniature pita breads!
      Anna and the girls, Jessica and Felicity frying up some home made haloumi courtesy of Anna's mum in Melbourne.
Fourth course: 'Mum's taking over'.
      Anna wanted to share her mum's awesome home made haloumi. This was a savoury sweet dish which was a nice break from all the sugar. Fried haloumi and a grilled fig drizzled in honey and served with a little pita bread and a wedge of lemon. That haloumi is AMAZEBALLS!

Fifth course: 'Steven's Nuts about Honey'.
      An homage to the rooftop honey and the beekeeper. I can't remember all the elements but it was tasty :)
'Take Home for breakfast'.
      I was pretty happy that we received a 'goody bag' to take home again this time. We received a small banana bread, a jar of the roof top honey and a pack of granola. I was a nice girlfriend and shared my breakfast with Ryan, added a small tub of yogurt on the side.

      With the next event Anna let her team unleash their creativity with a Brother's Grimm themed dessert degustation that was aimed at their friends and family. I am no friend nor family but from what I remember some tickets were available to the public for these sessions too. I missed this one but the photos I saw posted looked AMAZING. It was before I was set to fly out to New York so I had to save my money.

      Anna hinted that she would be collaborating with Gelato Messina in the near future and that this one was going to be a an absolute sell out. We then bumped into Anna again at the Cakes Bakes and Sweets show at Homebush and felt like complete stalkers but she said that details for the next degustation were being released soon so to keep our eyes glued to social media. As soon as the degustation was announced on Anna's and Messina's facebook pages and Instagram accounts, Jessica jumped on and made the booking for 4 of us. Apparantly we were pretty lucky because as predicted this one sold out instantly. I may have missed the Brother's Grimm one because of New York but the Messina one was on the day I landed back home but there was no way I'd miss it.

      So I landed back home from New York back in May, napped for a few hours and then jumped on a bus into the city towards the Shangri La to meet Ryan. We arrived at the lobby lounge and this time we were greeted with a lovely Messina cocktail. Can't remember exactly what this was but it involved mango sorbet, and a lot of alcohol.
  
Pulled pork sliders.
      It was nice to see that the 'canapes' had become more substantial. It was good to have something savoury before we embark on our journey into a sugar coma especially when most of us would have come straight from work on empty stomachs. As much as it would be an utter dream to just eat desserts for dinner, a few savoury bites before the main event were welcome.

Miniature pizzas.

Crispy noodle wrapped prawns.

Reunited after 10 days apart.

Our kids, Chai and Jessica.

Anna vs Messina menu.

Anna, the awesome DJ Brooks who is now a regular part of Anna's dessert degustations and head chef of Messina Sydney Donato Toce caught mid sentence.

First course: 'Paddle Pop'.
     Anna's dessert. I can't remember all the elements but there was yogurt, raspberry and pistachio. It was pretty good...
Second course: 'Get Him to the Greek'.
      This was a Messina dish. Ouzo, lots of it. Ouzo soaked watermelon, ouzo jelly, and watermelon sorbet. Think this dessert may have gotten me a bit tipsy!

Phil Khoury -  'Mr Bubbles'
Third course: 'Mr Bubbles'.
A bit of fun with the bubble machine.

Oops, we lost focus there.

Plating up station.
Fourth course: 'Beet 4 a Root'.
      A savoury break in between dessert courses. A beetroot tart tartine, I can't say I was too fond of this. I've got to be in the mood for beetroot.

Gelato demonstration by Donato. I just need me a Thermomix.

Felicity plating up.

Some quality control by Anna.

Fifth course: 'Banana Split'.
      Anna's take on a banana split. Banana and chocolate cake, banana ice cream, caramel popcorn, marshmallowm honeycomb, doughnut. YUM.



Sixth course: 'Black Forest'.
      The gelato cake made famous on Masterchef, we got our own little mini versions. I loved everything about it.

'Take Messina Home'.
      Unfortunately we couldn't actually take Messina home. Packing the gelato for us all to take home would have been a nightmare. And we'd probably all end up with tubs of slush by the time we got home. Instead we got little jars of deliciousness that we could add to our own ice cream/gelato at home. Peanut butter & milk chocolate fudge, nougat, and strawberry balsamic puree.

Top: With the Gelato Messina crew.
Bottom: With the crazy lady with the mohawk, Anna Polyviou.
     
      Anna hinted that she was going to team up with Adriano Zumbo and the crazy Andy Bowden of Hartsyard for the next few rounds. The degusation with Adriano Zumbo tickets sold like hot cakes and sold out even quicker than the Messina one. I decided to skip it though because to be honest... I am no Zumbo fan girl... Jessica and Chai managed to get seats to that one. As soon as the degustation with Andy Bowdy was announced all four of us jumped on to book tickets as soon as details were released. Ok well, it was us 3 girls and Ryan was just collateral.

Jack Daniels caramel milkshake.
      The theme for this next degustation was 'America' as Hartsyard is about all things Americana. We were served a boozy milkshake/smoothie each to get us warmed up.

Prawn Rolls.

Southern fried chicken, of course.

Hurrican potatoes/curly fries.
      Whatever you call them I was feeling pretty full already, but couldn't say no. I was really worried I'd have no room for dessert!

      Would you like some bacon with your grass? Table centrepieces with edible elements - candied prosciutto and pretzels with some baby apples somewhere in there. And buckets of m&ms.
Menu and sponsors.

I loved that they incorporated the theme into the pastry kitchen.
Andy vs Anna.

First course: 'Carrot Cake'.
      Carrot cake, churros, mandarin. This was pretty much two courses in one. A carrot cake paddle pop and a churro and mandarin dessert.

Second course: 'Doughnut King Vs. Cookie Monster'.
      Anna said that she loves dougnuts and cookies and couldn't decide on one or the other so combined both in this dessert. 'Cookies and milk' in the form of a panna cotta with strawberry gel and fresh strawberries with a choc chip 'cookie' on top and a scoop of ice cream. The little donut on the side was too cute for words.

Greg and Andy plating up.

Andy explaining his dish.
Third course: 'Fairy'.
      Phil Khoury aka Mr Fairy Floss. Ryan mister sucket for fairy floss went crazy with the fairy floss but I passed on this course. Well okay I may have pulled off a little of the crazy spun sugar from his stick...

Fourth course: 'Deep Fried Cheesecake Sundae'.
      I'd only recently been to Hartsyard and so out on this dessert that was one of their early items on the menu. I loved it, deep fried cheesecake, who would have thought! Caramel, popcorn, nuts, crunch, it was amazing.
Andy gives us a demonstration on how he constructs one of his crazy cakes.

Andy's Chocolate Maltesar Cake.

Fifth course: 'Pizza Delivery'.
      A savoury bite to break up the sugar - very much needed this time but I was actually already feeling pretty stuffed.
Sixth course: 'Pumpkin Pie'.
      Andy's take on a pumpkin pie. I can't say that I thoroughly enjoyed this dish. Though I was also very very full by this stage so could not finish this course at all. I was in particular blown away by the 'bacon snow'.
'Take Andy Home'
      The mother of all take home goodie bags/boxes. We didn't really get to take Andy home but he made everyone TWO of his pies (key lime and chocolate pecan) plus we also got a slice of his cake to take home too. And who could resist a piece of candied prosciutto and a pretzel. We pretty much had to roll ourselves out of the place this time.
      An interesting fact - it turns out Ryan went to high school with Andy! It tool Ryan a while to remember but he says that in high school the guy was a very different looking person... we all grow up though right? ;)

      The next big major sugar loaded event was Sweet Street at the Shangri La Hotel in August. Of course we weren't going to miss it though Jess and Chai were half way across the world in Hawaii so missed out. Anna teamed up with all her friends in the pastry world from both Sydney and Melbourne for this first of it's kind event in Sydney. There were the likes of LuxBite, Cacao Lab, Savour School of Pastry, N2 Extreme Gelato and Adriano Zumbo, as well as Anna's amazing pastry team selling their awesome sweet creations. 

      The deal was that for a $55 entry fee, you got a card that had about 10 tokens on it. Each dessert ranged in between 1-3 tokens so you can build up a bit of a mini grazing dessert degustation. There was also one stand selling some tasty savoury food such as roast pork and satay skewers which was a welcome end to the night of sweet indulgence. It was a bit chaotic with long winding queues but I am sure it will be an even better event if they do decide to do it again. Check out the review from one of my favourite bloggers - Not Quite Nigella.

      Anna has been a bit crazy busy flying across the country attending various events but she did hint to me that the next dessert degustation may be in November shhhhh.... Go on and stalk Anna on facebook and instagram and keep your eyes peeled. I'd also get the number for the food and beverage department of the Shangri La Hotel saved on speed dial because you need to call them first and then they will send you a booking form for your credit card details which you then need to fax or email back to confirm your seats. The phone lines go nuts as soon as the details are released and the event is limited to only 20 seats per night. The degustations are a tonne of fun and a great experience, I feel like I almost need a loyalty card considering I've now been to five of these things. Though for the sake of my health and wallet I should probably refrain from attending too many more of these in the near future so I am passing on these details to all of you.
      Anna said that she's going to try and make it a monthly event collaborating with different pastry chefs, it's usually only one night a month but most of the time due to popular demand they put on a second night where the menu is slightly altered depending on the feedback from the first session. The price is now $165 a person so it's not cheap but it is well worth the experience, you've got to do it at least once... if not twice in your life time.