Inner-city gardens, native Australian flora, and urban gin distilling collide at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival’s Native Botanicals and the Art of Ginstronomy event.
If I asked you where local gin distillers harvest their crop of native botanicals, your first answer probably wouldn’t be an apartment tower in the Docklands. But with a little bit of horticultural know-how – and a whole lot of passion – the clever folk at Anther Spirits have managed to do just that with the Habitat gin botanical garden. While the office workers, residents, and sight-seers bustle about on the streets below, the urban rooftop garden at Victoria Harbour is yielding a crop of uniquely Australian ingredients that will be distilled just a tram ride away at Anther’s Collingwood distillery.
Anther Spirits is one of several local producers taking part in the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival’s Crawl ‘n’ Bite series of progressive dinners. The eleven progressive dinners – each featuring three courses at three different venues – will see diners taking a gastronomic journey around some of Melbourne’s most iconic culinary neighbourhoods.
Sebastian Reaburn and Dervilla McGowan, the distillers and owners of Anther Experimental Distillation, have long been fixtures on Melbourne’s bar and cocktail scene. After decades spent behind the bar, Reaburn – creator of speakeasy favourite 1806 – found the lure of distilling his own gin too great, and with the help of McGowan – who has a PhD in Microbiology – the pair set about creating a gin that utilised the fragrant and hardy native botanicals such as aniseed myrtle, eucalyptus, and lemon scented gum, while also creating a connection between the urban, inner-city environment with the heritage of the land we live on.
With a gin as distinctly Australian as Anther’s, the edible pairing was obvious: Charcoal Lane. The Fitzroy restaurant showcases the amazing array of native fruits, vegetables and herbs that this land has to offer, creating unique modern-Australian cuisine. Dishes such as macadamia and wattle seed roasted pork fillet and a sous vide crocodile and lemon myrtle green curry allow diners to really get a taste of the huge potential that Australian native ingredients hold.
But Charcoal Lane is so much more than just a restaurant – it’s a social enterprise. Part of Mission Australia, the restaurant offers a fresh start to at-risk young people and young people facing barriers to employment, many of whom are Aboriginal. Charcoal Lane offers a comprehensive training program that allows young people to gain accredited hospitality qualifications and professional experience while also connecting them with industry professionals and the support of caseworker. Many of the participants in the Charcoal Lane program have experienced family conflict, drug and alcohol issues, low levels of education, and homelessness. The program supports 24 young people each year, giving them skills to gain employment within the hospitality industry and elsewhere, as well as increasing their self-esteem and confidence.
Native Botanicals and the Art of Ginstronomy is just one of the outstanding Crawl ‘n’ Bite experiences available during the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival. The Employees Only progressive dinner will have you venturing down Melbourne’s laneways and alleys to sneak in the backdoor at Mamasita and take the service elevator up to Fancy Hanks, while the Westside Crawl will take you on a beer-focused kitschy trip of the culturally diverse and increasingly hipsterfied streets of Footscray. The Melbourne Food and Wine Festival runs from March 16-25, and tickets are selling out fast, so make sure to head over quick to lock in your place!
Melbourne Food and Wine Festival
March 16th – March 25th