Showtime: MasterChef pops up on the roof of Crown Casino.
Like all revolutions, MasterChef changed the natural order of things. Once upon a time, you'd do something called an apprenticeship, eventually open a restaurant, maybe get your mug on telly, become a celebrity chef and die happy.
Now TV has become the starting point en route to global domination for anyone knowing their ballotine from their galantine and their farce from their fricassee.
I occasionally wonder if MasterChef plays on the notion that nice middle-class people shouldn't suffer the indignities of the apprentice system, although in current circumstances, that's a bit like heckling at a wedding. After five years of pressure tests and mystery boxes, the circle is complete. MasterChef Dining and Bar is risen.
Masterstock poached chicken salad with eggplant cream.
I suppose you think I'll be bagging the bejesus out of this officially logo-ed, Shine-sanctioned pop-up squatting on the casino's tennis courts for the next two weeks. You'd be wrong. MasterChef has done more for Australians' interest and confidence in the kitchen than a battalion of Bernard Kings, a flotilla of Margaret Fultons, a mixed dozen of Ian Parmenters and Iain Hewitsons.
It would take a frosty heart to remain unmoved by a crowd who seem anything but disappointed by the low-key meeting of food and showbiz. There are no George, Gary and Matt. No TV cameras being poked into diners' faces. On the other hand, I've never felt so unselfconscious photographing my dinner. It's smartphones at 20 paces as everyone snaps away at the black tent with its diligent branding, central kitchen, and the moving targets of MasterChef alumni.
I haven't watched since the Poh/Julie Goodwin showdown of series one was decided in such a disappointing fashion, but committed viewers will recognise the dozen or so series survivors making appearances over the three weeks. Their roles are mostly ambassadorial. ''Inspired by'' is the mantra of MasterChef Dining, which gives circus ringmaster Monty Koludrovic, former head chef at Sydney's Becasse, plenty of wriggle room. His set menu - four courses, two or three options per course - is described as a homage to MasterChef dishes. The food - from the conservative faction of contemporary cuisine, with little flourishes aiming for the ''ahh'' factor - plays straight into the hands of the adoring crowd.
A pretty garden of raw and pickled vegetables spearing into a tangy gribiche dusted in a ''soil'' of freeze-dried green olive, three of the decade's biggest food trends neatly wrapped up in a single package. On the other hand, there's a wannabe outré garlic butter powder sprucing up the pappardelle - it looks like that supermarket grated parmesan scattered over the asparagus spears and tasty confit field mushrooms - that in the mouth turns into an odd, molar-sticking toffee.
The Asian flourishes befit the strengths of MasterChef's breakout stars. A subtle eggplant cream anchoring the masterstock-poached chicken is an excellent background to the shredded radish with soy and jammy ginger refreshed by cucumber lozenges.
Syrupy strawberries under a fluffy cloud of orange-blossom creme fraiche make for a diabolically sweet, Julie Goodwin-inspired dessert. Guess I'm more of a Julia girl, going by the Vegemite ganache chocolate cup. It's a patriotic petit four.
The temporal nature of the pop-up puts the wobbles into the usual pillars of restaurant appraisal. The waiters certainly give indications that they've been through MasterChef Dining boot camp, but they're a little lost going off script. What the hey, it's opening night.
And the usual price comparisons - MasterChef's set four courses at $115 versus five courses at Attica for $130, for example - don't exactly stack up, although the wine matching for $50 is good value.
But MasterChef is fan dining, not fine dining. It's the chance for viewers to go through the looking glass. Anyone seizing the opportunity isn't likely to be too put out by having to wait for their table, or the par-frozen bread, although they might be disappointed at the lack of tears and tantrums that spice up the TV version. Maybe that's something they could work on.
The best bit The fans will love it
The worst bit Does it go far enough?
Go-to dish Masterstock poached chicken salad with eggplant cream
- 0455 035 422
- Cuisine - Contemporary
- Prices - Four-course set menu $115 a head
- Features - Accepts bookings, Wheelchair access, Vegetarian friendly, Licensed
- Chef(s) - Monty Kulodrovic
- Owners - Shine Australia
- Cards accepted - AMEX, Mastercard, Visa
- Opening Hours - Tues-Wed, 4pm-midnight; Thurs-Sun, noon-midnight until October 27
- Author - Larissa Dubecki