So, you’re only in Canberra for a flying visit? Which Hat-ed Restaurant to try? Let me help you… pictorially…
(Psst… As usual, before I embark onto a new destination, I will suss-out places to eat. For Canberra, dinner for the first night was undoutedly – Aubergine – it’s Number 1 in both SMH Guide and Australian Gourmet Traveller – I mean, the moniker ‘A Chica Around Town’ must get some street cred by trying out THE Best Restaurant in Canberra 2013, right? The 2nd night was a tough call – I was deciding on Courgette, Waters Edge and Sage. Coincidentally, Courgette and Waters Edge are owned by the same chap. In the end, I decided to go for Courgette, which was the previous Best Restaurant in Canberra 2012.)
So, both the restaurants I chose are name after vegs – which veg came out TOPS?
Date of Visit: January 14, 2013
First up, Aubergine. We decided on the A$95 degustation menu (in hindsight, we should have gone for the A$80, 3-course menu which many local diners ordered – they are bigger portioned! Duh!)
Amuse Bouche: A prawn cracker with wasabi mayo and bonito flakes. (Betcha, one can get similar prawn crackers from any local Asian grocers *wink*)
Amuse Bouche close-up
Wine: Grey Sands Pinot Noir from Northern Tassie, A$60 for a half-bottle. (Always happy with retaurants with half-bottles serves). Pleased with my wine, 2009 with a bit of age.
Course 1: Was curious in the black flakes, so enquired the waitress about them. They were bonito-salted flakes. Hmm..salty and ashy…kinda OK… I really enjoyed the smoked trout parfait though, creamy and smooth almost like creme fraiche
Confit of ocean trout, smoked trout parfait, shaved fennel, pickled cucumber
Course 2: Pretty on the plate, but my tummy grumbles… 2 dainty bite-size pork bellies – fried in light batter – chef possibly experimenting tempura-style? The spanner crab was not fresh – I should have known, since I could smell the ‘crustaceaness’ of it (if there is ever a word to describe it) – being allergic to crustaceans, I got a reaction. Bummer!
Salad of crispy pork belly, hand-picked spanner crab, watermelon, rouille
Course 3: Really? Seriously?! How can this be the ‘Best Restaurant in Canberra’, when I can get better cuts from my local deli (Norton Street, BJ) or David Jones?! Still, some cred for the scoth egg – it had a runny yolk – as Heston said boil egg (for 3 mins, for the hen’s egg), soak in cold water, peel, deep fry then finally bake.
Quail breast, quail sausage, caramelised endive, scotch quail egg
Course 4: Bonito Overkill! This time I got the whole bonito! Yay! What exactly is a ‘bonito‘? I see it often in Japanese menus, never thought twice about it, but they are apparently sardines. So, this sardine has been smoked and possibly dried over charcoal – if you have seen ‘Jiro’s Dreams of Sushi’, you’d have seen his son/ assistant sitting on a stool, outside their shop, patiently fanning the nori sheets over the charcoal pot. So how was the taste? Very tough and very salty (the white stuff on top were salt powders). The beef was OK, done to my liking, which is medium rare, but salty, made even more salty with the horseradish crust
Cape Grim beef rib eye, horseradish crust, smoked potato mash, braised mushrooms, 1 whole BONITO
Intermission time: So, how was the interior? Check out the pic. Now you know that this restaurant is ideal for dates and some larger parties. Parking is fantastic since it’s in the suburban shopping strip of Griffith.
What the restaurant looks like
Palate cleanser: I REALLY liked this! Macerated cherries, ice cream and cherry sorbet! It’s a close-up snapshot and was gone in 2 secs!
Course 5: Nothing really rocked. It’s a close-up snap again, on the actual plate, it looked a pittance. But, then again, I enjoyed the liquorice custard
Dark chocolate ganache, liquorice custard, strawberries
So there you have it, my tapas-style European 5-course degustation dinner. I guess this wasn’t the restaurant’s best effort since I found out later on their FB page that they were looking for a sous chef and a pastry chef.
Date of Visit: January 15, 2013
The next night, we tried Courgette’s offerings. Their 4-course dinner menu at A$75 is CHEAP – for a French fine-dining restaurant, that is.
Course 1: I really like the presentation (my iPhone 4s didn’t do justice). I can almost feel the jelly melting in my mouth. Anyway, my companion who had this said that the crab was very fresh and she liked it!
■Blue swimmer crab, avocado, tomato and jelly raviolo, lime mayonaisse, baby celery
I chose this dish in honour of the name of the restaurant – Courgette! And I’m happy with my choice! The pumpkin ginger mash was perfectly fried and still crispy and warm when it came to me.
■Pumpkin and ginger filled courgette flower, globe artichoke, ratatouille
Course 2: The chef is very surf-and-turf for the 2nd Course. My companion had squail and scampi. I tried a bit of the sesame seed wafer, it’s like lavash and smells very sesame – so that is good!
■Pan seared quail breast, butter poached scampi tail on corn mousse, split peas, sesame seed wafer, shaved black truffle
Mine was lamb with octopus. It was an interesting pairing, but took off! The gamey lamb with usually ‘tasteless’ octopus pulled off with the rich sticky caramelised sauce
■Double lamb cutlet with aubergine caviar, slow cooked octopus, bell pepper and olive cannelloni
Course 3: My companion remarked that the gnocchi were ‘al dente’. So game on, Courgette!
■Potato and parmesan gnocchi, asparagus tips, truffle, wild mushroom ragout, petite herbs
Mine was a heavy dish, very satisfying… *burp*…I was interested in the ‘ox-tail cigar’ and was not dissapointed.
■Grainge grainfed angus beef, oxtail cigar, glazed eschalot, sugar snap salad
Course 4: My companion had this. The trick was to dip the choc spoon into the souffle to let it melt (psst…a cheeky trick from the chef, so you won’t know whether the souffle is cooked) The expresso jelly was good too – like roll-ups!
■Coffee soufflé with chocolate and hazelnut parfait, toasted marsmallow and espresso jelly
This is my plate. I liked the popping candy (aka pralines) and the little jelly cubes, otherwise, not memorable.
■Assorted textures of chocolate with fresh raspberries, salted pistachio nuts and popping candy
Nightcap: We order tea, and they came with honey and lemon! Little touches but fantastic!
I guess you’d know my verdict by now. Definitely Courgette!!