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Sage in 2012, a restaurant review

By 20 February 2012 40

sage

Sage in Gorman House has gone through a lot of evolutions but eating there on Friday night it became clear that it is now the best restaurant in Canberra, with a price tag to match.

So let’s not kid ourselves here; dinner for two, with wine, bread, pre dinner drink, and tip, was $400.

If you’re going to spend that kind of money you’ll be wanting to dress up for the occasion.

The effect is somewhat spoiled when you end up parking in Braddon’s ABC flats.

Bidding the car a fond farewell we made a short walk up Batman Street, through the raucus Friday night after work crowd in the Mint Garden Bar, and into Sage.

Fortunately we had booked, because it was packed the whole time we were there.

(Booking is a tricky process in itself. If you want to order from the menu there are limited windows in which to sit down. Otherwise you’re on the tasting menu. The tasting menu was fine with me, so at least I didn’t have to reschedule my date to fit the restaurant’s booking windows.)

The tasting menu (with matching wines of course) is a wild seven course ride through modern cuisine.

Staff re-arrange cutlery between every course, new wineglasses and wine herald the impending arrival of another dish.

The portions are delicate, small even, but we certainly weren’t hungry by the end of the meal.

Make no mistake, they’re big on the molecular gastronomy. Everyday ingredients transformed into foams, soils, sponges, gels.

And through that they really do open up new horizons of flavours and textures.

This is not food you want to eat every day, not that most of us could afford to.

As for the cost?

It helped that I’d been given a $200 voucher for christmas. But to get a dinner bill for $370, to not flinch or make faces, to not even tell my date how much it was, to just pay it and still leave a $30 tip (under 10% I know but at that price they can pay their staff properly), made me feel like a real man.

So in a way the price is part of the experience.

And the experience is sensational.

For my troubles I got a kiss on the cheek. Which, in a way, makes it an even better story.

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40 Responses to Sage in 2012, a restaurant review
#1
madamcholet2:41 pm, 20 Feb 12

It’s really nice that your date was worth it. Thaks for the review, been wondering about whether to go back there again – been a while. Will have to get saving.

#2
jsm20902:54 pm, 20 Feb 12

Couldn’t agree more- we went here on Valentine’s Day, and were really wowed by the whole experience. We both agreed it was almost equal to our experience at Quay; our meal there was a technical and textural triumph, whereas Sage was a triumph of flavour.

#3
BuzzwordBingo2:56 pm, 20 Feb 12

Nice work holding in the flinch … smooth even :-)

Have wanted to go for ages … thanks for the update :-)

#4
Mrshmellowman3:00 pm, 20 Feb 12

I took Mrs Mrshmellow to Sage for her Birthday in December and I will agree with the OP that the price is extremely steep, booking is tricky, the servings a small and it’s busy, cramped and noisy – but I disagree with the conclusion.
Mrs Mrsmellow is an aqua-tarian and when asked if it was possible to substitute the meaty bits of the menu for veggie or fish we were told that “no, the chef has prepared this menu – no substitutions.”
Now, we have eaten at most of the fine dining option in Canberra and have travelled to Melbourne and Sydney to eat at specific places and Sage is the only one who would not swap out the meat dishes for the Mrs.
The portions are beautiful and tasty, but are very small and we did leave hungry.
The staff is pretentious and far too condescending when answering questions (at least our waiter and food deliverer on the night were) and stepping out of the noisy but cosy dining room into the fairly grotty Gormon House toilets really knocks the ambiance.

And it is pricy – very, very pricey

Overall I was very disappointed and would not recommend anyone bother when there are better options for a better price around town or in the ‘region’.

#5
XO_VSOP3:04 pm, 20 Feb 12

I doubt these guys will ever make a $10 lunch cover story. Nor should they they have worked very hard to position themselves as a fine dining destination, they’ve come along way.

#6
johnboy3:04 pm, 20 Feb 12

Mrshmellowman said :

I took Mrs Mrshmellow to Sage for her Birthday in December and I will agree with the OP that the price is extremely steep, booking is tricky, the servings a small and it’s busy, cramped and noisy – but I disagree with the conclusion.
Mrs Mrsmellow is an aqua-tarian and when asked if it was possible to substitute the meaty bits of the menu for veggie or fish we were told that “no, the chef has prepared this menu – no substitutions.”
Now, we have eaten at most of the fine dining option in Canberra and have travelled to Melbourne and Sydney to eat at specific places and Sage is the only one who would not swap out the meat dishes for the Mrs.
The portions are beautiful and tasty, but are very small and we did leave hungry.
The staff is pretentious and far too condescending when answering questions (at least our waiter and food deliverer on the night were) and stepping out of the noisy but cosy dining room into the fairly grotty Gormon House toilets really knocks the ambiance.

And it is pricy – very, very pricey

Overall I was very disappointed and would not recommend anyone bother when there are better options for a better price around town or in the ‘region’.

Sounds like you got off on the wrong foot with wanting to mess with the menu.

Certainly agree that if you have specific dietary needs this is not the place to go.

#7
Holden Caulfield3:07 pm, 20 Feb 12

Mrshmellowman said :

I took Mrs Mrshmellow to Sage for her Birthday in December and I will agree with the OP that the price is extremely steep, booking is tricky, the servings a small and it’s busy, cramped and noisy – but I disagree with the conclusion.
Mrs Mrsmellow is an aqua-tarian and when asked if it was possible to substitute the meaty bits of the menu for veggie or fish we were told that “no, the chef has prepared this menu – no substitutions.”
Now, we have eaten at most of the fine dining option in Canberra and have travelled to Melbourne and Sydney to eat at specific places and Sage is the only one who would not swap out the meat dishes for the Mrs.
The portions are beautiful and tasty, but are very small and we did leave hungry.
The staff is pretentious and far too condescending when answering questions (at least our waiter and food deliverer on the night were) and stepping out of the noisy but cosy dining room into the fairly grotty Gormon House toilets really knocks the ambiance.

And it is pricy – very, very pricey

Overall I was very disappointed and would not recommend anyone bother when there are better options for a better price around town or in the ‘region’.

Here’s a tip. If you’re going to ask a restaurant to alter their menu to suit dietary requirements (a perfectly legit thing to do in the right context), try doing it before you’ve sat down. I find it’s best to do so when making the booking.

Aside from that I’ve been to Sage a couple of times since the new owners took over (most recently in November) and would agree with JB’s review.

I got more than a kiss on the cheek too! But I’m married, so it probably doesn’t count, haha.

Oh, I do agree that the surroundings and toilets are sub-par for this ilk of restaurant.

#8
Kerryhemsley3:08 pm, 20 Feb 12

Sounds like she was worth it. A $370 kiss on the cheek is not cheap. Can you expand on that a bit?

#9
Me no fry3:14 pm, 20 Feb 12

Hmmmm…..

$400. Molecular gastronomy.

Reminds me a bit of of nouvelle cuisine. You went home ravenously hungry, with the feeling that things hadn’t gone quite as they were supposed to.

But yeah, if I had a lazy $400 I’d go there for an experience.

#10
devils_advocate3:15 pm, 20 Feb 12

Well, this is a restaurant review in the truest sense of the word, as it focusses very much on the restaurant and very little on the food. I am intrigued, but would like to know:

a) what was one or two of the standout dishes that were served, and why?

b) I take it there’s a wine served with each course – was it well matched?

c) if you had to stump up the full price in cash (no voucher) would you consider it worthwhile?

#11
Ben_Dover3:17 pm, 20 Feb 12

Mrshmellowman said :

Mrs Mrsmellow is an aqua-tarian and when asked if it was possible to substitute the meaty bits of the menu for veggie or fish we were told that “no, the chef has prepared this menu – no substitutions.”
Now, we have eaten at most of the fine dining option in Canberra and have travelled to Melbourne and Sydney to eat at specific places and Sage is the only one who would not swap out the meat dishes for the Mrs.
.

We ate at the Fat Duck in Bray in January, THE restauarant for innovate cooking, and which charges prices which make Sage’s look like a bag of chips from Hawker chippy. I was offered a choice of vegetarian or piscatarian versions of the tasting menu.

#12
johnboy3:28 pm, 20 Feb 12

devils_advocate said :

Well, this is a restaurant review in the truest sense of the word, as it focusses very much on the restaurant and very little on the food. I am intrigued, but would like to know:

a) what was one or two of the standout dishes that were served, and why?

b) I take it there’s a wine served with each course – was it well matched?

c) if you had to stump up the full price in cash (no voucher) would you consider it worthwhile?

The wine was excellently matched.

I avoided discussing specific dishes because

a) the descriptions are as immensely convoluted as the dishes
b) the dinner as a whole was the highlight

As for the last I look forward to going back and paying with all my own money.

Just not too soon.

#13
devils_advocate3:45 pm, 20 Feb 12

johnboy said :

I avoided discussing specific dishes because

a) the descriptions are as immensely convoluted as the dishes
b) the dinner as a whole was the highlight

Fair enough – but could we have some basic food groups (fish, lamb, beef, rice, etc)? Alternatively if the tasting menu is relatively stable I presume it’s online somewhere?

#14
pajs3:47 pm, 20 Feb 12

Good stuff. Good to see you writing like this, Johnboy. Haven’t had that kind of experience eating out for a while and what you wrote reminded me of how good that kind of thing can be.

#15
johnboy3:55 pm, 20 Feb 12

devils_advocate said :

Fair enough – but could we have some basic food groups (fish, lamb, beef, rice, etc)? Alternatively if the tasting menu is relatively stable I presume it’s online somewhere?

Indeed, in the link I opened the story with.

But the menu we had on friday is here:

http://sagerestaurant.net.au/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Sage-Main-Menu-Feb-2012.pdf

#16
poetix4:11 pm, 20 Feb 12

They do cater very well for vegetarians; beautiful food. There is a vegetarian selection for each of the three courses (and dessert, obviously, for four). Just not the tasting menu.

#17
Kerryhemsley4:15 pm, 20 Feb 12

pajs said :

Good stuff. Good to see you writing like this, Johnboy. Haven’t had that kind of experience eating out for a while and what you wrote reminded me of how good that kind of thing can be.

Don’t jump the gun we haven’t clarified which cheek yet.

#18
astrojax4:36 pm, 20 Feb 12

Kerryhemsley said :

pajs said :

Good stuff. Good to see you writing like this, Johnboy. Haven’t had that kind of experience eating out for a while and what you wrote reminded me of how good that kind of thing can be.

Don’t jump the gun we haven’t clarified which cheek yet.

or indeed whether this ‘kiss on the cheek’ is a new [and so quite delightful] euphemism…

#19
johnboy4:39 pm, 20 Feb 12

a brush of the lips on the side of the face I’m afraid

#20
Postalgeek5:05 pm, 20 Feb 12

johnboy said :

a brush of the lips on the side of the face I’m afraid

There are many establishments around Canberra that could offer a better result at a cheaper price. You need to shop around a bit, JB.

#21
Deref5:46 pm, 20 Feb 12

Ben_Dover said :

We ate at the Fat Duck in Bray in January, THE restauarant for innovate cooking, and which charges prices which make Sage’s look like a bag of chips from Hawker chippy. I was offered a choice of vegetarian or piscatarian versions of the tasting menu.

You lucky, lucky, lucky bastard!

That’s one of my aims/desires. I’d love to hear more about it. How far ahead did you have to book? What did it end up costing? (I’d love to hear about the food, but imagine it was spectacular).

It’s been years since I’ve been to Sage, but I’m not impressed from the review. I don’t mind paying top dollar, but this definitely doesn’t sound like a top restaurant.

#22
26048:18 pm, 20 Feb 12

Meh, I’ve gone off a lot of five-star dining places. Seems to me that you’re paying a premium price for experimentation with new dishes and combinations of flavours. Sometimes the experimentation works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

IMO you get better value at places which offer tried and true dishes, but which differentiate themselves by focusing on sourcing the best quality ingredients. For example, most of the dishes you get at the Ottoman are available at a dozen other Turkish places in Canberra, but the ingredients at Ottoman generally are superlative and the extra effort they go to for some ingredients is quite special (like getting honey for baklava from their own beehives with specially-grown geraniums for the bees to obtain pollen from).

BTW Johnboy, any girl you take out for a $400 dinner will kiss you on the cheek. If you take her out for dinner at Zefferelli and still get a kiss, she’s a keeper.

#23
Jivrashia10:41 am, 21 Feb 12

to not flinch or make faces, to not even tell my date how much it was, to just pay it and still leave a $30 tip made me feel like a real man.

Really? Even when they’ve taken the hair off your back?

In all seriousness I think I’ll avoid this place at all costs (pun intended).
It almost sounds like Tetsuya of Canberra, and I think Wakuda has lost his way ever since he jacked the price up to $400 per head (that was several years ago. $600 now?)

There are many other establishments in Canberra at around $100 per head that has a much calmer, quieter, and pleasanter experience with friendly and gracious staff.
And there is no place for grotty W.C.s in fine dining experience.

#24
nicnacvb11:45 am, 21 Feb 12

poetix said :

They do cater very well for vegetarians; beautiful food. There is a vegetarian selection for each of the three courses (and dessert, obviously, for four). Just not the tasting menu.

I had a vegetarian version of the tasting menu there a while ago. It was superb! Although I did check before I went.

It was $110 without wines. I wanted cocktails anyway. The bartender at Mint is brilliant!

#25
nicnacvb11:50 am, 21 Feb 12

Forgot to add. We also used an entertainment book voucher with no problems (and it wasn’t the first time either).

#26
Ben_Dover3:59 pm, 21 Feb 12

Deref said :

You lucky, lucky, lucky bastard!

:-)

Deref said :

I’d love to hear more about it. How far ahead did you have to book?

Two months, and you have to be bang on the nail of two months or you will not get a seat.

Deref said :

What did it end up costing?

Around $270 a head, for the tasting menu, not including drinks and tips.

Deref said :

(I’d love to hear about the food, but imagine it was spectacular).

I could not do it justice with mere words sorry, the experience of a lifetime.

#27
EvanJames5:19 pm, 21 Feb 12

You could buy an entire cow for $400. Plenty of good bits on that. Cannot imagine food being so good that it would be worth $400 for one meal. Does my head in.

#28
Ben_Dover6:36 pm, 21 Feb 12

If they’d have asked double what we paid at the Fat Duck, I’d have happily done so with a smile. (Oh, forgot to add, I also had the cheese selection, which added another $20 to my bill. Don’t even ask how much we paid for our wines, champaign and ports.)

#29
poetix5:13 pm, 14 Dec 13

Sage is still so good! We had the degustation last night. Mr P had the meaty, and I had the vego, both matched with wine. I tried wines I would never had chosen on my own. Hungarian wine. A rose, which was not the disgusting sweet stuff I remember! It is nice to place yourself in the hands of the chef and sommelier.

I did draw the line at having cider with one course though.

The course I remember most was the mushroom ravioli. Really strong flavours, and a slight caramel taste.

Cognac to finish.

Just so nice, and I really like Gorman House.

#30
GardeningGirl10:48 pm, 14 Dec 13

Mrshmellowman said :

. . stepping out of the noisy but cosy dining room into the fairly grotty Gormon House toilets really knocks the ambiance.

Jivrashia said :

. .And there is no place for grotty W.C.s in fine dining experience.

Any improvement on the toilets Poetix?

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