There is no restaurant in Canberra that is more highly lauded and with such an exhaustive list of awards as Aubergine. It has maintained two Good Food Guide Chef Hats for the last seven consecutive years and is listed in Gourmet Traveller’s top 100 restaurants as its number-one-ranked restaurant in the ACT for 2018. Aubergine is also included in The Financial Review Australia’s Top 100 list and John Lethlean’s Hot 50 Restaurants. With such high accolades, what is it like to dine at this gastronomic gem located in the leafy inner Southside suburb of Griffith?
Walking up to the restaurant, which dominates the ground floor corner of an apartment building on a cool Canberra evening, we are immediately warmed as one of the staff members opens the door, greets us and reveals the intimate interior. With high ceilings and beautiful lights, the restaurant is sleek with a split-level dining room and an elegant discreet bar at the rear. With dramatic dark walls and floor to ceiling sheer curtains, the space is both moody and comforting.
As we settle into our seats, the staff have already established the polish of the service that we are to experience throughout our night. Attentive and warm, without any pretentiousness, they have set the pace for a relaxed evening. Head Sommelier, Cyril Thevenet, promptly offered us a glass of sparkling to start and left us with the extensive wine list full of interesting international and homegrown picks.
The main menu itself comprises of four courses for $95 per person, with the option of having a cheese course for an additional $14 and a standard wine pairing for $50 or a premium pairing for $90. Owner and Chef Ben Willis is a Canberra local, who returned home, after building a successful career interstate and abroad, to take over Aubergine in 2008. His kitchen is supplied by local farmers and benchmark suppliers – Ben prefers for them to tell him what produce is at its best on the day, rather than dictating what he needs. In turn, that means a menu that is updated daily as the produce determines, based on quality and quantity. Cyril does reveal that one item remains firmly on the menu most days as there is a quiet uproar from customers if it is not available. That is the magnificent sounding Brown butter ice cream with hazelnut praline & frozen lemon verbena milk.
We make our menu selections and decide to pair the food with a local bottle of Mount Majura Riesling. What follows is a gourmet delight of fresh and unexpected flavour combinations beginning with the assortment of three canapés and the Chefs selection for the first course of our meal, Cured bonito, fresh figs, whipped brandade, tarragon & finger lime.
I had purposely chosen seafood for the next two courses as well – it is a protein I adore to eat but very rarely prepare at home. The second course was the delicate and almost spring-like Poached salmon ballotine, lovage emulsion, cucumber & salmon roe, followed by the smooth and silky third course of Fillet of john dory, baby octopus, roast fennel & buttered kipflers. Of course, the meal ended with the highly praised dessert Brown butter ice cream with hazelnut praline & frozen lemon verbena milk, which looks so simple in its presentation but is so rich in flavour and taste. The taste of the dessert was most certainly memorable, as was our first visit to Aubergine.
Aubergine is located at 18 Barker St, Griffith and is open for dinner, Monday – Saturday from 6 pm. Reservations can be made via the website.