The 2007 edition Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide has been recently published, and it contains a small section on the eateries of Canberra. Being fans of good food, we have resolved to check out as many as we can. We’ve resolved to try one a month. This month’s restaurant of choice was Dijon (also previously reviewed on the RiotACT).
One of the reasons we settled on Dijon was their degustation menu. For those not up on their gastronomical nomenclature, a degustation, or tasting, menu consists of a number of smaller courses – from as little as five to as many as fifteen, depending on the establishment. The A La Carte menu of any restaurant is inevitably a compromise between the interests and strengths of the chef, and the commercial imperatives of the market place. A degustation menu, on the other hand, allows the chef to show off – to prepare a number of dishes which showcase their talent.
Generally you expect the courses on a degustation menu to be quite small servings – potentially no more than a mouthful. It should be a pretty damn good mouthful, however. And typically they will serve the courses with matched glasses of wine. At Dijon, our servings were consistently entree- rather than mouthful-sized.
One of the interesting features of Dijon is that they don’t have a set degustation menu. They tailor it to your own likes. In practice, this means they give you a copy of the A La Carte menu, and you tell them what you’re interested in. As it turns out, there were quite a few things we were interested in – although not all of the menu was available in the form of degustation options.
We opted for the seven course menu (a five course is also available), which consisted of the following (as far as we can collectively remember):
- Crisp fried soft shelled crab with chilli caramel dressing, served with a semillon. This was fantastic – half a crab each, deep fried in a light batter. The crab was wonderfully juicy, and the shell was satisfyingly crispy. The chilli caramel dressing was very sweet, and it overpowered the semillon to some degree.
- Seared scallops with a cherry tomato butter sauce and rocket salad. The scallops were crisp-edged on the outside and just warmed through in the middle. Typical of everything we had here, they were carefully treated and perfectly cooked.
- Harissa spiced swordfish with coriander yoghurt and a caperberry, pickled cucumber and watercress salad. My partner, not normally a fan of ‘meaty’ fish, happily raved about this delicately flaking apart example. The pickled cucumber was possibly surplus to requirements.
- Caramelised duck liver parfait with poached pear and toasted brioche. A more informed foodie than I, my partner voiced her (possible incorrect) opinion that it wasn’t today’s brioche (a yeasted bread made with butter), but the parfait (patÃ©, essentially), with a crisp, caramelised top (kind of like a creme brulee), was delicious. Whilst a nice contrast to the parfait, personally I wasn’t sure what to do with the pear.
- Crisp pork with a sweet chilli sauce. These shreds of deep fried pork were salty, crunchy and sweet all at once, kind of like the ultimate pork crackling.
- Something with beef that we can’t remember – but we remember that it was good!
- Peanut brittle parfait and chocolate ice cream with caramel sauce. If I’d had this dessert for all seven courses, I would have been happy. This was served with an excellent botrytis semillon dessert wine.
We ended the meal with excellent coffee. Also worth noting was the butter, flavoured with black truffle, to go with the house-cooked bread.
A table near us ordered a five course degustation, in which they had quail for one course, and fresh oysters with granita for another, but their menu otherwise overlapped quite a bit with ours. They seemed to be having an equally good time.
In terms of ambiance, being located in a bit of a shopping strip with neon opposite detracts a little, but the interior space is classy and comforting. We sat in leather chairs – nicely padded and a perfect height for the tables. The wine was apparently served in Riedel glasses, of which we used several styles over the course of the meal. The service was casual and friendly, even informal, but extremely efficient and professional. It was obvious that the staff cared. For seven courses with matched wines, and a pre-dinner glass of bubbly, there wasn’t much change from $300. Not cheap, but worth it. By the time we staggered out, we were full, but not bursting; tipsy, but not pissed. Overall, the meal was outstanding, each course more than pulling its weight. And given that we had a lot of influence over what we had, we can highly recommend it for someone after the variety of flavours and textures that degustation brings, but without the pre-determined experience that degustation can be.
(Cross-posted from The Killfile.)