Sage Dining Rooms is something of an institution in Canberra fine dining circles. It feels like it has been around forever. However, the chefs have not been resting on their laurels, they have been working hard to maintain their exacting standards. This has been achieved partly by holding regular “Taste and Test” sessions with the general public, a forum for feedback and honing their menu.
This is such a great concept and even though the seatings are in the hundreds, they always sell out. It takes great confidence to run such a show but the chefs have a serious pedigree with iconic restaurants Tetsuya’s, Rockpool, Ginger Boy, MG Garage and Sokyo on their resumes.
The restaurant itself is elegant with modern furnishings and romantic lighting. A few quirky pieces here and there add some interest and character to the establishment. There is also an extensive and gorgeous outdoor area open in the warmer months servicing the “Mint Garden Bar” where you can have cocktails with some serious gastronomic bar food.
The current menu has been simplified, removing the need to make difficult decisions. $75 for lunch or dinner provides five courses with the simple choice of meat or vegetarian and whether you can handle the matched wine option. The vegetarian option is impressive, with a lot of interesting choices that even the most devoted carnivore would be content with, but on this occasion I opted for the meat degustation.
To start, you are offered some in-house baked bread and butter with lava salt. The salt itself looks like small charcoal fragments and delivers on the smokey promise of its appearance. Used sparingly they add a wonderful element to the butter and bread, a combination that can be hard to improve upon.
This was followed by one of the highlights of the meal, Jerusalem artichoke. This is available on both menu options so you will not miss out on this delightful dish. The artichoke has a super crispy outside and a meltingly soft interior. The addition of cabbage added a sauerkraut tang to the flavour which contrasted nicely. The use of mustard was suitably restrained, adding to but not overpowering the flavour profile of the dish. Finally dots of a creamy sauce added richness. This is vegetarian food anyone could happily eat every day.
A sugar cured salmon was meltingly soft, topped with a delicate salsa for extra flavour. The whipped tahini sauce on the side provided an almost sour cream character to the dish, which is a classic combination with salmon. A nice dish that only needs a little more crunch, such as a crispy salmon skin, to contrast with its soft texture to make it truly outstanding.
A lamb backstrap was perfectly cooked with a smoky rub on the outside and a hint of pink inside. The beetroot bearnaise was a somewhat alarming colour, almost reminiscent of blood, but paired with celeriac provided a lovely earthy note to the dish. The accompanying walnut puree was outstanding, with a clear nutty flavour but perfectly creamy texture which paired perfectly with the lamb.
The finale of the mains was a triumphant pork belly served with a date glaze and cauliflower. The sweetness of the dates cut through the fattyness of the pork. The pork itself was beautifully tender, topped with the crunch of crackling. The use of different cauliflower preparations added to the dishes complexity with a creamy puree as well as caramelised cauliflower. A truly decadent and delicious dish.
The dessert offered with the meat degustation is a vanilla bean pannacotta with berries and rhubarb. I opted for the hazelnut financier instead which is available with the vegetarian degustation. This is a gorgeous dish with a mildly flavoured moist hazelnut cake topped with a variety of crunch and flavour elevating it to absolute heaven. A raspberry coulis and passionfruit sorbet added a slight tartness, contrasting with the sweetness of caramelised popping candy and the cake itself. Meringue and toasted hazelnuts provided crunch contrasting with the creaminess of the mousse and sorbet. Perfectly balanced and perfectly delicious.
Modern Australian cuisine can sometimes be frustrating in its fiddly nature, with blobs of this and gels of that, with a little foam on top that sometimes does little for the overall dish. Sage does not from suffer this. Sure their dishes are almost overwhelming in their complexity but every element has been perfected and added intelligently to produce a whole greater than the sum of its parts. This is a restaurant where you can take the foodiest of friends and be reassured they will be amazed. The service was also diligent and attentive which always guarantees a great meal out.
What: Sage Dining Rooms
Where: Gorman House Arts Centre, Batman St, Braddon
Open: Tuesday – Saturday, Lunch 12pm-2pm, Dinner 5.30pm – 10pm
Ph: 02 6249 6050
Geologist by day, food enthusiast by night.
You can follow more of her food adventures at: https://karenreallylikesfood.blogspot.com.au/
The author dined at her own expense. All opinions stated are her own.