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Sage in 2012, a restaurant review

By johnboy 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.

What’s Your opinion?


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Sage in 2012, a restaurant review
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BimboGeek 9:29 am 16 Dec 13

Regarding waiters’ wages, they are more like $22-25 but do go up substantially with good tips. This is usually more related to the type of customers likely to appear on the given shifts than the quality of service.

Everyone has a different policy on exactly how and when tips are divided but it’s typical to remove the “change” from EFT as cash from the till and divide it between the staff. Unfortunately of course the boss pays a higher fee for these transactions and it’s more complicated for staff to balance EFT at the end of that shift. But not impossible: please tip away! It helps waiters get a better idea what you like, even if it’s just a dollar or two.

poetix 6:06 pm 15 Dec 13

We always tip good service, and this was exceptional. Mr P says he gave 10% as a tip.

The toilets didn’t worry me; I don’t sit in there while eating, and I see them as historic!

There was a party outside, but it was not too noisy inside. It was fun to watch very tipsy people trying to pretend that they were not as they came in for their table, walking a bit like the Thunderbirds puppets. I like a buzz rather than total silence, though there was one woman with an awful laugh like sandpaper crossed with cellophane. But that was also quite amusing.

Our table was at a sufficient distance from other tables, which is important.

c_c™ 5:07 pm 15 Dec 13

I’m not against tipping per se, though in a country with our industrial relations system, I certainly think it should be a reward for particularly good service rather than an expectation or a norm. The big question mark for me is where do the tips go in Australian cafes/restaurants?

When you sign off on a tip on the receipt, that money first goes into the business’ merchant account, then what? If you had one waitress doing your table, is there a record and she get’s that whole tip next pay day? If you had three staff waiting on you does it get divvied up and shared among them next pay day? Do the tips just get consolidated and for a bonus for all staff, even those who didn’t wait on you and didn’t don’t do a good job? Or does the business just pocket the tip?

Something tells me it’s the latter, because cafe owners are kicking up a stink over the banning of credit card signatures soon, because it removes the process for customers to add a tip unless it’s keyed in on the pad manually upon the customer’s verbal request. I.e. it forces them to ask for a tip. I somehow doubt they’d be so annoyed if it was only staff losing some money.

Deref 4:20 pm 15 Dec 13

Masquara said :

I hope the tipping culture in the ACT has moved on since February 2012. Tipping wait staff is de rigueur in the US, where waiters must rely on tips and are paid by the restaurant just a few dollars an hour, perhaps $4. There is simply no reason for JB to have tipped a waiter with $30 for doing his/her job, when said waiter would have been earning some $25-$30 an hour (unless the restaurant is paying back-pocket). Tipping should have no place in a culture where wait staff are paid well. Restaurants in Australia know damn well that tipping is an American cultural thing, driven by the existence of a working poor, and they should actively discourage customers from tipping their well-paid staff.

Hear bloody hear! Tipping is an abomination imported from a society with the most regressive social policies in the industrialised world.

DrKoresh 3:33 pm 15 Dec 13

Aeek said :

chewy14 said :

GardeningGirl said :

Any improvement on the toilets Poetix?

Went last week also. Food still top notch, toilets still horrible. Outside still extremely noisy. Worth it? Not sure.

I see the toilets as a Federal legacy. Does any state has this tradition of shared toilets? I know SA doesn’t. It sucks for the restaurant not to have control of their toilets. Are they allowed to have their own, or is that prohibited?

First of all, I’m pretty sure Gorman House is a heritage listed building or something similar, which means doing renovations are a big pain in the arse and require all sorts of permissions. Secondly, it sounds like the place is doing just fine with its current amenities so there isn’t really any incentive for the owners to spend the money on fixing out a fancy crapper.

Aeek 3:07 pm 15 Dec 13

chewy14 said :

GardeningGirl said :

Any improvement on the toilets Poetix?

Went last week also. Food still top notch, toilets still horrible. Outside still extremely noisy. Worth it? Not sure.

I see the toilets as a Federal legacy. Does any state has this tradition of shared toilets? I know SA doesn’t. It sucks for the restaurant not to have control of their toilets. Are they allowed to have their own, or is that prohibited?

Masquara 2:26 pm 15 Dec 13

I hope the tipping culture in the ACT has moved on since February 2012. Tipping wait staff is de rigueur in the US, where waiters must rely on tips and are paid by the restaurant just a few dollars an hour, perhaps $4. There is simply no reason for JB to have tipped a waiter with $30 for doing his/her job, when said waiter would have been earning some $25-$30 an hour (unless the restaurant is paying back-pocket). Tipping should have no place in a culture where wait staff are paid well. Restaurants in Australia know damn well that tipping is an American cultural thing, driven by the existence of a working poor, and they should actively discourage customers from tipping their well-paid staff.

Deref 8:06 am 15 Dec 13

Haven’t been for a couple of years. Sounds like it’s time to go again. 🙂

Ben_Dover 7:55 am 15 Dec 13

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.

In November, on our bi-annual trip back to Blighty, we ate at “Dinner by Heston.” A totally faultless experience, if not quite as mind blowing as The Fat Duck.

chewy14 said :

Went last week also. Food still top notch, toilets still horrible. Outside still extremely noisy. Worth it? Not sure.

That makes it a total fail as far as I am concerned, fine dining should be about more than just good food. The ambiance and environment count for so much. (Having said that the setting for “Dinner by Heston” at the Madarin Oriental, Knightsbridge, is better than the setting of The Fat Duck.)

chewy14 11:47 pm 14 Dec 13

GardeningGirl said :

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?

Went last week also. Food still top notch, toilets still horrible. Outside still extremely noisy. Worth it? Not sure.

GardeningGirl 10:48 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?

poetix 5:13 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.

Ben_Dover 6:36 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.)

EvanJames 5:19 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.

Ben_Dover 3:59 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.

nicnacvb 11:50 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).

nicnacvb 11:45 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!

Jivrashia 10:41 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.

2604 8:18 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.

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