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Surprise Me: Sage Dining Rooms

Beatrice Smith

Foodie hipsters take great pains to dismiss fine dining degustations as ‘gentrified’, calling them the opposite of the trendy street food movement. And thank God.

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes there’s nothing better than standing in a car park licking jerk chicken off your fingers while wondering if your next $3 will go towards a cold beer or a glazed doughnut, but a special occasion calls for something a little more thought through.

My most recent special occasion was my boyfriend returning from almost four months traveling overseas. Happily, this coincided with Damian Brabender, head chef at Sage Dining Rooms, kindly inviting HerCanberra to a ‘Sage Dining Experience’ at their intimate Braddon restaurant.

For those who haven’t visited either Mint Garden Bar or Sage, they’re nestled in the leafy surrounds of the Gorman Arts Centre, just up the road from the front of Canberra Centre in Braddon. Mint Garden Bar presides over the courtyard outside Sage, with the cute black and white tiled bar giving the area a chic European feel. We grabbed a glass of (my favourite) Nick O’Leary Riesling from Mint before our booking and were pleasantly surprised when our waiter at Sage suggested another glass of the same – the communication is flawless, even if the atmosphere is totally different.

If Mint is ‘pre dinner cocktails in Capri, Sage is ‘first date in Paris’, with caramel walls and soft acoustics. Being the Thursday night before the Valentine’s weekend I was unsurprised to see mostly tables of couples around us but there was a corporate dinner booking out the other half of the restaurant and they looked to be having a grand time.

Sage’s current model of degustation is my favourite way of eating – you simply explain any dietary requirements, allergies or dislikes to your waiter and the chefs will tailor a degustation to suit your needs.

After being served some warm, chewy sourdough with butter and toasting the occasion with champagne, our first course arrived.

Having sampled a modest selection of ‘gels and foams’ fine dining degustations before, I was quite excited by the fact that our appetiser looked somewhat mysterious. Surely enough, the unassuming little pot was Salt and Vinegar Chip, with an amazing burst of sour and salty, the perfect way to whet your appetite.

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Salt and Vinegar Chip

Next up it was Snacks of Rye, yoghurt & caviar and Blackfoot chicken skin, cauliflower & raise blossom which were a lovely combination of textures and creamy, sharp flavours.

'Snacks'

‘Snacks’

Our first course of Spanner crab, sesame leaf and watermelon was refreshing and crunchy and absolutely gorgeous on the plate.

Spanner crab

Spanner crab

The ease of the surprise degustation menu meant that after the initial chat with our waiter, conversation about the food could actually occur over food, with each dish being explained by the waiter before they disappeared, leaving us to discuss the elements in peace. Instead of expectation, there’s a sense that anything could come out. As Damian comments “[Diners] are not there to be educated, they’re there to be entertained and surprised.”

And diners will be consistently surprised as the degustation menu changes bi-weekly, with around half of the old menu being carried into the new, ensuring seasonal produce is always the cornerstone and that people can dine as often as they like at Sage and never tire of the degustation option.

Next up it was the Yellowfin tuna tataki, wasabi peas, ALTO olive oil. This was probably my favourite dish both visually and in the mouth. The crunchy mild wasabi peas gave the creamy tuna the perfect counter texture and I couldn’t get enough of the sesame crust.

Tuna

Yellowfin tuna

Our third course was Cured wallaby, preserved leaves and macadamia floss which was honestly something I never thought I would eat, however the wallaby was rich and delicious – a truly unique taste to add to a degustation and served in a perfectly sized portion.

Wallaby

Cured wallaby

Confit Pork Jowl, smoked mussels, nori were the elements for the fourth course, looking more like origami on the plate than food. Luckily they were both edible and delicious and combined texture of the mussels and nori was a winner.

Confit pork

Confit pork

Our final main dish was my hands-down favourite, the Braidwood Lamb, Sage farm carrots and rosemary. Not only splendidly visually pleasing but the lamb melted in the mouth and the sweetness of the carrots was divine. The stand out dish of the night.

Braidwood lamb

Braidwood lamb

Our pre-dessert was a delightful Grapefruit sorbet with white chocolate and matcha tea moss, so delicious in fact that I neglected to take a photo of it. Having a sweet tooth I was excited to see what Sage would present for dessert. Happily, I was not disappointed.

Melba

Frozen yogurt Melba

The Frozen yogurt Melba with raspberry, peach and almond was divine, with a touch of playfulness in the ice cream-on-a-stick format. The crunchiness of the sprinkles was beautifully complimented by the softness of the cake and the tangy raspberry sauce. The wonderfully helpful manager Simon also helped pair our Melba with a dessert wine fit for the occasion – a sweet Pedro Ximenez that blended beautifully with the fruit flavours.

One of my favourite quotes from Damian didn’t come from our interview but from the Blog on the Sage website, where he says; “Yes, I use mainly local and organic produce. Yes, I always use seasonal ingredients. Yes, I ensure the food tastes good. BUT, I’m not here to ram it down people’s throats. Our diners are intelligent people; they know what is in season. I let the food speak honestly for me.”

To me, our evening at Sage wasn’t about being educated on fine dining or having phrases like ‘sous vide’ and ‘amuse bouche’ thrown around to look the part. It was about having the headspace and focus to really chat, connect and celebrate while being served some absolutely stunning dishes that we may have never have discovered without Damian and his team.

the essentials 

What: Sage Dining Rooms Degustation – menu changes twice weekly and is designed around individuals food intolerances and allergies
Where: Sage Dining Rooms, Gorman House Arts Centre, Batman St, Braddon
When: Dinner Tuesday- Saturday 5.30pm-10pm
Contact: 6249 6050 or at www.sagerestaurant.net.au

The author and her guest ate courtesy of Sage Dining Rooms

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Beatrice Smith

Bea loves that her job as HerCanberra’s Editorial Coordinator involves eating, drinking and interviewing people - sometimes simultaneously. The master of HerCanberra’s publishing schedule, she’s usually found hunched over a huge calendar muttering to herself about content balance. Otherwise you’ll find her at the movies, ordering a cheese board or ordering a cheese board at the movies. More about the Author