Review: Taste & Test at Sage | HerCanberra

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Review: Taste & Test at Sage

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Sage Dining Rooms is one of my favourite restaurants in Canberra. The food and drinks are great, the service is excellent, and they like to have fun. One of the best examples of this is their biannual Taste and Test events. If you’ve ever watched Masterchef and wondered what it would be like to be one of the judges and have to score someone’s dish, then Sage’s Taste and Test is for you.

The premise is pretty simple—for $75, you get to try five dishes (trust me, this is really good value). You have to give each a score out of 10, and you can also write comments (and doodle on the tablecloth, if you so wish. It’s fun). Taste and Test runs for five weeks, with a different menu every week, and sometimes even variations each night. At the end of the five weeks, the dishes with the highest scores will become Sage’s winter menu. The catch is you have no idea what you’re going to get until it arrives at your table.

Scorecard and pencil at the ready!

Scorecard and pencil at the ready!

I went to my first Taste and Test in 2013, and loved it so much I’ve ended up going multiple times each year. I was particularly excited about this year, because of Sage’s new-ish Executive Chef, Damian Brabender, whose creations are amazing, so I booked in as soon as I heard it was on.

The friend I went with is also a Taste and Test enthusiast and veteran, so after taking our seats we wasted no time in asking our waiter (politely, of course) to bring on the food! We both also decided to have the matching soft drinks. Now, when I say soft drink, I don’t mean Coke or lemonade. Sage does really creative and delicious mixed drinks, which are great for people like me who can’t handle alcohol, or if you’re not necessarily in the mood for multiple glasses of wine.

Ginger, cranberry and maraschino cherry drinks.

Ginger, cranberry and maraschino cherry drinks.

To get us warmed up for the main event, we were presented with Damian’s signature amuse-bouche, the salt and vinegar chip. My friend and I had both had this before, and were very excited to see it again. Made from Crookwell potatoes, with hollandaise made from ghee, and cabernet sauvignon, this was just as good as the first time, and I stand by my original description: crunchy, salty, delicious, and fun to eat.

Salt and vinegar chip.

Salt and vinegar chip.

Then it was time for the first course, which was kingfish with black and white sesame, squid ink, grapefruit, avocado, fried shallots and a tapioca crisp. My friend and I both agreed the presentation of the dish was great. As for the taste, I liked it more than she did, but we both thought the fish was nice and fresh. I really liked the avocado and squid ink with the fish, and the sesame added a bit of texture. That said, I decided later in the night that the ingredients for this dish weren’t as cohesive as some of the other dishes.

Kingfish with black and white sesame, squid ink, grapefruit, avocado, fried shallots, tapioca crisp.

Kingfish with black and white sesame, squid ink, grapefruit, avocado, fried shallots, tapioca crisp.

Next, we were presented with a serve of bonito with pickled cucumber (and some other things which I missed the description of). Again the presentation was lovely, and I actually almost forgot to take a photo I was so keen to tuck in. With our first bite, we both got a bit of a surprise that the dish was a cold one, but that quickly passed as the flavours registered on our tongues. This dish was delightfully fresh and refreshing, the ‘meatiness’ of the bonito contrasting nicely with the lightness of the cucumber. This ended up being my friend’s favourite dish of the evening.

Bonito with pickled cucumber.

Bonito with pickled cucumber.

Our next dish was another seafood one, a serve of barramundi with carrots, eggplant, chickpeas, and pistachio dukkah. This was my favourite of the night. The fish was moist and sweet, its skin was nice and crispy, and all the components of this dish complemented each other. Delicious!


Barramundi with carrots, eggplant, pistachio dukkah.

At a previous Sage dinner my friend and I had been to, one of the dishes was a ‘surprise’ dish, i.e. it came out and one of the ingredients was a cover for the main part of the dish. The next course turned out to be another surprise dish. I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything like it before (this seems to be a theme with Damian’s creations, they’re awesome).

What it ended up being was pork shoulder and parsnip under a wonderfully geometric arrangement of kohlrabi, sprinkled with cavolo nero. The presentation definitely won the wow factor of the night, and the dish also tasted great. Pork can sometimes be quite heavy and strong, but this was on the lighter side, just the right amount of sweet, and juicy and delicious. And I never knew parsnips could be so moreish!


Pork shoulder under kohlrabi, with parsnip.

While we were waiting for our last course (dessert!), my friend commented that the dishes this time round had a bit more continuity than our previous experiences. She said they didn’t seem as disjointed, so it was easier to really enjoy each dish and be able to rate them more effectively.

We were eager to see what dessert would be, and we weren’t disappointed. As evidenced by the salt and vinegar chip, Damian has a way of taking a simple idea and making it into an unusual dish. In this case, it was milk, chocolate, and honey. While chocolate desserts can sometimes be a bit overwhelming, this one was not. It was light, and while the chocolate and honeycomb elements were sweet, the milk balanced them out perfectly. A simple idea, deliciously executed.

Milk, chocolate, and honey dessert.

Milk, chocolate, and honey dessert.

It’s worth noting that the atmosphere during Taste and Test evenings is great—the energy of the rooms is high, people are clearly enjoying themselves, and the scorecards provide great conversation pieces, as you deliberate over scores and discuss what to write.

So, if you want to play Masterchef judge and have a delicious and fun night out with friends/family, I highly recommend you book in for a Taste and Test session. They’re being held every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday until 7 May 2015, and bookings are essential. Take note that the menu will be different every week, and that Sage can also cater for specific dietary requirements. I can’t wait to go again in a few weeks’ time!

the essentials

What: Sage Dining Rooms
Where: Gorman House Arts Centre, Batman St, Braddon.
When: Tuesday-Saturday 12pm – 2pm, 5.30pm-10pm. Taste and Test dinners Tuesdays-Thursdays until 7 May 2015
Food: Modern Australian
Drinks: Wine and Mint Garden Bar cocktails. Matching wines and soft drinks also available for Taste and Test
Call: 02 6249 6050



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2 Responses to Review: Taste & Test at Sage

Liz Posmyk says: 12 April, 2015 at 3:25 pm

Interesting event… I haven’t been to Sage since Tom left, years ago… but then I don’t dine out all that often. Thanks for the story about this.

Michelle B says: 15 April, 2015 at 11:44 pm

Sorry for the late reply Liz, I don’t seem to get notifications about comments anymore! Anyway, thank you for reading 🙂 I know you’re an awesome cook yourself, but if you do decide to dine out sometime I’d highly recommend going to Sage, their current chef Damian is really creative and his food is amazing.

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