My friends and I were keen to try Canberra’s #1 restaurant, Aubergine, rated by the Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Food Guide. The restaurant’s simple website only provides address details and a sample menu. On the night, we were greeted warmly by a waiter and shown to our seats. I was immediately asked if I wanted still or sparkling water before a linen napkin was placed on my lap.
The menu offers four courses for $80 with a selection of dishes to choose from, or a 5 course Chef’s selection tasting menu for $95. We would not be told which 5 dishes would be selected and most of us wanted to pick off the menu so we decided to go with the 4 courses. I noticed the menu is printed with the date on top which implies to me that they must change the menu daily.
The first course was the one set dish of seared bonito, beetroot, smoked eel and horseradish. It was lovely. The beetroot was easy to slice through and naturally sweet. The smoked eel mousse (white bit) sounds funny but tasted deliciously fishy and easily mixed well with everything else. It has almost a light pate taste to it. I love raw fish and thought the seared bonito was perfect. This was a fresh and beautifully balanced dish. Very happy with it.
Second course – I chose the sashimi Clarence River mackerel, spanner crab, crab jelly and cucumber. The mackerel was soft and there was quite a bit of crab meat which pleased me. The crab jelly was wobbly and smooth. I was expecting subtle flavours in the jelly so was surprised when I could taste the bold flavours of crab – impressive. This was a nice cold dish but the presentation seemed a bit clumsy to me.
I could not help but feel food envy from my friends’ first course selection. The summer vegetable escabeche, sweet corn cream and goat’s cheese looked so bright and summery. Beautiful presentation.
The gazpacho, king prawn, almond cream and prawn floss looked good too.
Third course – Cape Grim beef short rib, cauliflower, mushroom and anchovy. When this dish came out, I could tell the beef was cooked to my liking – medium and slightly pink. It glistened in the light. The beef was tender, juicy and cooked perfectly. At first I thought the white round slices on top were crackers of some sort, but they were soft and I realised they were slices of raw mushrooms. Although visually pleasing, I would have preferred cooked mushrooms. I was a bit worried about the anchovy mousse as I’m not a huge fan of anchovy, however this wasn’t overly powerful and I actually liked it. Sitting underneath the beef lies some crumbed cauliflower cheesy bake. A great dish that I thoroughly enjoyed.
Fourth course – licorice custard, rose ice cream, strawberries, oat biscuit. I love licorice so I was very curious about this dessert. I was expecting black custard in a bowl or something similar, not this bright dessert of pinks. The licorice custard (the light grey coloured goop) was amazing – smooth and light, but with the distinctive sweet flavour of licorice. The large pink puff on top is a soft meringue. The oat biscuit is syrupy sweet and delectably crunchy. I loved this dessert – it provided strong flavours from the tart strawberries, syrupy oats and licorice combined with a delicacy from the sweet meringue and subtle rose water flavoured ice cream. Looks very pretty too!
One of my friend’s ordered the poached peach, lemon meringue, long pepper custard and raspberries. Though the meringue tasted a bit like licorice. Yum!
Service at Aubergine is fantastic. Water is regularly topped up and linen napkins placed on laps promptly. The staff are very polite and friendly, and can answer all your questions. Dietary requirements aren’t a problem here either. The restaurant has a quiet ambience about it with open spaces, high ceilings and windows, and plenty of sunlight before it gets dark and soft lighting settles in.
I still place Sage Dining Room as my number 1 – the food and presentation there just excites me a lot more. But I would still recommend Aubergine for a special occasion or foodie fine-dining get togethers.