After a great experience last year at Sage Dining Room’s ‘Taste and Test’ nights, I was so excited to learn they were doing it all again this Autumn! From 25 March to 30 April 2014, you can book in to Sage‘s 5 course tasting menu dinners for a discounted price of $75. Sage is one of my favourite special occasion restaurants, and for this price, I booked in with a group of friends straight away. Similar to last year, our waiter asked if we were left or right handed, and then stamped the large white sheet covering the table with the Sage Scorecard. Diners are expected to rate each dish out of 10 and write down any positives/negatives of each dish.
Our waiter informed us that dishes would be changed/improved every night so there will be something different daily (hmm..a reason to go back..) He also told us we could have matching wines with the 5 courses (not sure how much this was), or matching non-alcoholic drinks for an additional $25. This is the moment my ears pricked up because for a non-drinker, this is really exciting news! I gleefully asked for the non-alcoholic matching. I have never dined at a restaurant that offered this. Ever. So this made my day. The first drink was a citrus and lavender fizz which was a fizzy sugary citrus soda. Not bad. The first course took a little while to come out so I had finished this drink by the time our meals had arrived.
Warm bread and butter were provided for the table (apologies for the blurry shot – I don’t think my camera focused on anything!)
Course 1 – Kingfish with nori crisps and fried potato skins, wasabi and avocado mousse and white soy sauce. The Kingfish was so fresh. You can’t go wrong with that. I can’t handle too much wasabi so the mix of wasabi and avocado mousse is such a great idea and didn’t overpower my senses. The nori crisps were addictive, just like crunchy chips. I was left wanting more. This was a stunning start to dinner. A beautiful modern Japanese dish.
The next drink was the tomato and rosemary water. It came out in a small tumbler with the tiniest amount of liquid in it. The mocktail version of a Bloody Mary, this had a very sharp and sour taste. There was a lot of spice in it too, probably Tabasco sauce, so I’m glad there was only a small amount to drink. Great for those with a sore throat, but not something I’d likely order again.
Course 2 – butternut pumpkin agnoletti with rosemary and bayleaf jelly. Our waiter informed us that Head Chef Nicolai Lipscomb (who recently joined the Sage team) spent 6 months in northern Italy and this is his handmade pasta creation. The pasta itself is an egg-yolk-rich and buttery pasta – looked like a brighter yellow than most other pastas. I must admit that I inhaled this dish. It was fantastic! The agnoletti are filled with a sweet butternut pumpkin and there’s some roasted pumpkin on the side. What I found interesting was the rosemary jelly (the clear jelly blob you can see on the plate) which had a very light flavour that I couldn’t quite make it out until I asked the waiter what it was. Of course pumpkin and rosemary go well together. I thought this was innovative and I enjoyed mixing it in with the pasta. What a fabulous dish. I hope this makes the final cut in Sage’s new menu. In saying that, I didn’t think the tomato and rosemary water was well matched with this dish.
The great thing about Sage is that they cater to those with gluten intolerances/allergies. Completely different dishes were provided to my gluten intolerant friends as the second course. This is the gluten free trout with sesame seeds, tomato and caviar.
The next drink was a beetroot and raspberry juice. I was a little nervous about drinking this as there’s only so much beetroot I can handle, but the raspberries offset the sweet earthiness of the beetroot. This ended up becoming my second favourite drink of the night. I’m definitely going to try to juice this at home.
Course 3 – chicken wings with cabbage and chilli. The boneless chicken wings were lightly battered and wonderfully crispy. I could hear the crunch as my knife cut through it. There was some kind of spicy mustard relish on the plate which I enjoyed and smothered onto the chicken – it had a bit of heat which became spicier the more I ate it. The dark BBQ sauce had a mixture of something else in it – perhaps some worcestershire and HP brown sauce? I found it was too overpowering as it was quite strong and vinegary and there was a lot of it on the plate. This dish had a lot of strong competing flavours. I thought the beetroot and raspberry juice was a perfect match to this dish as the sweetness of the drink cut through all the powerful flavours of the sauces.
The gluten free version of course 3 was another completely different dish of cauliflower textures. This was obviously good as one of my friends gave it 10/10 on the Sage Scorecard!
The next drink was apple juice with star anise. This was so refreshing with a beautiful ripe taste of apple. The star anise really lifted the juice, providing an exotic licorice flavour with the apple. It took all my will not to down all of this in one go. My favourite drink of the night 🙂
Course 4 – pork tenderloin wrapped in a crispy ham/prosciutto, apple pieces and apple puree, cinnamon, corn polenta and compressed sage. The pork was a little pink in the middle – just how I like it. Cooked perfectly, this was very easy to eat. You can’t go wrong with matching pork to apple, so the apple chunks and apple puree provided a contrasting sweetness to the meat. I would have preferred a little more apple to go with two big chunks of meat, but this was an enjoyable dish. The apple and star anise juice was a lovely complement to the meal.
The last drink was the smoked sage tea which came out in a funny looking glass contraption. The tea sat in a cone shaped glass bowl, which sat on top of a glass tumbler that had some smoke trapped inside. It looked pretty cool. We all ooh’d and aah’d.
Our waiter then lifted the glass bowl to pour the tea into the glass where we watched the smoke wafting up. When I brought the glass to my lips, I could immediately smell a heavy smokey flavour which was off-putting at first. I hoped the tea wouldn’t taste as strong as it smelt. And it didn’t. The tea had some kind of sweet syrup in it to counteract the smokiness. I could still definitely taste smoked tea leaves but it was very pleasant and sweet.
Course 5 was a dessert of tres leche cake – a cake using three types or forms of milk. A small round sponge lies on the bottom of the plate which has been soaked in condensed milk and surrounded by milk froth. A warm pineapple sits on top of the sponge, as well as coconut sorbet and I think milk-flavoured crunchy flakes on top. I should have stopped to try the flake on its own but this dessert was just too good. Another easily inhaled dish. The coriander on top provided me with a sudden epiphany – coriander works well with desserts! Maybe with creamy milky desserts, I don’t know, but the fresh coriander in this dish didn’t just offset a flavour, but improved it. Mind blown.
Our waiter informed us that their new pastry chef is Francis Ang who has won many awards for his dishes on the West Coast of America. I would love to try out all the desserts he comes up with if they’re as good as his tres leche cake. I also found that the smoky woodsy tea went well with this very sweet dessert. A good choice.
Service is fantastic here. The staff really know the food, are able to answer your questions and have a general chat. Last year’s Taste and Test was only $60 so there is a considerable increase in price. We were told that some diners would come in once a week to see the progress of dishes making it through to the final cut of the menu since the Taste and Test nights ran over a month. That’s dedication!
I love the service, innovation, presentation and quality of food here. A must try especially when it’s discounted.