Dull name, exciting food

Name: Aubergine Restaurant
Address: 18 Barker Street, Griffith ACT 2603
Ph: (02) 6260 8666
Web: www.auberginerestaurant.com.au
Owner/Chef: Ben Willis
Hours: Lunch, Tuesday – Saturday, from 12pm. Dinner, Monday – Saturday, from 6pm.

There is something irritating about naming a restaurant after the French name of a vegetable, especially when said vegetable doesn’t appear on the menu. It a further nuisance when it was also the first restaurant of one of the most famous chefs in the world, although I am sure someone else probably got there before the esteemed Chef Ramsay.

To be fair, I am willing to excuse owner and chef Ben Willis because he inherited Aubergine. And I, for one, am extremely glad that he did.

Those familiar with me will know that I have no great love for the Mussillon empire of restaurants. Thankfully, Aubergine is a breakaway from that chain, and is a significant improvement.

The menu read very well. Between things like pig’s head croquettes and confit duck leg sausages, it had a lot of very exciting items. And everything delivered with gutsy, often rich flavours.

The meal begins in a proper way with a slice of strong rye bread with quality salted butter. An entrée of blue mackerel topped with some prawn escabeche and some sort of salty foam was light, fresh and tasted of the sea.

For main, a tender, mustard-crusted pork cutlet was served with a brilliantly moreish dish of cauliflower and black pudding gratin and some braised fennel. This managed to be packed with flavour, but not at all heavy. Some lamb loin served with a rich, crisp pastry cigar of shoulder meat and olive gnocchi was similar. The gnocchi had that beautiful black olive flavour without the astringency.

Desserts were simple but pleasing. A warm, gooey but still light twice-cooked rhubarb soufflé was accompanied by slightly tart stewed apple, raspberry and rhubarb, and perfectly suited the drizzly evening outside.

All of this was washed down with a Dalzotto ‘Pucino’ Prosecco and a 2006 Toolangi Estate Chardonnay, chosen from a well planned list.

At $65 for three courses, before wine, this was excellent food for very good value. However, the evening was let down by rather lacklustre service. The gap between entrée and main was excessive, and water glasses were not refilled once during the entire meal. Our main waiter came across as very inexperienced, which should hopefully improve in time but demonstrates the importance of a strong manager on the floor.

Aubergine is a beautiful room with accomplished food. If only the name weren’t so cliché.

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About freehugstommy

Food, films and politics are my triumvirate of passions.
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