Address: Shop 4, Melbourne Building, West Row, Canberra City
Ph: 02 6247 8212
Chef: James Mussillon
Hours: Lunch Tues – Fri, 12pm – 3pm. Dinner Tues – Sat, 6pm – 11pm
In Canberra, there are few names that lord over the restaurant industry like that of James Mussillon. The definition of a big fish in a small pond, Mussillon has built a culinary empire in the capital with three of the most successful restaurants in town.
He made a good choice to settle in Canberra, because despite his impeccable cooking history, I can’t imagine him having this level of success in Sydney or Melbourne. While I have only eaten at one of his restaurants, it misses on too many points.
Sabayon is the cheapest and the most casual of the three, but at around $100 per person you still do expect a certain level of quality.
The décor is perfectly acceptable, but not in any way exciting. Mostly forgettable, the only things that stick in my mind are the inexplicable purple velvet wall, and wooden floors that make the noise significantly louder that would be expected.
Bread is the first thing that you eat in most restaurants. There are some people who judge a whole restaurant on the quality of the bread. While I am not that extreme, I can’t understand why people bother with bread if they are not going to bother with quality bread.
The waiter brings to my table an insipid white bread roll. The centre is bland and light to the point of almost not existing. It has a crust that is crisp only because he roll has been heated, but heating doesn’t make up for being cheap. It was like they’d bought rolls from the supermarket. At least the butter was ok.
For entrée I had roasted quail with cauliflower puree, chorizo and a fine herb salad with a thyme jus. This was an unjustified description of an incredibly lousy dish. I was instantly struck by the stupidity of the presentation. The quail was quartered and spread to the extremities of the plate, with cauliflower puree in skinny little lines, so minute they added no flavour amongst the pool of not particularly well flavoured jus. Chorizo is one of the great ingredients of the world, but this cheap tasting version belonged more on a dodgy pizza than a restaurant plate. The best part of this dish was the surprising touch of coriander, an ingredient that managed to work despite having no logical place in this otherwise Euro-centric dish. A disappointment on every front.
The main was an improvement on this, with a piece of Grass fed yearling beef fillet that was an absolute hero of a piece of meat. Tender and beefy, it was a carnivore’s dream. If I had just been served this steak with the sweet, sticky port jus it would have been a marvel of a dish. It’s a pity they had to mess it up with wasted sides. The so-called truffle mash was a poor quenelle of potato with what I really hope wasn’t truffle on it, because if it was they ruined that normally beautiful tuber. The roasted king brown mushroom were fine but didn’t add anything, and the green beans were just too crunchy for my tastes.
Woody Allen once said that “Life is full of misery, loneliness, and suffering—and it’s all over much too soon.” This pretty well summed up my feelings on the wines by the glass list. A measly three whites and three reds, and if the cloying riesling and next to flavourless shiraz that I drank were anything to go by, what was there was misery in a glass.
Dessert was a black sherry and vanilla cheesecake with Persian fairy floss and sour cherry compote. While this description was an oversell, it turned out to be a reasonably enjoyable dessert. Cheesecake is hard not to like, and while I couldn’t taste any sherry or vanilla, this was still a likable version. Persian fairy floss is always a fun if unnecessary touch, and the cherry compote was strong and tart.
The only unfortunate part of this dish was the overly hard biscuit as the cheesecake base. This was made worse by the ridiculous habit this restaurant has of not providing anything more than a single spoon for dessert. What is wrong with a fork?
Service was generally solid and friendly, though it had its issues. I can’t understand how anyone is still bringing wines by the glass to the table already poured. It really is just bad etiquette.
I have had better meals at Sabayon in the past, and I probably will again in the future, but they need to fix things up quite a lot. Better bread, dessert forks, and a little more thought into the major dishes would go a long way.
Now just to see how if rest of the Mussillon stable can improve in line with their increase in price.