Address: Gorman House Arts Centre, Batman St, Braddon.
Ph: (02) 6249 6050
Hours: Dinner Tuesday to Saturday from 6pm, lunch Tuesday to Fridays at 12pm
Chefs: Mark Raets
I have never understood why restaurants advertise old awards. If somewhere won an award a few years ago, and then has not won anything since, I can not help but wonder what has happened. Did they used to be good, but aren’t any more?
Sage in Braddon presented me with the very question. On its website it broadcasts that it won a Good Food Guide chefs hat in 2007. As you walk through the gentle atmosphere of the Gorman House arts centre, you see on the restaurant’s door stickers for the 2003 and 2004 Gourmet Traveler restaurant guide. It does not currently hold any of these honours. The only thing going through my head is why has this place fallen out of favour?
It completely baffles me that Sage is not still getting awards. This was one of the most unexpectedly enjoyable meals I have had in Canberra.
The room was clean and elegant, and quite modern. It was also small, and unfortunately empty. While this made for an intimate meal and attentive service, it did create some serious noise issues. The music was a little too loud, and we could hear every shout and crash coming from the kitchen. Even still, it was a very pleasant environment to eat in.
The food was consistently surprising, beginning with the herb bread. A warm piece of crusty bread with butter and garlic, then draped in freshly cut basil. Incredibly sensible, and beautifully fresh, but not something I’ve seen before.
For entrée I had sautéed baby calamari, served with sumac, almonds, green olive, parsley and amaretto. After having had so much bland, tough calamari around Canberra, this dish was stunning. The sweet lemony saltiness of the sumac matched perfectly with the sharpness of the excellent Murrumbateman olives. I couldn’t really taste the amaretto, but the almonds added a nice bit of crunch. It was also good to see someone using parsley as more than just a garnish, as here they added an extra dimension to the dish.
This was matched with a 2007 Zarephath Riesling from WA. By itself, this was far too acidic, but mellowed considerably when combined with the sumac.
My main of veal Saltimbocca roulade was about 6 months behind the current trends in terms of presentation, with a now passé smear of cauliflower puree crossing the plate. However, that puree was one of the best parts of the dish. It had that beautiful creaminess that cauliflower so often does, and worked well alongside some light, crisp, deep fried sage. I will have to remember that sage for my next cauliflower soup. Sadly the little rolls of veal with provolone, tomato and sage were less exciting, the meat itself being a little dry. A side salad of tomato, bocconcini and kalamata olive was refreshing, but underseasoned.
It was well matched with a 2007 Labyrinth Haka Tempranillo from California. This was much softer than the Spanish tempranillos that I am used to, and very easy drinking.
When researching this restaurant beforehand, the dessert menu on the website had one of the strangest sounding dishes I had ever seen, of cola poached cherries with yoghurt sorbet spider and sherry granita. With the change of season the dish had changed to vanilla and star anise poached apricots. The spider was still there, and it was served with baklava and Turkish delight. With such a odd sounding dessert, I had no choice but to see whether it would be a disaster.
Amazingly, it wasn’t. When the waiter delivered it, he poured lemonade over the sorbet and apricots. It created a tangy, cool soup, with a wonderful nuttiness from the pistachios floating in it. Under all of this were the apricots, their natural flavour heightened by the vanilla and anise, which came through a lot more than I had expected. The baklava was unnecessary but pleasant, while the Turkish delight was simply unnecessary. What could have been a complete mess turned out to be a delightful, and playful, dish.
Service was excellent. Attentive and knowledgeable, my waiter was always ready with a recommendation when I asked. There was not long between courses, and I finished in only an hour and a half. Had I had company, I might have found this too quick. As it was my only companions were the wonderful words of Kurt Vonnegut, so this timing suited me quite well.
Overall, this was an extremely entertaining meal. There was a risk of overreaching, but that risk was thankfully not realised. In fact, it was the most traditional dish, the veal, that was the least exciting. While not at the absolute forefront of cuisine in this country, it is definitely moving in the right direction. And at $100 for food and wine, it is one of the few places in Canberra where I think the food is cheaper than similar quality in the larger cities.
Still, I wonder how good it was in 2007.