Name: The Hermitage
Address: North Building, 170 London Cct, City 2601 ACT
Ph: (02) 6230 0857
Chef: Aaron Underlund
Hours: Mon-Fri 11.30am-2.30pm, 5.45pm-10pm. Sat 5.45pm-10pm
After tasting the delightful ambrosia at some of the best restaurants in the country, what came next was always going to be a fall to earth. However, it would have been nice to not fall quite as far.
Despite a long-standing history in Canberra, the Hermitage is a restaurant in dire need of help. Situated next to the Canberra theatre, it is in an excellent position. And yet, on a Tuesday night, it was empty. Even though there was no show on to bring in the pre-theatre crowd, you would expect at least one customer.
But once the meal began, the dearth of customers became a lot more understandable.
Herb bread is one of the staples of the restaurant world. It should be crisp, with rich butter and fresh herbs. This failed on every account. At least it was warm.
An entrée of rabbit tortellini followed the lacklustre bread. The rabbit filling was reasonably nice. Unfortunately, nothing else was. The pasta was too thick and gluey, and the broth was near flavourless. Which was probably a good thing, considering the little flavour that was there was awful. To top it off was a confusing garnish of enoki mushrooms that added nothing to the dish other than an unpleasant texture.
I was a little wary before the entrée even came out, thanks to the multiple microwave beeps coming from the opening to the kitchen. Now, I am not so naïve as to think that kitchens never need a microwave. Even the best restaurants sometimes do, and there are some techniques that rely on it. But in this dish, there was definitely no need.
The Hermitage has apparently been around since 1974. In honour of this, there are a small number of “Classics” on the menu. One of these, a dish of veal medallions with kipfler potatoes and a mustard cream sauce, was presented in a way not exactly classic, but certainly way out of date.
A towering stack of veal pieces, topped with a mound of crispy fried sweet potato shavings, this was a style that hasn’t been seen in restaurants since Cher last topped the charts. Which fit well, since the mustard sauce it came with hasn’t been seen in restaurants since Cher first topped the charts.
Flavour wise, however, the mustard sauce was the best thing on the dish, with a good, sharp tanginess to it. The veal was adequate, although a few pieces were a little tough. The potatoes were cooked through, although little more could be said about them. With an updated presentation, this could be a decent dish for an RSL counter meal, but at $32 it needs to be a lot better.
Accompanying this was an unexciting glass of cabernet shiraz chosen from a truly beguiling wine list, where new shiraz and pinot noir come under the heading of “Red Varietals”, but older shirazes get their own heading, as does Cabernet/Merlot. The choices by the glass were decidedly unadventurous, like the alcohol section of an IGA.
However, there was an exciting list of old and rare wines by the bottle at the end of the list. My only worry for these was that there seemed to be a lack of understanding of wine service. There was an impression that, regardless of the wine, it would have been served in the cheap and inappropriately sized glass already on the table. That’s not the way to treat any wine.
A sucker for punishment, I felt myself compelled to choose the most absurd sounding dish from the dessert list. In this case it was a honey, rosemary and chevre pannacotta, not normally flavours linked with dessert. And that is with good reason. Once you remove the inedible garnish of a rosemary sprig and strips of vanilla pod, the favour was not exactly unpleasant, but certainly not right. The honey combined with the cheese was far too cloying, and didn’t gel with the rosemary at all. At least the texture was correct.
The room was lush, if oddly shaped and small, and the service was adequate. But then, it would have been worrying if the service fell down, as they were only serving the one customer.
This meal was, to put it bluntly, not at all good, and yet cost $84, almost as much as some of the best places in town. The only saving grace was the perverse pleasure I got from knowing that I would get to write this scathing review.
It turned this absurd meal into theatre.