Address: 54 Marcus Clarke St, Canberra City ACT
Ph: 02 6247 4042
Chef: James Mussillon
Hours: Lunch: Monday-Friday, 12pm-3pm. Dinner: Monday-Saturday, 6:30pm-11pm
In Melbourne, if someone is writing about going out to eat vegetarian food, they will invariably mention Jacques Raymond. A world-class restaurant serving a degustation without meat, it is meant to be amazingly exciting. Victorian Vegetarians are extremely lucky.
So what does Canberra have to compare? For the final meal of Meatless March, I wanted something special. I wanted one of the best places in town to make me a feast of vegetables.
And where better to do this than a restaurant named after zucchinis.
Despite the one of the largest price tags in town, the lack of any real vegetarian options on the usual menu, and my general distaste of the rest of the Mussillon empire, I nonetheless decided to give Courgette the benefit of the doubt. So, issued with the challenge two days before dining, I went in for my vegetarian degustation.
The décor was plush, designed to be fine dining, with white linen tablecloths on well-spaced tables. Sitting in a room full of couples, my solo effort did feel out of place. However, with tables so wide that both partners would need their arms out straight to touch each other, even with a partner it wouldn’t have been such an intimate affair.
With the usual amuse bouche of pork rillettes being obviously out of the question, a velouté of aniseed was substituted. Strong of aroma but subtle in taste, this was silky and decadent. A simple but certainly pleasing way to begin.
Decadence is best tempered by freshness, and a pea, lavash, pine nut, mint and goats cheese salad delivered this in spades. Tasting like summer, this was served with a crisp cigar of pastry filled with smooth, cool Persian fetta, standing in a slice of fresh fig. A very clean dish, washed down nicely with the last of a glass of very good Australian sparkling, the 2004 Miceli Michael Methode Champenoise from the Mornington Peninsula.
A baked mushroom top placed atop a small asparagus and artichoke parcel sat on a plate beside a tomato tarte tartin, two thirds of Courgette’s one vegetarian entrée. The tarte had a nice sweetness, but could have done with some more caramelisation and a better quality tomato, but was pleasant enough. It had no connection to the mushroom dish, but this was ok as the smoky meatiness of the mushroom carried itself.
However, it was the parcel of asparagus and artichoke that really made the dish. While only a tiny pastry wrapped cylinder, this was packed with the sweet tanginess of these beautiful greens. Offset by a 2008 Bethany Riesling from the Barossa, this was a delight.
The best course of the evening was the one that did not seem to be derived from parts of other dishes. The stuffed and fried zucchini flower may have become bit of a cliché vegetarian option, but there is a reason for that. With a textural contrast between the crisp flowers and the tomato and goat cheese stuffing, and a flavour contrast between them and quenelles of a rich, sexy ratatouille, this was an extremely well put together dish.
The regular vegetarian main was less exciting. An aromatic spiced couscous and vegetable roulade was bland, and the disjointed selection of nuts and dried fruit did not save it. While not a bad dish, it lacked any verve, even with a soft Italian D’Alba to accompany.
Dessert was a slab of prune and Armagnac semi-freddo, topped with marshmallow and caramelised figs. The semi-freddo was sweet but lacked distinct flavour, and the marshmallow was unbelievably dense and chewy, but it was pleasant enough. A deliciously sticky honey cardamom glaze adorned the plate, but remained too much a part of the plate than a part of the dessert.
The wine list was solid, with a short but well planned by the glass selection. Service was efficient and friendly, acknowledging when a dish took too long to arrive and compensating with extra wine. All of this added up to a really very satisfactory evening.
There was plenty that wasn’t perfect, with a number of the same problems from the others in the trilogy. Wines by the glass were still being delivered pre-poured, and the bread was the same appallingly light fluffy roll that I have railed against in the past. And yet, the food delivered, so it didn’t matter as much.
If you are vegetarian, Courgette will make sure you have an enjoyable night out, provided you give them a little warning. Sure, $120 before wine does not represent anything close to good value for a meatless meal, but you are not going to leave unsatisfied.
In the end, this month has shown me that you can get good vegetarian food in Canberra, and this meal has demonstrated that it’s worth asking, even if there’s nothing on the menu. So take a risk. Call your favourite restaurant, give them some notice, and see what sort of a show they will put on. You might be surprised.