Address: Gorman House Arts Centre, Batman St. Braddon, 2612
Ph: 02 6249 6050
Chef: Clement Chauvin
Hours: Dinner Tuesday to Saturday from 6pm, Lunch Friday at 12pm
When I began writing this over a year ago, my second review was of Sage, hidden in the leafy back streets of Braddon. It was a very good meal, with some interesting ideas and one of the best dishes I ate last year. Yet it was still not quite there.
Since then, Sage has gone through something of a rebirth. The already beautiful old room has been extended, creating one of the best dining spaces in Canberra. The courtyard has been given a bar, to be opened in September. And most importantly, they have imported a French chef with an impressively Michelin star studded resume.
It has made quite a difference. While Sage was never exactly broken, it has certainly been fixed.
The quality of the place is apparent pretty early, with attentive service despite a very full room. It becomes even clearer when you see a plate go past, as chef Clement Chauvin is the only person in this town delivering really modern presentation of their food.
From a richly umami starting snack of sake steamed razor clams with chilli and ginger through all four courses of surprisingly well priced a la carte menu, the food delivers.
You could go with a first course of truffled duck egg custard, served in the shell with a sprinkling of bacon dust and some parmesan soldiers on the side. This is a dish of childhood joy made luxurious by the abundance of truffle. Or you could eat some light scampi carpaccio, freshened by a thin layer of crustacean jelly and tomato, given a touch of sharpness from two batons of Dijon mustard meringue.
The next course steps things up a little, getting a bit more serious. Plump, if sadly a little bland, scallops sit on a Zen-garden design of roast chestnut puree, with slices of chorizo and dabs of densely sweet PX molasses ratcheting up the flavour. However, what made the dish was the freshness of the celery salad cutting through. Further proof of how amazing the leaves of this vegetable are.
Pork belly is one of the staples in this country, and here it was pull-apart tender, with a piece of crackling that had somehow been turned into almost a glassy texture. The fattiness was countered by the cooling combination of nashi pear and cucumber. Not necessarily a revolutionary combination, but delivered beautifully.
Yet it was in the third course where Sage really got impressive with updated versions of some of the most classic of dishes. Duck a l’orange, beef bourguignon and paella, three bases of European cuisine, all grace the menu, if in a form that isn’t necessarily so classic.
The duck has both a crisp skinned breast and a brilliantly fatty circle of duck leg terrine, and is paired with carrot and licorice purees.
Paella is all about the crust, so in modernising the dish Sage have taken the logical step of getting rid of all other rice. A caramelised crunch of rice is entwined with pieces of seafood, mostly squid and mussels, with a peas for sweetness, chorizo for fat, and a softening saffron veloute. The only criticism, with this and Sage in general, is that sometimes the seafood isn’t as fresh as it could be.
The beef bourguignon was the most successful reinvention. Two pieces of beef, one cooked in the pressure cooker until it looses its structural integrity, the other a sous vide cooked steak, soft and succulent. A parsley “moss” added some freshness, and some mushrooms and speck gave it the richness you expect from this dish. It was a real rib-sticker, and is one of the best dishes in town.
Desserts continued the sense of joyful decadence, whether a quenelle of butterscotch crème brulee with brandy snap and salted caramel, or crepe Suzette with flaming syrup poured over and a lighter than air orange ice cream. Even more fun was a deconstructed Black Forest cake, with chocolate, cream and sour cherries all piled together. These were dishes hard not to like.
That’s the case with everything at Sage. An attentive and talented sommelier offered excellent suggestions for matching wines, even to the point of offering us a wine not on the list that better suited our combination of dishes.
Even harder to dislike is the value. The four-course option was $80 before drinks, a steal for this quality. Even with starting cocktails, wine, and a tipple with dessert we walked out at only $130 a head.
In my original review of Sage I talked about how they were displaying their out of date Good Food Guide chefs hat. With the new guide around the corner, if Sage doesn’t get that hat back, the people aren’t paying attention.