This has been an interesting year for my little blog. From the highs of my US travels, through to the lows of the crushing laziness that has resulted in the 2012 wrap-up being published more than a week into 2013, I feel that I have brought some interesting posts, but not enough of them.
I have eaten some incredible food in the past twelve months, from the hot dogs and burgers through to some of the most celebrated food in the world. A number of dishes have been good enough to gain a place in the hypothetical “ultimate meal” that oft-times floats around my head.
These dishes were in Melbourne and Sydney, New York, Chicago and Charleston, and they served to show that Canberra is not quite in that top league.
However, there is no reason to despair, my fellow Canberrans. While we don’t lead the world, there is still plenty of excellent food to be found around the waters of Burly-Griffin. And so for the third time I bring you The Gourmie Awards, celebrating the best of restaurants in the ACT.
Of course I must again give the disclaimer that this is simply my opinion, based on the many restaurants I have managed to get to. This year, thanks to three months out of the country, I have not eaten at as many as I would have liked to, but I still feel that I have done the city justice.
And with that, we will begin with:
The 2012 Gourmie for Best Restaurant
For the past two years I have sung like a mighty gospel choir about the glories of Dieci e Mezzo, with modern Italian food that was able to overcome the problems of a fishbowl location. But unfortunate financial issues meant that fine institution was forced to close their doors in what was a blow for the local dining scene. It also means that I have to find a new favorite.
Amongst the more serious “best of” lists of recent years, there has been near total agreement of what restaurant hits the heights in Canberra. It was a restaurant that I visited over two years ago, and while I enjoyed it felt that it fell short of the accolades it was receiving.
But I had to go back, had to try it one more time. And now, I must admit, I have leapt with great enthusiasm on the bandwagon, because there is no question in my mind that Aubergine more than deserves to be called the best.
The food that is coming out of Ben Willis’s kitchen is inventive, exciting and technically impressive, but more importantly it is delicious. My meal was near faultless, with some moments taking it up more than a step. From the confit of ocean trout, through to the layered freshness of a mulberry dessert, Aubergine is making the best food in Canberra.
The highlight was a dish of pork and crab. The pieces of pork belly are braised then deep fried in a crisp sago batter, served with just cooked spanner crab, Pernod infused cubes of fresh watermelon, and a slightly spicy rouille as a sauce. All this was the garnished in sea purslane and land seaweed, a particularly juicy green that I hadn’t seen before. In terms of textures and flavours it was spectacular, just demonstrating the skill of the kitchen.
On top of this, service was impeccable and wines were top class. If you haven’t made it to Aubergine yet, or not for a long time, then I don’t know what you are waiting for.
The 2012 Gourmie for Best Dish
As always, this is a very difficult category. While the pork and crab mentioned above would be a clear contender, I like to spread the love around a bit.
This year the Best Dish award goes to not necessarily the most impressive dish, but it is the one that captured the hearts of the city the most.
Since it opened in October, Smoque has been packed to overflowing with people wanting hot, smokey meat, and Grant Kellis and his team deliver. But if there is one thing that people are clamouring for, it’s this year’s winners, the Memphis Pork Ribs. Sweet, sticky and fall apart tender, a full rack of these babies is a serious indulgence. You eat it with your fingers, then lick them clean, and you enjoy every sinful minute.
There are plenty of great things on the menu at Smoque (I give special mention to the pies and ice creams – go for the salted butter caramel), and I encourage you to try them all. But I hazard a guess that most will come back to those glorious ribs.
The 2012 Gourmie for Best Wine List
Last year I gave this award almost as a consolation prize, handing it a restaurant that had a very good wine list, but deserved it more as my second place for the Best Restaurant gong. This year, things are very different.
Well, not that different. It’s going to the same restaurant, and they’re still probably my number two choice. The difference this year is that the wine at Sage more than stands on its own as deserving praise. The matching wines that came with the tasting menu did what all good wine matches should and significantly improved the dish.
A 2011 Brumont Gros Manseng – Sauvignon Blanc worked with the mandarine rind in a cured ocean trout dish in a way that lifted both wine and food. A local 2009 chardonnay, made by Wimbaliri, tasted of buttered pineapple, beautiful with some scallops and cauliflower. And the meal finished with some New Zealand ice wine, the 2011 Te Mania Koha, a fresh, clean flavour to cut through the rich chocolate dessert.
Sage are getting better and better, and it’s clear that they know their wine.
The 2012 Gourmie for Best Cheap Restaurant
I really struggled with this one this year. I was thinking through the new places around town where you could get a decent meal for $20, and while a lot were enjoyable, none stood out. But then I realised that one of this city’s culinary landmarks just had a huge year, yet are still turning out the sort of food that people are willing to travel to get.
They may no longer be in a van by the water, but Brodburger still deliver one of the best burgers in the country. Juicy, rich meat patties, a proper bread roll, your choice of three types of cheese and all the requisite extras, it’s hard to get a more satisfying feed for the price.
Personally I go for the Broddelux, its full pound of meat laden with egg and bacon on top of everything else. Sure, you have to stretch your mouth to bite the thing, and it makes a hell of a mess, but a great burger is one of life’s simple pleasures. Brodburger certainly make a great burger.
So that’s the awards for another year, if a little later than intended. For 2013 I will be getting back into the swing of writing. I promise at least one post a week, every week, and I want everyone to abuse me if I break that.
I will finally get around to improving the look of my blog, too. I’m an award winning blogger now, so I need to lift my game. But the focus, as always, will stay on the food, and on the writing about the food.
So, my friends, stay tune, and eat well!