“Most people think fine dining is stuffy… we’re here to make it fun.” announced our waiter.
Yesterday, Sage launched their new Taste & Test menu – five courses for $60 where the dishes change based on availability of produce and customers’ feedback from the night before.
It’s a fun concept that turns it’s nose up at snooty concepts of fine dining – we sit down at a table with pencils and colourful erasers that make us feel like kids again. When explaining the menu, our waiter comes around to stamp the scorecard on the white paper that covers our table, and at the end of the meal users are invited to write their feedback and that’s taken into account for the next day’s menu, which means the menu is a constant work in progress.
The courses are only made known to diners as they are presented at the table on the day, but what I was really surprised about was that none of the waitstaff asked about any dietary considerations our group might have – after asking for our choice of wine, the courses start arriving. Luckily none of our group of 12 have any allergies, but it’s an embarrassing oversight for a fine dining restaurant.
Garlic soup with dehydrated mushrooms and dried spring onions – a good match of textures and flavours, the soup was rich, smooth, slightly foamy and the ever-so-slightly overpowering flavour of the garlic paired well with the earthiness of the mushrooms. But as the first course of a menu that was trying to break out of the conventional fine dining mould, it was a tad cliché – a tiny portion on an oversized plate. I think the strong flavours would’ve worked much better as an amuse bouche. The wine pairing with a German Riesling was my favourite of the night.
Braised wagyu oxtail, baby artichoke, tomato fondue, olive powder, rosemary flower, confit octopus – the first thing we notice as the waiter put our plates down was a fishy smell. I’m always game to try new things, but the aroma of the confit octopus tentacles was quite dominating. The olive powder was interesting and it’s salty, briny flavour really brought out the meatiness of the oxtail. A good dish, and a popular one at our table, but there was way too much going on in terms of flavours. The dish just lacked finesse and attention to detail, while the oxtail was rich and flavourful, the artichoke wasn’t de-stemmed properly and the octopus had an awkward chewy texture and really didn’t add anything to the dish.
Maryland farm Murray cod, smoked kipfler potatoes, beurre blanc, baby asparagus and leek, rye crunch – fish was a surprising third course after the richness of the oxtail, but this was by far the standout dish of the night. Sweet, sustainably farmed Murray cod with fresh vegetables and a light butter sauce really highlighted the quality of the produce.
Textures of duck, heirloom carrot, celeriac remoulade – unfortunately our fourth course was just not all we had hoped for. My duck was overcooked and the mayonnaise dressing for the remoulade was thick and had oily undertones. The terrine was excellent though, and the highlight of the dish.
Oatmeal crumble, honey and pepper, ginger jelly, vanilla yoghurt , house made marshmallow – dessert really divided our table. A few loved it, but I felt that it was conceptually flawed and too breakfast-like. When it’s winter in Canberra, I’m looking for something decadent, sinful and warming – not oatmeal crumble and yoghurt.
Of course, you might disagree with me so here’s another review filled with (unnecessary) superlatives – if nothing else, you’ll find it amusing.
Of course this was a ‘test’ menu, and 5 courses for $60 of this caliber is excellent value – a lot can be forgiven, like serving fish after oxtail. It’s undoubtedly a fun night out with friends, and everyone can pretend we’re our favourite cravat-wearing food critic, but there’s no escaping that at the end of the day, Sage is good, not great. It lacks attention to the finer details that is the hallmark of true fine dining restaurants – respecting good locally sourced produce and paying close attention to detail. In all honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if it lost its chef’s hat this year.
Taste & Test runs Tues to Thursday until Sept 27. Call 02 6249 6050 to book.
Sage Dining Rooms
Gorman House Arts Centre, Batman St, Braddon
p (02) 6249 6050
Tuesday to Saturday, 5.30pm til 10pm
Lunch Saturday only, 12.30pm til 2pm