TOP 100 QUEST: AUBERGINE, Canberra
What’s that I hear you ask? Top 100 restaurants in Canberra? Yes – not only one, but TWO on the current list, meaning this little gourmet traveller had to pack a bag and head to Australia’s capital city. Aubergine in Griffith was my first stop. Chef Ben Willis and wife Andrea took this place over in 2008 and they have certainly been enjoying the industry accolades, winning awards and being included on the top restaurant lists. It doesn’t look that impressive from the outside – and even on the inside it’s more about understated elegance. It’s quite a small, intimate space with simple fittings. The floor to ceiling windows are a good thing, even if there isn’t much of an outlook. But ultimately, it’s all about the food.
It’s modern cuisine made with produce from local farms and suppliers committed to quality and seasonality. And, at $90 for four courses, it’s a bloody bargain! Even more so because my main course was one of the best dishes I’ve ever had – but I’ll get to that shortly. The snacks arrived – Salmon on a sourdough crisp, a Parmesan biscuit and Potato wafers with raspberry powder. They started the meal off nicely. This was followed by the chef’s chosen starter for the day – Poached chicken, globe artichoke, local asparagus and parmesan. – a really pretty dish and the chicken was so succulent!
You get to choose from 4 entrees, 4 mains and 3 desserts. For entrée I chose the Quail ballotine, garlic scapes, potato puree and Braidwood black garlic. I loved it, but this is where individual preferences step in – my friend also ordered it and she didn’t like it at all! She felt that you couldn’t really taste the subtlety of the quail and likened it to a sausage. I however, loved all of that flavour and the fact that it had been boned and rolled. Then onto my main – THAT main! Yes, it was one of ‘those’ moments when I was completely blown away. Wagyu rib, fermented cherries, beetroot, radicchio, red wine hollandaise. What a combo!! The beef – thinly sliced and rare, plus slow cooked and sticky. This dish had oomph, it had texture – it was all going on! *SIGH* It’s definitely up there in ‘most memorable dishes’. Three of us went for this main and we were all making very appreciative noises which could have been mistaken for the mooing of happy cows.
For dessert I chose the White chocolate mousse, coconut sorbet, strawberry, rhubarb and elderflower. It was ok, but I didn’t think it was anything amazing (perhaps influenced by the fact that I’m not really into desserts). Others had the Brown butter icecream, almond praline and frozen verbena milk which was, by their accounts, excellent, once you left it for a couple of minutes to reduce the effect of the extreme cold of the frozen milk.
I thought the service was excellent, having that little bit of extra friendliness about it that I’ve missed in a lot of places recently – it certainly seems like everyone loves working there. And it would be remiss of me not to make mention of the impressive wine list which has an extensive selection sourced from Australia and beyond.
Given the quality of food, the service, the wine and the value for money, I would definitely dine at Aubergine again.