Canberra evokes images of museums, memorials and government in my mind as I’ve only really been to Canberra as part of school excursions. I must admit I have never really thought of Canberra as a gourmet foodie destination, but my most recent visit to our nation’s capital for the annual Truffle Festival has certainly changed my mind.
We only had 24 hours in town – so this is what we packed into our whirlwind foodie trip:
(Late) Lunch – Brodburger
A few of my friends had raved about Brodburger, which is a famous burger joint at the Canberra Glassworks. It apparently gets quite packed during peak dining hours, but we managed to score a table at around 2.30pm on a Saturday – just before it shuts up shop at 3pm.
Service was a bit slow, but the burgers were well worth the wait! We got the Baby Brodburger and Baby Beer Battered Fin to get some variety. The “baby” sized burgers were actually about regular sized burgers (slightly larger than Maccas burgers). The tasty homemade aioli coating the juicy Brodburger beef patty took the burger to another level and I liked the fresh Spanish onions too. The buns were pretty solid and didn’t fall apart despite all the sauce.
Baby Brodburger, $8.50
The Baby BeerBattered Fin was a nice burger too, with a tangy tomato relish to match the crispy beer battered grilled fish fillet, although I still preferred the classic flavours of the Brodburger.
Baby BeerBattered Fin, $8.60
Canberra Glassworks, Wentworth Avenue
11 Printers Way, Kingston ACT 2604
Phone: (02) 6162 0793
Coffee and croissants – Autolyse
One of the trendier streets in Canberra for cafes (or so I’m told) is Lonsdale Street in Braddon, which is home to a funky bakery cafe called Autolyse.
Almond Croissant and Lemon Polenta Cake
We picked up a rather strong piccolo latte here and a deliciously flaky and sweet almond croissant and a zesty lemon polenta cake for my friend for about $20 in total including another coffee and an iced tea. But there was a bit of a lag before we got our coffees – which may have been because we were sitting outside.
21 Lonsdale Street
Braddon ACT 2612
Phone: (02) 6262 8819
Dinner – Sage Restaurant
We were staying at the lovely Crowne Plaza hotel in town and for dinner we went to Sage Restaurant which is one of their associated restaurants, located about 10 minutes stroll away from the hotel in the Gorman House Arts Centre.
You’ll hear Sage before you see it – they have a pretty outdoor garden bar called Mint with music playing, but it was too cold for us to be sitting outside in the Canberran winter so we went straight through to the indoor Sage Dining Rooms to begin our Canberran fine dining experience.
The Sage Dining Rooms are actually quite inviting for a fine dining restaurant, with colourful banquette seating, indoor pot plants hanging overhead and a buzzing atmosphere. But apart from the unexpectedly vibrant decor, Sage’s service, calibre of the produce and superb presentation of the dishes are all reflective of the premium end of the market.
There’s a 5 course chef’s pick menu on offer, but we opted for the 3 course ($75 a head) with some bites to start and a side of Paris Mash with truffle. The Tendon Chicharrons bites weren’t just pretty to look at – they were crispy, light morsels of savoury heaven, indulgently loaded with avruga caviar, a delicious charred onion aioli and lime.
Tendon Chicharrons, $3 each
The Mushroom Consomme “bite” was an intense shot of creamy mushroom soup, with some hazelnut undertones.
Mushroom Consomme, $3 each
Our appetites were primed for the entrees after those sensational bites and we were not disappointed at all by the comforting serve of Glazed Pork Belly with a creamy, smooth cauliflower puree, and a fresh radish and nashi pear salad on top. But the standout entree of the night (and potentially the dish of the meal) was the incredible Sugar Cured Ocean Trout which had been cooked to perfection. The two soft, moist fillets of ocean trout were crusted with sesame and olive, flavoured with a smear of subtle wasabi and a drizzle of lime ceviche that the waitress pours at the table for you. The ocean trout was also complemented with some fish roe and super sweet grape tomatoes.
Glazed Pork Belly
Sugar Cured Ocean Trout
The mains were also quite intriguing, particularly the Ashed Pork Loin which was deliberately charred on the outside, infusing it with a distinctive smoky flavour and colour. The pork loin medallions were tender and surprisingly paired with garlic clams, which were nice in their own right. The waitress recommended for the molho de salsa which came with it to be drizzled on every element on the plate, but I found the only element which needed the tanginess of the salsa was the pork loin.
Ashed Pork Loin
Our other main was the Pressed Lamb Neck with soft pillows of housemade gnocchi, charred broccoli, sweet cubes of quince and pecorino cheese. The lamb neck was fairly soft, but a little on the dry side, which was easily remedied by combining it with the side of silky smooth Paris Mash with freshly shaved black truffle. The signature aroma of the black truffle just elevated the creamy mash with chives to a whole different level.
Pressed Lamb Neck
Paris Mash, $10 ($5 extra for the truffle)
Sage then presented us with a lovely pre-dessert to serve as a palate cleanser – a quenelle of delectable almond sorbet with chocolate soil and slivers of almond, all served in a chilled cold stone dish.
The actual desserts were impressive too – especially the Caramel Popcorn Parfait which was a solid mass of caramel heaven, with crunch and texture added by the caramel popcorn and burnt butter snow. The pickled blueberries were interesting too.
Caramel Popcorn Parfait
Our other dessert was the quirky Banana Bread Pudding and this was nothing like any other banana bread I’ve had before. It’s a French banana bread, which meant it was a lot lighter and fluffier than the usual banana breads and it was paired with the unusual combo of black sesame paste (giving it a hint of Asian) and a refreshing kiwifruit sorbet. I think all the elements on this dish worked well separately, but together they were a bit confusing.
Banana Bread Pudding
Sage Restaurant is consistently rated as one of Canberra’s best restaurants and I can see why, as their showcasing of quality local produce and beautiful presentation of the dishes is on par with some of the upmarket restaurants in Sydney. Some of their flavour combinations are a bit more adventurous than you would expect, but they keep the menu fresh and exciting.
Sage Restaurant & Mint Garden Bar
Gorman House Arts Centre, Batman Street
Braddon ACT 2612
Phone: (02) 6249 6050
Breakfast – Redsalt
No hotel stay is complete without a breakfast buffet (included in the cost of our hotel room) and the Crowne Plaza’s one is located downstairs from the lobby, in Redsalt restaurant which faces the park next door.
Apart from your regular buffet fixtures (hash browns, sausages, bacon, scrambled eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms) there’s also an egg station where a chef will make your eggs to order. We went for the Omelette with the Lot (tomato and capsicum salsa and Spanish Onions) which was a tasty way to start the day.
I also liked that their juice station was well stocked with more exotic juices than the usual – loved the guava juice!
You can also create your own juices at a separate station using the juicer (there are chopped fruits and vegies on the side for you to mix and match).
Redsalt also have a coffee station at the front so you can order proper barista coffees – I enjoyed my mocha which was laced with plenty of chocolate.
Last but not least, there’s also a pancake machine to top it all off!
Bar Snacks/Light Meal – Binara One
Binara One is the modern in-house bar at the Crowne Plaza and apart from a great wine list and cocktails, they have also recently launched a brand new menu of bar snacks, share plates, burgers and hot dogs.
Their Surf share plate is not just pretty to look at, but features a good range of all the classic seafood dishes. We started with the fresh and sweet Sydney rock oysters, moved onto the basket of tasty salt and pepper squid, before dipping some crispy battered flathead bites into the accompanying herb mayo. Then we still had to get through a bed of smoked salmon and the rather novel but delicious Prawn Twisters (like long, slender spring rolls/cigars with an addictive prawn filling) before we reached the end of the platter!
Surf Plate, $30
The Surf plate was already enough for a light meal to share, but we also ordered a Continental Pizza to pad our stomachs. The Continental has a meat heavy mix of chorizo, salami and bacon with mushrooms and barbeque sauce, which got a bit salty towards the end. Luckily for us, the thin crust pizza isn’t that big and we weren’t too stuffed by the end of the meal even though we had ambitiously overestimated our appetites. We should have stuck to the share plate with one of their tasty sounding bar snacks instead…
Continental Pizza, $17
We washed it all down with a glass of Innocent Bystander moscato from the Yarra Valley for me (a lovely light wine with a touch of bubbles) and a glass of the Hugh Hamilton The Scallywag Chardonnay for the boy, which was smooth and refreshing with notes of honey.
Innocent Bystander Moscato, $9 a glass and Hugh Hamilton The Scallywag, $10 a glass