Located on the Batman St side of Gormon House Arts Centre, is the award-winning Sage Dining Rooms. Head Chef Damian Brabender is an approachable and friendly kind of guy - and he's changing things up at Sage. The kitchen comprises of Damian and three other chefs but they are taking dishes out themselves and talking to the diners about the dishes. It's easy to see his passion for food. His excitement is contagious.
Chef Damian uses the freshest ingredients - from the Sage farm and straight from the Mint bar garden out the front of the restaurant. He's cultivating unusual produce to help create a unique dining experience everyday. Just some of the interesting ingredients include kohlrabi (turnip cabbage), chick weed (a leaf vegetable), nasturtium (an ornamental salad ingredient), and salty ice plant (a plant with glistening, succulent leaves). He uses these ingredients to create innovative dishes that are not too traditional and not too modern. The dishes are fun and whimsical, but relatable at the same time.
And because the team are always experimenting, always developing new dishes - there's even more reason to visit more often and experience the evolving menu as the seasons change.
I was invited to sample some of the newest creations on the menu.*
The first plate for the evening looked like a small dish of bacon bits, but with a smell hot chips in the air. As it turned out, the dish is actually Sage's take on Salt & Vinegar Chips: on a bed of creamy hollandaise sauce - aerated by carbon dioxide - are crunchy potato crumbs. It's a familiar flavour that is elevated by incredible textures.
The next plate of snacks are just as whimsical. Sitting atop a garden pea marshmallow is a pile of interesting-looking shavings. I wondered if it was homemade pork floss, as it seemed to have a fluffy texture, similar to the Asian dried meat product that looks a bit like cotton. The chef revealed it was ham that had been frozen and then microplaned.
Chef Damian (who is allergic to tuna!) lives on the wild side every day to prepare an incredibly fresh Yellowfin Tuna Sashimi Taco topped with wasabi and a finger-licking good ABC aioli sauce (main ingredients being ABC kecap manis and mayonnaise). The light-as-air oyster mousse made a creamy topping for the crunchy tapioca-based cracker.
Looking as pretty as a flower was the Rockmelon and Trout dish. The ocean trout was incredibly tender after it had been cured in sugar and then cooked in a water bath at low temperature. The rich and salty trout paired really well with the sweet, fresh rockmelon. Tying the dish together was the creamy avocado, wasabi and pine nut sauce.
The beef tartare came with a very cute fried seaweed lid made of fried seaweed. The mixture of the raw beef with coriander and lightly pickled kholrabi from the garden, peanut praline and the ABC aioli instantly reminded me of a very fancy beef satay.
A most impressive dish was a Heston-like dish. Out came what looked like sashimi. There was a light-coloured seafood on the left, and on the right was raw tuna, or that's what it seemed! Turns out it was lobster and watermelon! Given the lobster was completely cooked, this meant the dish was a completely safe option for pregnant women. The watermelon, which had been hickory smoked and somehow compressed, magically took on a "meaty" quality. Chef Damian said the watermelon cooked in this way could also be done to look like nigiri-style sushi where a piece of the watermelon sits atop a small rectangular mound of sushi rice.
Forget about what you thought of stuffy fine-dining establishments. You don't need a special occasion to visit at Sage Dining Rooms. While the white tablecloths and fancy tableware give an air of sophistication, the dining experience is fun and dynamic. The menu is constantly being modified, with some dishes changing on a daily basis. This is particularly the case with Taste and Test where you get five surprise dishes for $75. It's being run for 5 weeks from 7 April - 7 May 2015 for lunch and dinner Tuesdays - Thursdays.
Sage caters for all dietary requirements. Most dishes are gluten free as potato starch is generally used instead of flour.
If you can't make it to Taste and Test, the easiest way to sample the best dishes is to take advantage of the Chef's Menu which gives you 5 courses for $95.00. Wine pairings are $45.00 and soft pairings are $25.00.
The soft matches are unique and beautifully balanced drinks that won't feel like you're having less fun than those having wine matches. Both the Lime & Hazelnut Soda and the Vanilla & Strawberry Soda had a simple delicate sweetness that complemented the matching dish.
Sage Dining Rooms are open for lunch and dinner Tuesday to Saturday. The restaurant is now also doing a 5-course brunch on Saturdays from 9:30am - 1:30pm, which includes ham hock, poached eggs, and milk cereal sorbet with fruit loop crumble.
*I dined as a guest of Sage Dining Rooms but all opinions are my own.
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