Doing dining differently at Sage

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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.*

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The_Food_Avenue_Sage15

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.

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The_Food_Avenue_Sage14

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.

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The_Food_Avenue_Sage13

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.

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The_Food_Avenue_Sage11

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.

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The_Food_Avenue_Sage12

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.

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The_Food_Avenue_Sage8

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.

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The_Food_Avenue_Sage7

*I dined as a guest of Sage Dining Rooms but all opinions are my own.

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Recipe: First attempt at molecular gastronomy - panna cotta

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Being a humanities nerd, I almost failed high school chemistry but molecular gastronomy has ignited a new passion for science I never knew I could possess. Molecular gastronomy blends physics and chemistry to transform the tastes and textures of food into new and innovative dining experiences. My curiosity about this interesting way of eating was piqued when I discovered a TV show called Heston’s Feasts. In the show, (my not-so-secret celebrity chef crush) Heston Blumenthal, owner of Michelin-starred English restaurant The Fat Duck, experiments with exotic ingredients and tests unusual cooking techniques to prepare magical feasts for celebrity guests.

Through shows like Heston’s Feasts and Masterchef Australia, molecular gastronomy is gaining momentum in mainstream cooking and transforming the way we eat and cook at home. Sous vide machines (a water bath with precise temperature control) are the fastest growing kitchen appliance to be sold for the home, so I've heard.

In the name of scientific research, I decided to turn The Food Avenue test kitchen into a science lab and create an ambitious sounding and visually appealing dish – raspberry panna cotta with mango caviar and strawberry soil. Basically, a fancy pants panna cotta.

But I wanted to see if I could do it without too many weird ingredients or gadgets - so that others could recreate this dish, fairly easily.

This dish has three components and requires three recipes – one for panna cotta, one for the mango caviar and one for strawberry soil. Click on the links below to go to the separate page for each recipe.

The dish sounds like a fair amount of work, but you can pre-make every component of the dish and if you have dinner guests, all you have to worry about is plating it all up!

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Raspberry panna cotta This is an Italian dessert made by simmering together cream, milk, sugar and gelatin to create a rich and creamy pudding. You can use any panna cotta recipe, but I used the Chamomile panna cotta recipe in Heston Blumenthal at Home and infused the cream with a raspberry tea rather than chamomile.

Strawberry cornflake soil This is the crunch element of the dish and will add a textural contrast the creaminess of the panna cotta. It’s absolutely addictive and dangerously easy to make. I adapted the recipe from Christina Tosi’s Cornflake Crunch from Momofuku Milk Bar and used strawberry-flavoured milk powder instead of regular milk powder. Then, using my mortar and pestle, I crushed the Cornflake Crunch down to a “soil-like” texture.

Mango caviar (gelification) The weirdest ingredient out of all three recipes is in this one – and it’s not even that weird. It’s agar agar and you can find it in pretty much any Asian grocery store. Agar agar is really cheap, comes in powder form and sets any liquid at room temperature. It was as easy as boiling a tiny amount of agar again with mango puree and letting droplets of the mixture fall into cooled vegetable oil. This process created tiny little solid balls of mango puree, which served as a visually appealing decoration. I also tried the same process using beetroot juice and the deep purple colour was stunning against the white panna cotta. The flavour and colour combinations are endless! While I was happy with the visual aspect, the texture wasn't quite like caviar because there was no bursting liquid. I think the next step will be to try the spherification technique, which will mimic the "bursting" effect of real caviar.

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I’m still a while away from recreating lickable wallpaper and meat fruit but I had so much fun with my first attempt at molecular gastronomy that I won’t be surprised if I soon begin showing up to work looking like a mad scientist!

Have you done any experimental cooking in your kitchen? I'd love to hear about your molecular cooking attempts - hit me with any disaster or success stories!

Recipe: molecular gastronomy, Mango Caviar (gelification)

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I wanted to replicate the look of regular caviar fairly easily. So I decided to try this molecular recipe for gelification as it didn't look too difficult! This process created tiny little solid balls of mango puree, which served as a visually appealing decoration. The_Food_Avenue_Molecular_Gastronomy

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup of vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup of mango juice puree
  • 1/4 tsp. of agar agar powder

Chill the vegetable oil in a glass or cup.

Mix mango juice and agar agar in a saucepan and bring to boil. Simmer for 2 minutes or until the agar agar dissolves.

Let agar/juice mixture cool for 2 minutes until it looks slightly "gooey". Let droplets of the mixture fall one at a time, into the cold oil. The caviar pearls will form on contact with the oil.

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You can use a squeeze bottle, pipette, or a straw for this, but I found that a whisk worked just as well. The longer you leave it, the thicker the mixture will become and the bigger your droplets will become. If you want smaller droplets, simply reheat the mixture until the desired consistency.

Strain the caviar out of the glass and rinse with water. Until you’re ready to use them, store them in water. When you’re ready to use the caviar, take them out of the water and place them on a paper towel.

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Recipes for the other elements of the above dish:

How did you go? Who would have thought molecular gastronomy could be this simple!! :)