Courting Courgette

17 Aug

I won’t beat around the bush – our standard four course dinner at Courgette took 3 HOURS. It’s the key impression I’ve taken away from my experience. Sure, there was superb food, lovely wine and a decent ambience, but for years to come, all I’m going to remember is that it was slo-o-o-ow.

Canberra has a number of damn classy restaurants, including Sage, Chairman and Yip, Lanterne Rooms, Rubicon, Waters Edge, Aubergine, Benchmark Wine Bar, and Courgette. Most of these restaurants are well established, with great reputations for fine food. With some simply mouth watering degustation menus for most of these venues, you can pretty much guarantee you’ll be in for a treat.

It was our anniversary (I know! Aww, right?) and I resisted the urge to head back to Sage (having been there three times this year… oops). I’d never been to Courgette and I knew it had a fine reputation. We booked the afternoon before with no trouble.

We walked into the Civic restaurant at 7pm and had to wait a few moments before a waitress materialised. Our coats and scarves were taken and we were seated with the wine menu. Being our anniversary, we ordered two glasses of champagne (not sparkling wine). There were two options – a cheap one ($15 a glass), and Veuve Cliquot. We went with the cheap one.

It was served relatively promptly while we contemplated our menu choices. There are four courses, and a set choice of dishes for each ($75 per person). The wine list is pretty decent, but with a notable absence of Canberra wines. We got the Capital Wines Frontbencher Shiraz (which, at $49, was also on the cheaper end of the list).

The restaurant was very, very warm – I promise it wasn’t just from the champagne. It was about 7.20pm by the time we’d ordered everything, so we sat back to enjoy our champagne. In due course we finished the champagne, and they didn’t leave us waiting to start on our wine. We were rather thankful for this, because it wasn’t until well after 8pm at which time we received the entrée. We were appeased with a bread roll (accompanied by really, really delicious butter), but still. Over an hour felt a bit much, particularly when we knew there were still four courses to go.

I had the ‘fois gras parfait with roasted loin of rabbit, salted walnut, crisp potato wafers and port jus’. It was very, very good. There was a very large amount of parfait, the potato wafers were, well, wafer thin, and there were plenty of sauces dotted around the plate. I actually found that there wasn’t enough rabbit to soak up all the beautiful flavours – perhaps I was just greedy – and ended up scooping up a lot of the sauces on their own. Delicious.

Boyfriend ordered the ‘pumpkin and ginger filled courgette flower, globe artichoke, ratatouille’ and was a tad disappointed. A bit of a shame given he was eating the restaurant’s namesake!

Thankfully, our second course arrived a little more quickly – or perhaps it just seemed that way because we ate another bread roll in the middle of it. I had the ‘double lamb cutlet with aubergine caviar, slow cooked octopus, bell pepper and olive cannelloni’. Frankly, I found the lamb a touch overdone. I’ve enjoyed some wonderful melt-in-your-mouth lamb over the years, and this wasn’t quite there. The octopus wasn’t really to my taste, and I was fairly disappointed.

Boyfriend, on the other hand, absolutely loved his ‘vine ripened tomato tarte tatin, Meredith goads curd and cabernet vinaigrette’. I don’t think you can go wrong with that flavour combination.

And this is when the true wait began. I just sensed that it was going to be a long time between courses (and we’d run out of butter, so bread was no longer an option!), so I checked the time as our second course plates were being taken away – 8.33pm. So, we drank our wine, and we waited. And waited. The funny thing was, it’s not like we were envious of any other table being served, because they weren’t. As strange as it might sound, almost every course was served in sync with other tables, even though we had arrived much later and much earlier than other tables.

It was at this point that I realised how cramped the restaurant is – I could make out every word from the honestly quietly spoken couple behind us.  At about 9pm I took to Facebook out of sheer boredom to comment on the slowness. We were finally served our third course – the main meal – at 9.17pm. So, we’d been there for 2 hours and 20 minutes, and had just waited almost 50 minutes between the second and third courses. Truly bizarre!

The course I’d ordered was a new one to the menu, having only been added a week or so ago, so doesn’t appear on their online version. It was salmon with a scallop sausage (my eating was delayed a few more precious seconds as they explained to me that other people had asked where the promised scallop was, but that it was in fact a sausage, but that they’d had very good reviews about it) and some great presentation. It was very tasty, and I think I would order it again, but it wasn’t the flavour standout of my entrée. Boyfriend was similarly put off with his ‘pan seared john dory fillet, saffron mash, young leak, and avruga caviar sauce crème’, finding it overcooked. To be fair, though, this was a very decent sized and filling course, and we both scraped our plates clean.

Salmon and scallop sausage

John Dory fillet

Our final course arrived at 9.45pm, by which time we had more than finished our wine. Boyfriend’s course was the visual standout – a ‘coffee souffle with chocolate and hazelnut parfait, toasted marshmallow and espresso jelly’, the soufflé was served in a coffee cup and he was instructed to place the provided chocolate spoon into the soufflé. It proceeded to melt into the soufflé – rather quickly! – and ensured it was self serving. Pretty neat. Unfortunately, the flavours were again a bit of a disappointment.

Sinking chocolate spoon!

My ‘warmed almond and pear cigar with fresh fig, poached rhubarb, praline and fig ice cream’ was a tasty combination, with all the right flavours, but the fig had probably a bit too much pastry. The sauces were dessert sticky – beautiful.

Because everyone got served at the same time, everyone also left at the same time. It took a while for us to get our bill, and took even longer for our card to be collected (even when we put it poking out of the leather covers) – another couple had the same problem, actually taking it up to the front desk. We followed suit.  Doors were opened for us as we left.

So, the good: as picky as I’ve been above, the food really is great and I struggle to see how anyone could be disappointed. I think $75 is an ‘affordable’ four course meal of that calibre. But, there is a price to pay: 1) you’re in for a very, very long night. It might be okay on a weekend when you can afford to spend 3 hours; and 2) it might not be that cheap if you end up having to order a few bottles of wine to keep things interesting in the meantime!

Finally, for a restaurant like that, I felt the calibre of the waiters was fairly inconsistent. We had about four over the course of the night, and twice I was asked a question while I had a wine glass held up to my face, and we were also interrupted a few times. Very, very odd.

A number of people have asked me if there was something wrong with the kitchen on the night, but an equal number of people have told me they’ve had a similar experience with the wait.

I’m certainly not in a hurry to go back!

Date: Wednesday, 14 August 2012

Attendees: T1 and Boyfriend

Worthwhile factor: Not worthwhile if you don’t have the time (or money to spend on a couple of bottles of vino to keep you occupied). Worthwhile if you’re in for the long haul (and you won’t be disappointed by the food)!

Cost: $229 (Two four course meals @ 75 pp + 49 for the wine + 30 for two glasses of champagne)

Want more? http://www.courgette.com.au/cougette/index.html

Courgette on Urbanspoon

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4 Responses to “Courting Courgette”

  1. Gary Lum August 17, 2012 at 4:56 am #

    Hey T1, fantastic review. I hope it’s not always that slow.

  2. Heike Herrling October 5, 2012 at 9:11 pm #

    Do love fontbencher shiraz 🙂 great review!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Malamay in the Burbury Hotel | In The Taratory - April 30, 2013

    […] over two hours – a big difference to our experience at other top 20 restaurants like Courgette (four courses in three hours) and Pulp Kitchen (three courses in four […]

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