A double helping of Sage

24 Oct

We recently had a great experience at Sage’s Taste and Test, and couldn’t wait to see what Sage ended up choosing as part of their permanent Spring menu, and book in as soon as it’s announced. In the meantime, we’re also told that the lovely Valhalla Wines from north-east Victoria is teaming up with Sage to present a wine matching dinner. Because of this, we end up heading to Sage twice in one week (!), and – unbeknown to us until later – end up sampling almost the entire Spring Menu over the two occasions.

The Valhalla wine matching dinner is our first serve of Sage. I’ve got expectations that we’ll be taking over the entire restaurant with cozy tables. Instead, we’ve got the front half, and we’re sitting at big group tables. The table we’re shown to is against a wall, and a couple (who turn out to be just lovely – we’re very fortunate) are at the end. We’re just waved towards the table, which isn’t ideal: given we have to ask the couple to move to allow us to sit in, it would be nice if the waitress took us over there herself.

Valhalla wine matching menu

Valhalla wine matching menu

Valhalla has worked with the Sage chefs to come up with the best matches* (read on… I later discover that this doesn’t seem to be true). Like Taste and Test, we’re grading the dishes, and we’re told this is a journey of flavours.

The amuse bouche is a tangy aioli with cucumber – we’re not really sure how to eat it. Some of us pop it in our mouths with our fingers, while others try (in vain) to use the utensils provided.

How to eat thee?

How to eat thee?

It’s okay, but it’s more of an opportunity to try savour the lovely Sparkling Shiraz. It’s treated like a red wine, and has sugar and yeast put in to start the bubbles forming and flavours balancing over 12 months.

I’m ready to eat!

Parmesan polenta

Parmesan polenta with the 2012 Viognier

The first serious main dish is parmesan polenta with a Viognier; the dish is to bring out the stonefruit flavour in the Viognier (not officially released at the cellar door yet). I’ve got serious university college hang ups about polenta (I’ve had enough for a life time) but this tastes amazing, and works beautifully with the Viognier (which is great on its own).

One of our group has rated the dishes ‘ephemeral’ and ‘cornhole’ respectively, and some of the other marks are low. I rate this a 7 – it surprised me with how good it was, and matched well with the wine.

Even though we’re only two dishes into it, it’s already very, very hot in the restaurant and very noisy – it’s very difficult to hear, and we all strip off our jackets. The time between dishes is slow, and because of the way the tables are set up, the waiters have to keep reaching across the tables and bumping into the chairs. My view is that good service is service unnoticed, but I can’t help but notice this.

Worse still, our next dish comes out and there’s no explanation about what it is. We’re half way through when we (okay, I) grab a passing waiter who tells us what she knows: it’s octopus and prawn. Yes, but what’s the rest of it?

Prawns and octopus with

Prawns and octopus with 2011 Marsanne

Turns out it’s smoked labneh and blood orange. The blood orange tastes like it’s marinated or baked – the sweet flavours are intense. It’s weird to eat – I’ve no idea what to combine with what. The Marsanne and the smoked labneh are great on their own… but that’s it.

The mushroom ravioli has a buttermilk foam with spinach and many textures of mushroom.

Mushroom ravioli under the buttermilk foam

Mushroom ravioli under the buttermilk foam

The buttermilk foam sits well until it’s disturbed, at which point it immediately becomes viscious and means the ravioli almost starts swimming. The ravioli splits when cut into (it’s very full), but the starchy dish matches with the GSM (grenache, shiraz and mouvedere blend) wine.

It’s a very long wait between the mushroom ravioli and the next dish: a beef short rib, with peas, broadbeans, bacon and oyster mushrooms.

Beef shortrib

Beef short rib and the 2009 Shiraz

The meat is disappointing. The bacon with peas works extraordinarily well (I normally hate peas) and lifts the dish. The sommelier describes the Shiraz as more medium-bodied and not too tannic; it’s a comfort dish.

We finish with a Muscat – it wouldn’t be a Rutherglen wine match if we didn’t have a Muscat.

Muscat with deconstructed chocolate tart

Muscat with deconstructed chocolate tart

The Muscat cuts through the strong flavours of the chocolate. Boyfriend is strongly of the view that the tart should have just been left to be, but I like the deconstruction. Like the buttermilk foam, the icecream melts quickly.

Gluten free dessert (marshmallow and honeycomb)

Gluten free dessert (marshmallow and honeycomb)

One of our group has been eating the gluten free menu all night. I have extreme dessert envy, and she’s generous enough to offer a piece of marshmallow. It’s coated in cinnamon sugar and is amazing.

All in all, the wines are great (and we order six thanks to the strategically placed order forms on the table), but the food hasn’t really stood out to me like I normally expect from Sage. The setting is still bugging me by the end of the night. We’re on a very long table and the lovely couple I mentioned earlier turn out to be great company. But there’s plenty more space even in our side of the restaurant – the long tables could have been split into two shorter tables and saved the interminable shuffling when those on the bench seats have to use the bathroom.

We do ponder about whether the grading of the dishes makes us mark harder, but I know from Taste and Test that this isn’t the case for me.


That said, my excitement about our next attendance hasn’t dissipated. There are some dishes from our Taste and Test which I hope have made it to the Spring menu, but moreso I’m looking to see what was marked the best of the best.

We’re offered a fig and lavendar champagne cocktail to start with ($15) and it’s gorgeous. The perfume is almost overpowering but it’s so drinkable. A great start to the evening. And so pretty!


The amuse bouche is a familiar friend, but this time with a dedicated waiter we get to hear exactly what it is and he gives us the right instructions on how to eat it (with our hands!).

Amuse bouche with ponzu mayonnaise and lemon and wasabi yoghurt with cracker

Amuse bouche with ponzu mayonnaise and lemon and wasabi yoghurt with cracker

Our first course is tuna with wasabi and sesame, so it’s matched with a Japanese white wine.

Check out how white this white wine is!

Check out how white this white wine is!

The tuna tartare is a variation on what we had during the Taste and Test session. I adored it then, and I adore it now. I wish I could eat this every day.

Tuna tartare with avocado, sesame snow and potato crisp

Tuna tartare with avocado, sesame snow and potato crisp

I’d cut out the Spanish onion, but Boyfriend assures me he thinks it adds to the dish. We both think the dish looks like diced tomato (not a bad thing).  The snow melts in my mouth – just like you’d expect snow to do.

Our next wine is a Principia 2010 Chardonnay – not buttery, but dry with a French oak taste.

Handhocked ham, quail egg and vegetables with chardonnay

Handhocked ham, quail egg and vegetables with chardonnay

I’m really surprised that handhocked ham has made it onto the menu. I’m not a fan of the texture normally, and this dish doesn’t change my mind. That said, the saltiness of the ham works wonderfully well with the chardonnay.

Wine #3 is a Pinot Noir from France and our waiter tells us it’s ‘very smelly’. He’s right.

The dish is matched with is quail, celery root and apple.


I feel pretty let down with this dish. The apple is too strong a match for the quail, and the flavours confuse in my mouth.

Our fourth dish is also familiar – the dish we really didn’t like at the Valhalla dinner.


It might be on a different plate, but it’s the same dish. It’s matched with a Wimbaliri 2004 Cabernet Merlot – a local Canberra winery right near Clonakilla which our waiter says is one to watch.

What’s different this time is a Shiraz gravy which is almost melted into the top. It’s gorgeous. This is a prime piece of meat, and the other elements of the dish serve to complement it, rather than excuse it as with our first experience.

Our penultimate dish is a dessert amuse bouche: Strawberries Romanoff, the waiter says with a nod. I’ve no idea what this is, but we’re informed it was a big hit in the 80s. It’s been modernised with some meringue and strawberry jelly. It’s very attractive.

Strawberries Romanoff

Strawberries Romanoff

Every food blogger's difficulty is convincing your companions to NOT eat the food before you take the pic

Every food blogger’s difficulty is convincing your companions to NOT eat the food before you take the pic

The very creamy Strawberries Romanoff is matched with a very tart dessert wine from France. We finish the dessert wine well before the actual dessert comes out, which is a real shame. The dessert is lemon textures with lemon poppyseed cake and lemon curd, and a lemon sorbet.

This dessert is INTENSE. The lemon sorbet is mouth puckering; there are little beads of something very sweet (candied pistachios is my guess). The sorbet counters the sweet lemon on the rest of the plate. It’s a WAKE UP! dish and it achieves its purpose. I wish we’d been slower with our dessert wine (or the kitchen faster with the dessert). It’s a shock of a dish, but a pleasant one.

Lemon "shock" dessert (note empty wine glasses)

Lemon “shock” dessert (note empty wine glasses)

Our experiences at Sage within the one week are very different, even though some dishes make an appearance on both occasions. The setting, noise, length of time and the very obvious (except when it counted) waitstaff detracted from the experience, but the waitstaff on our second visit more than added to it.

The food on the first experience was really disappointing; for some of our group it was their first experience at Sage, and I felt that the lacklustre experience probably made them think I’d been exaggerating about how good it was. I was disappointed for them that it was their introduction to what is otherwise a lovely restaurant. The food on the second experience was much better, but I would have had to seriously reassess my opinion of Sage if it wasn’t.

*BUT: It wasn’t until writing this post that I looked online at the new Sage menu. Every dish we had with our Valhalla Wines (even the dishes with which we’re disappointed) is on the menu. They weren’t specially crafted for the Valhalla night. Maybe there was never any commitment that they would be, but I do feel a little let down.

That said, we’ve now tried almost everything on their Spring Menu (all the desserts and all the entrees!). If in doubt, the degustation is safe.

Dates: Thursday 17 October for the Valhalla dinner; Wednesday 23 October for the Spring Menu degustation

Cost: $140pp (including wine) for Valhalla dinner; $60pp + $50pp (wine) + $15pp (champagne cocktail) for degustation (special deal for those who attended the Taste and Test in September)

Food creativity: 7 (out of a possible 10)

Canberra region wines on wine list: Plenty, and pleased to see Wimbaliri makes the degustation wine match

Ability to take photos without flash (aka lighting): 3 out of 10 (the second time we’re sat next to the window which makes it easier)

Waitstaff pretentiousness: Low-medium (not so much pretentiousness for the first experience, but more ‘where are your basic skills?’. The second experience more than made up for this)

Worthwhile factor: Worthwhile

Want more? Sage’s Spring Menu is here.

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9 Responses to “A double helping of Sage”

  1. Kim October 27, 2013 at 9:15 am #

    Ah polenta… One day I might be brave enough to give it another go…

    • inthetaratory October 27, 2013 at 9:16 am #

      This might be the dish to convince you! 🙂

      • Bec October 27, 2013 at 9:36 am #

        I’m still not convinced polenta is a good idea but just maybe I would try it at Sage.

  2. Heike Herrling October 28, 2013 at 7:13 am #

    I sympathise – my hubby can’t ever keep his hands off the food long enough for me to get a good picture. What a Sageathon – you lucky thing!


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