I’ve taken a few days to write this post, because I wanted to make sure the superlatives I’m about to use were really justified. I’m happy to say they are:
Brooks “of Canberra” is the best dinner I have ever been to.
I meet fellow blogger Rachi and fellow Twitter personality Caroline in the rooftop terrace at the Burbury Hotel (the same precinct as Malamay and Maple and Clove) in Barton where the night begins with champagne. The sun is setting and there are sweeping views towards Mt Ainslie and Parliament House. The lovely owners of The Boathouse, Aubergine and other popular and high-end Canberra restaurants are in attendance, which is the first indication to me that we should expect this to be good.
The dinner is organised by Peter Bell (now back at the reopened Parlour Wine Room). There’s not a lot of info on the Good Food Month website, but I’m ready to go with the flow. We quickly learn that Brooks of Melbourne has essentially relocated to Canberra for the night, bringing their sommelier, their front of house, and the team to put together the meals – not to mention chef Nic Poelaert.
We take our seats at our beautifully made up table, and rearrange things slightly to make room for our blogging tools: our phones and cameras!
What would you expect from a menu item described as ‘ginger and carrot bread with chicken liver’? A terrine? At the very least, something very basic.
But no. This is what we get:
It’s … well, there’s no other word for it. It’s beautiful. There’s ‘soil’ on the bottom of the carrot. There’s a stalk. The shell is perfectly crispy. After some confusion about how to eat it, we’re instructed to use our fingers. The gingerbread and carrot flavours of the crust complement creamy chicken liver. It’s divine.
Dish two is an egg which has been slow cooked in a curry, and placed in a lovely, creamy, rich corn soup. The egg yolk oozes out. It’s again delicious. Both dishes are a perfect match the NV Champagne de Souza.
Rachi and I are invited to see the construction of the meli-melo (or hodge-podge) of vegetables in the room behind us before the vegetables are placed on the dish.
But the finished dish which comes out with the Nick O’Leary White Rocks riesling looks very different: a large plate of mostly local and fresh ingredients. Our sommelier Matt Brooke tells us that chef Nic regularly forages for vegetables himself in Melbourne.
There’s a lot of food on my plate. And, as many of you have realised, I’m not normally the biggest fan of vegetables. But a dish like this makes eating vegetables fun and a little exciting.
Our next dish is another marvel. It’s Moreton Bay bug, but the bug is coated with Japanese shiso oil and tapioca flour to become a snow. The snow is hard not to blow everywhere (I’m a bit hopeless like that), but combines so well with the nutty mussel custard. The 2011 Vouvray Marc Bredif from the Loire Valley is another delicious match.
Sommelier Matt comes around with the next wine – his own! The chardonnay from the Macedon Ranges is paired with rockling, beetroot butter, peas, raspberry and apple.
It’s very pretty, but it’s my least favourite dish of the night. The firm texture of the rockling isn’t offset with a taste explosion like I’d been expecting. The use of raspberry and apple seems controversial for the sake of it, rather than adding to the flavours and textures on the plate. Regardless, it’s still very easy to eat – just doesn’t have the wow factor that the others do.
With this in mind, I’m sceptical about our next dish. It’s wagyu beef with a burnt potato crisp and burnt carrot and mimolette sauce, paired with Eden Road’s Long Road Shiraz.
I’m a little horrified that I’m expected to eat something so obviously burnt (only sausages really work with a burnt flavour)… but it’s the most extraordinary dish. This is how beef is meant to be. The texture and tastes here defy words. The potato isn’t burnt at all. It melts into the beef. The beef is cooked perfectly. I want more of this.
We beg Matt to tell us exactly how this dish is done, and he kindly obliges. Potato is mashed with Japanese bamboo charcoal (giving the blackness) and spread thinly on baking paper. Once it’s cooked, it’s lifted off as this thin ‘burnt’ potato crisp. I was completely fooled and am still in awe.
It’s time for the first of our desserts and it’s both delicate and luscious, served with Braida Brachetto d’Aqui – a sparkling red dessert wine.
Cheesecake and mushrooms? Rose and licorice? It works. The ingredients are soft and gorgeous, and the bite of the licorice and cheesecake lifts the flavours of the rose and mushroom.
And then: the piece de resistance. Again, we’re welcomed into the terrace area to witness some of the finishing touches of the ‘Forest Floor’.
The Henriques and Henriques 15 year old Boal is served as an earthy match to the dish we’re about to receive.
I can’t even begin to tell you what’s on this dish. The mushroom has a mousse top and meringue-like bottom. There’s moss-like mint and and pork crackling. This is a dinner we don’t want to end.
Nic Poelaert and his team come out and thank the guests and the staff before chatting with each of the tables. I try to make Nic promise to come back within 3 months. I don’t know if I succeeded, but I tried!
It’s been the most extraordinary experience, with gorgeous company. My only regret is not taking a pic of my beautiful dining companions!
Date: Wednesday, 30 October 2013
Cost: $185pp (which seems perfectly reasonable given the amount of effort that’s gone into this)
Food creativity: 9.5 (out of a possible 10)
Ability to take photos without a flash: 6 (out of a possible 10) – the lights remain bright and it’s no bad thing. The ‘restaurant’ is intimate enough without light dimming.
Canberra region wines on wine list: Two of the seven wines are Canberra region wines – and we’re reassured it’s for their quality and match to the dishes, not just because Brooks is in Canberra.
Waitstaff pretentiousness: None. The waitstaff, particularly Matt and Anna, build rapport quickly but remain professional throughout.
Worthwhile factor: Highly worthwhile. It’s a big call, but this is the best dinner I have ever been to.
Want more: This was a once-off for Good Food Month in Canberra. Brooks is in Collins Street, Melbourne.
- The Mecca Bah in Canberra (yummylummy.com)
- Aubergine (inthetaratory.wordpress.com)
- A double helping of Sage (inthetaratory.wordpress.com)
- Malamay Great West of China dinner (inthetaratory.wordpress.com)
- Child-friendly restaurants in Canberra: Kusina (theunicornmum.wordpress.com)
- Mt Taylor (inthetaratory.wordpress.com)
- Canberra Nara Candle Festival (inthetaratory.wordpress.com)
- Canberra International Riesling challenge tasting (inthetaratory.wordpress.com)
- Canberra Centenary Trail – Section 4 (Lake Ginninderra to Gungahlin) (inthetaratory.wordpress.com)
- Mt Majura (inthetaratory.wordpress.com)