Courgette is one of Canberra's fine dining restaurants. It's located on Marcus Clarke Street, near the Barry Drive interesection, where Fringe Benefits used to be. It's a nice space with well spaced linen-draped tables, a view of a miniature garden, and enough carpet to keep the sound levels good for conversation. Apparently there's a private dining space in the cellar, which sounds like fun. The Bloke and I went there last night for a very civilised dinner with some old friends, and enjoyed it immensely. Good food, good wine, good company - it was the very definition of convivial.
I was slack on the note-taking front, and completely forgot my camera, so I have no photos and I forget the detail of some dishes and which wines. You can download a menu from their website, but it was slightly varied last night. I imagine that in a few months it will be very different, as the seasonal produce changes. According to this website, chef James Mussillon is the owner of three restaurants, Courgette, Sabayon and Aubergine, and executive chef at Courgette. The kitchen is slightly open - you can peek in at the service windows on the way to the loo - and he looked not so much executive as thoroughly hands on.
We skipped the degustation and went for a three course menu. An amuse-bouche of duck and shitake sausage set the scene as we browsed the menu, and I sipped my Tio Pepe Fino sherry. I ordered the assiette of quail, followed by a crisp skin snapper fillet with scallops set on blue swimmer crab and saffron broth. Paris mash and steamed green vegetables came as separate side dishes to order. The dishes were outstanding - somehow merging simplicity of concept with complexity of detail and execution. My quail assiette was a marvel of tiny bites - a single raviolo with mushroom, a tiny sausage-like ballotine with chestnut and a quail egg, a roast breast and miniature drumette with a disk of truffled potato, all united by a rich jus. The Bloke let me have a taste of his confit duck, and it was brilliant, with subtle Asian spicing and scallops for contrasting texture.
The mains were equally spectacular. My chunk of snapper was done to absolute melting fresh perfection, and the scallops, fennel and asparagus added complements and contrasts. I requested a spoon to scoop up the last of the salty saffron broth. More of the silky Paris mash might have done, but I had to leave room for dessert... My companions were all very impressed with their meals. The venison looked spectacular, blood red rare accentuated with beetroot; and the Wagyu beef was by the Bloke's account "very nice". Not much detail there, sorry.
After our main courses, we were given small scoops of lychee sorbet as a palate cleanser. The dessert menu came with a separate and extensive cheese menu, with good descriptions. I was quite tempted, but as I actually wanted something light and fruity, I chose the fruit in champagne jelly. This came set on a thin disc of meringue, surrounded by little dots of mango curd, and topped with a thin shaving of pineapple, and a scoop of pineapple and basil sorbet. The jelly was pleasant; the sorbet outstanding - the pineapple and basil pairing was remarkably good, and well balanced.
On the extreme nitpicky front, I think that the service could have been slightly better paced at the beginning, the bread roll was too bland (needed salt?), and the broth with my fish was too salty. And I do dislike the very common habit of charging extra for vegetables. But it's a place you have to work very hard to find fault with, and it truly was an outstanding meal. I'm interested to try the others in the stable. It worked out to $130 a head, with two bottles of wine, predinner drinks and a couple of glasses of wine between the four of us.