Lunch at Sage

I dined at Sage a few weekends ago to celebrate both my sister’s birthday and mine with my family, and it turned out to be an amazing experience. I’ve been to the fine-dining restaurant on various other occasions, but this time the food felt simpler with less frills and there wasn’t that pretentious vibe you often feel at higher end restaurants.

As soon as you walk through the Mint garden bar (the bar attached to Sage which re-opened last Friday) to get to the restaurant, you can feel the relaxed vibe with round wooden tables and stools made of recycled beer kegs. The restaurant itself has an intimate yet open feel as we sat by the windows overlooking the bar. One of the reasons why I wanted to go for lunch was because I knew it would be less busy than if we went for dinner. I’m so glad we did because that only added to our amazing experience—it was as though we had the whole restaurant to ourselves considering there was only one other table occupied. There’s this weird expectation that dinners are reserved for special occasions, but my favourite meal to celebrate is lunch especially with this nicer weather. We also had an extremely attentive and informative waiter who very patiently answered all my questions.

img_2792

As we were on our way out, I was lucky enough to be approached by the executive chef, Johnon MacDonald, to come back to Sage to talk about their produce, farm, food and restaurant. Obviously I couldn’t turn down this opportunity, so we met the following Saturday for a casual chat at the restaurant.

If I had to describe Johnon in three words, I would say he is passionate, unpretentious and genuine. With extensive experience from some of the best restaurants in Australia (Rockpool, Gingerboy, Nobu and Attica to name a few), he brings a wealth of knowledge to Australia’s capital. He is the executive chef at not only Sage, but its sister restaurant Akiba as well. On top of this, he will also be the exec chef at a new Mexican inspired restaurant which will open early next year.

As Johnon sipped on his latte he told me about his plans to go to the Sage farm after our meeting. With the recent change in company structure, the farm is currently undergoing a restoration and needs some tender loving care. He told me he makes three or four trips to the farm each week to do what he can to bring it back to life. One day the restaurant hopes to source all their fresh produce solely from their farm, but for now, farmer’s markets and secret restaurant suppliers will have to do.

The restaurant has plans to re-vamp the interior to create a less formal and more relaxed and interactive atmosphere. The plan is to give the restaurant a more modern feel with wooden tables and open spaces. For the moment, floral, cushion-lined booths against the white panels and crisp white lined tablecloths create a feminine and intimate feel.

img_2793

We all opted for the 5 for $75 degustation, and added the 3 ‘bites’ that would come sporadically throughout our meal for an additional $15. I also chose the non-alcoholic soft pairings for $25 because I’m greedy… Our degustation was different from the others I’d looked up online. This is because Sage constantly change their menu to suit not only the season, but also the best produce available. We started with fresh white sourdough served with soft butter and black salt made from volcanic ash.

img_2795

Fennel

The first of the ‘bites’ was a chunk of tender but crunchy fennel with smoked almond purée and apple and ginger purée. It had a slightly sweet, licorice flavour, which was contrasted by the savoury smoked almond purée. The dish was served cold which was refreshing and prepared our palette for the degustation to come.

img_2809

Smoked salmon parfait

The second of the ‘bites’ was a smoked salmon parfait with preserved lemon curd, dehydrated olives, salmon roe and a cracked pepper tuile. The parfait was so creamy and smooth with a subtle smokey flavour. The preserved lemon curd was not overly sweet and perfectly cut through the creaminess of the parfait. I also loved the saltiness of the dehydrated olives and salmon roe which I thought went really well with the sweet lemon curd. The tuile had a slight pepper flavour and added a nice crunchy element to the smooth parfait.

img_2811

Sugar cured salmon

This sugar cured salmon dish with whipped tahini, walnut tarator (a walnut, red onion, coriander, lemon and chilli salsa) and dehydrated lemon was one of my favourite dishes of the entire degustation. The salmon itself was so tender it melted in my mouth. The whipped tahini was thick and creamy, and the walnut tarator was light and added a fresh element.

At his trial for the executive position at Sage, Johnon cooked a dish very similar to this one. Rather than salmon, he used ocean trout but used the same technique of curing. So, this salmon dish pays homage to his career at Sage.
img_2831

Cranberry surprise

This was a great pairing with the sugar cured salmon as it wasn’t too sweet. Rather, it was tart and fresh.

img_2834

Textures of carrot

This dish is actually Johnon’s favourite because of its simple flavours. It comes with hommus, bread and carrot purée, black charred carrot, ribbons of dehydrated then rehydrated carrot, the spiced juice used to rehydrate the carrot and fried curry leaves. Both the hommus and purée were smooth and creamy which contrasted well with the almost leathery (in a good way, like the texture of pickles but with more bite) ribbons of rehydrated carrot. I loved the crispy fried curry leaves and the spiced carrot juice too. The only criticism was that we all wanted a spoon to use to slurp up the delicious carrot juice. On a side note, look at that colour!

img_2847

Citrus cobbler

This was my favourite soft pairing because of its intense lemony flavour. It was sour, sweet, tart and refreshing all at the same time, and went perfectly with the carrot dish.

img_2846

Tea-smoked duck

This was my sister’s favourite dish of the day. The dish consisted of tea-smoked duck breast, stinging nettle purée, charred spring onion, ginger oil and rhubarb juice with a pepita, chili, ginger and nettle salsa. The nettle purée was so different from anything I’d tasted before—it was creamy, sweet, salty with deep earthy notes. The duck was really tender and wasn’t overly smokey (one of my pet peeves is over-smoked meats). The rhubarb juice was sweeter than I expected, but I actually really liked it with the duck and bitter charred spring onion.

At my meeting with Johnon he told me that some dishes come together more quickly than others, and this dish was one of them. He was out one day picking stinging nettle for the kitchen and a badling of ducks waddled passed. He went straight to the kitchen and whipped this dish up with his team.

img_2868

Grapefruit and rosemary virgin mojito

The duck was paired with a grapefruit and rosemary virgin mojito. I thought this rosy drink had a good balance of bitterness and sweetness from the grapefruit and savouriness from the rosemary.  The earthiness of the rosemary went also went well with the earthiness of the nettle.

img_2863

Lamb

Coffee-rubbed lamb rump served with a walnut purée, fermented celeriac and a beetroot béarnaise. This was both my dad’s favourite dish (he is a coffee fiend), and my mum’s (who doesn’t drink coffee). That is, the coffee rub didn’t have a strong coffee flavour, rather it imparted a subtle but sweet earthiness to the lamb. The lamb itself was so tender we barely needed to chew. The beetroot béarnaise was tart and helped cut through the creamy, earthy walnut puree. The combination of the tender lamb, earthy coffee and walnut and sweet but tart beetroot was just amazing.

img_2900

Apple pie

The lamb was paired with an apple pie inspired mock-tail made with fresh apple juice and cinnamon infused syrup. It wasn’t overly sweet and I loved the strong kick of cinnamon.

img_2884

French goats’ cheese

The final of our ‘bites’ was a small morsel of ash rind goats’ cheese with dollops of blood plum vinegar, local honey, macadamias and house made lavosh. I’ve never had lavosh before, but I loved it. Sage sprinkle fennel seeds on top of theirs before they bake it, so it gives a slight aniseed flavour which went perfectly with the creamy cheese and plum vinegar.

img_2907

Lemon posset

Oh. My. Goodness. This was possibly one of the most beautiful and dainty desserts I’ve eaten in a long time, but not only did it look amazing, it was delicious too. This dish came with a punchy lemon custard, meringue, berries, stewed rhubarb and crumbly citrus shortbread. The lemon custard was both sweet and sour and absolutely delicious. The citrus shortbread was buttery and had beautiful flecks of green and yellow from the lime and lemon zest. The other individual components were simple, yet refined and went perfectly with the lemon custard.

img_2942-2

Turkish delight

The last of the pairings was essentially an iced earl grey tea with notes of rose and strawberry. One of my favourite combos is lemon and rose, so I thought it went really well with the lemon posset and wasn’t too over powering.

img_2934

Surprise carrot and hazelnut cake

At the end of our meal, we were surprised with two little complimentary birthday cakes from the kitchen! Although we were completely stuffed, we managed to eat the plate clean. How cute are they!

img_2919

This lunch at Sage was one of the best experiences I’ve had in a really long time. The quality and execution of their food is an absolute given, but the relaxed atmosphere and friendly service just topped it off. If you haven’t yet tried Sage, or it’s been a while since you last visited, book a table for your next lunch date!

Details for Sage:

Opening hours:

Tuesday – Saturday

Lunch: 12:00pm – 2:00pm

Dinner: 5:30pm – 10:00pm

Address:

Gorman House Arts Centre, Batman Street, Braddon

Breakfast at The Grounds of Alexandria

I have a confession… this post has been sitting in my drafts folder since March… I was debating on whether or not to post it considering I came here so long ago, but I took so many photos it would have been a waste if I didn’t. So, here you go! (Five months later…)

I visited the cafe at The Grounds of Alexandria in Sydney earlier this year when I picked my boyfriend up from the airport. It was the perfect breakfast stop before the 3 hour drive back to Canberra, and oh my, was I amazed. I didn’t realise how huge the establishment was! I believe the area used to be an industrial car park which the owners transformed into something really special. Not only is there the cafe but a restaurant, called The Potting Shed, as well. They also bake bread and pastries in-house and roast their own coffee beans.

As you walk in you are welcomed by a vibrant green walkway.

IMG_1060

There is a carnival-like atmosphere as you make your way through to the cafe passing carts filled with colourful desserts. Although not pictured, there was even a doughnut vendor cranking out fresh, doughy balls of fried, sugary goodness.

IMG_0912

IMG_0915

I had to resist all the desserts on offer since we were about to eat breakfast but I definitely need to try some next time I visit! Kinda regretting that I didn’t get some to-go… ah food regrets.

IMG_0919

They even had a homemade lemonade cart right outside the cafe.

IMG_1038

IMG_1041

Our Signature Avocado

I ordered the Ground’s signature avocado dish which came with avocado two ways; smashed and sliced, heirloom tomato, two poached eggs, a huge slab of feta, pomegranate seeds, a sprinkling of za’atar and mint on house baked bread. Yes. I love it when cafes add cheese to their avocado dishes. Cheese makes everything better. I liked the pops of sweetness from the pomegranate, and the za’atar gave it a nice tang.

IMG_0929

Breakfast burger

My boyfriend ordered the breakfast burger. It’s hard to go wrong with bacon, eggs, avo, lettuce, cheese, tomato relish and smokey mayo on a brioche bun. Let’s just say he was pretty satisfied and demolished it in about five bites (although not before I stole a sneaky nibble). The smokey mayo was pretty damn good and worked really well with the tomato relish. To make the dish even better, we got a side of crispy polenta chips with the burger. Unfortunately all the photos I took of them were horrible, but trust me they looked good!
IMG_0975

How could I not order a coffee at a coffee roastery?

IMG_0954

While we waited for our breakfast, I wandered over to the front counter and found this marvellous array of bread. Mmm carbs…

IMG_1013

I loved the homely feel of the cafe with rusty signs, brick walls and wooden surfaces.

IMG_1029

IMG_1023

Oh and I forgot to mention, there is a florist right next door too! IMG_1066IMG_1078

The Grounds of Alexandria is really something. I’ve never experienced breakfast quite like it and I’d totally recommend a visit if you’re ever in Sydney.

Details for the cafe at The Grounds of Alexandria:

Opening hours:

Weekdays

7:00am to 4:00pm

Weekends

7:30am to 4:00pm

Address:

Building 7a, 2 Huntley Street, Alexandria NSW

 

Lemon Custard Tart with Fresh Berries

Serves: 6-8

Time: 1 hour + 2 hours resting time for pastry


I used to work at this amazing french bakery, and I remember on my very first shift my boss told me I was allowed to have anything to eat on my break, which included a variety of pies, sandwiches and mouthwatering pastries and tarts. I didn’t know what to do, the choices were endless! Did I want an almond croissant or the pumpkin and feta pie? The pear galette or the roast beef sandwich? After a solid 2 minutes of ‘I CAN’T DECIDE’ syndrome, I laid eyes on the lemon custard tart. There’s something so comforting and homely about lemon desserts that I just can’t resist. I remember my first bite vividly- I was sat on a park bench just outside of the bakery with both my hands cupping the tart as though it were a rare diamond. As I took a bite, I accidentally blew some of the icing sugar that covered the top of the tart all over my pants which to some, looked a tad incriminating, but I didn’t care. It was the best lemon tart I’d ever had. Sweet, but tangy with a perfectly crumbly pastry. From then on, lemon tarts are my go to desserts whether I’m in a restaurant or at home.

(If you were wondering, over the 3 years working at that bakery I managed to try every pie, sandwich, pastry and tart.)

Anyway, nostalgic story aside, let’s get on with it!

IMG_0091


Sweet Pastry Ingredients:

  • 200g plain flour
  • 30g almond meal
  • 30g icing sugar
  • 125g cold unsalted butter, cubed
  • 2 egg yolks, reserve the whites
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2-3 tbs icy cold water

Method:

  1. Whiz flour, almond meal, icing sugar, salt and butter together in a food processor until mixture resembles bread crumbsIMG_0095
  2. Add the yolks and 2-3 tbs cold water and pulse until mixture just comes together. Tip the pastry onto a lightly floured bench and shape into a ball. Cover with cling wrap and chill in the fridge for 1-2 hours. Try not to handle to pastry too much as this will make it tough. IMG_0097
  3. Once chilled, remove from fridge and roll out to 5-10mm thick on lightly floured surface.
  4. Liberally grease tart pan with canola spray (one tip I learned while doing work experience in bakeries is to use some form of oil spray rather than butter or flour -its much quicker and you can get into the nooks and crannies of your tart pan.).
  5. Carefully transfer rolled pastry into tart pan and press to fit. Trim the edges and prick generously with a fork.IMG_0116
  6. Blind bake in a preheated oven at 190ºC oven for 10 minutes. I used rice to substitute baking beads.IMG_0117
  7. After 10 minutes, remove rice or baking beads. Lightly whisk the reserved egg whites from earlier and brush the pastry case. This will help prevent any leakages. Return to the oven for another 10 minutes. Let cool.IMG_0147

IMG_0107Lemon Custard Ingredients:

  • 200g golden or regular caster sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 150ml thickened cream
  • Zest of 3 lemons, finely grated
  • 100ml lemon juice

Method:

  1. Reduce oven to 150ºC. Whisk sugar and eggs until foamy. Gradually beat in the cream and add the zest and juice. Pour into tart case and bake for 30-40 minutes until just set. Set aside to cool for 30 minutes before removing from tart pan. IMG_0151
  2. Decorate with fresh blueberries and strawberries, and dust with icing sugar.

IMG_0136

IMG_0158

IMG_0159

IMG_0181

Enjoy!