Sage Dining Rooms Taste & Test events are legendary in the Canberra food scene, and most people have dined at Sage at some point in their lives. A gorgeous courtyard restaurant tucked away in the Gormon House arts precinct, Sage has been in Canberra for as long as I have and continues to wow patrons with their delectable meals and impeccable service. I have dined at Sage Dining Rooms many times while I have lived in Canberra, and I have loved every meal. It is strange then, that I have never gotten myself organised to attend one of the Taste & Test events that the restaurant holds to gauge public opinion of potential dishes for the next season’s menu.
Honestly, I don’t have a valid excuse. I’ve just never got my act together in time to go. The Taste & Test events are held over a very short period of time and have a cult following, so places sell out fast. This year I was determined to get along to the event, and so with some foresight and planning I booked into the Taste & Test event for the upcoming Autumn/Winter menu not once, but twice.
On Thursday last I picked my friend up and we headed to an early dinner with big appetites and high hopes. The excitement at getting five mystery courses is enough to whet the appetite alone, but then being given free-reign to let your inner critic run rampant all over one of Canberra’s best-loved dining venues was something else. We’re all armchair critics at heart. Who among us doesn’t love to drape themselves across their lounge in their rattiest pair of track pants screaming admonishments at starlets as they walk the red carpet? Or to belittle the technical skills and prowess of Australians aspiring to their culinary dreams in a cooking competition?
If you don’t, you’re dead inside.
Before you proceed – a word of warning. If you are going to attend the Sage Dining Rooms Taste & Test event this year STOP READING RIGHT NOW! Seriously, the surprise is a hugely important part of the evening, so bookmark this post for later and wait until after you have dined. Trust me, you will thank me for this advice later.
I won’t go into specifics about the meals that we tried or the ratings that we each gave, because I feel a little weird sharing what is obviously important data for the restaurant with you before they get a chance to review my comments themselves (I mean, I assume that they’re going to be so impressed by my in-depth knowledge of foodstuffs and my insightful comments that they’ll name a dish after me or something). What I would like to talk about, however, is the magic atmosphere that the Sage Dining Rooms Taste & Test event created, and why it is so important.
From the moment we sat down at our table to the second we set foot outside again, everything was about the customer experience. Service was attentive without being overbearing, with knowledgeable staff who clearly care about what they’re doing. I can’t tell you how many times I have eaten in Canberra served not by waitstaff, but by students pretending to be waitstaff. At Sage the staff legitimately care about customer service and the restaurant itself, and it contributes so much to the overall experience. Co-owner Peter Harrington was on-site attending to customers needs and guiding his staff, which is a very rare occurrence in Canberra and very important to note, as it speaks volumes of the investment in the customer.
And then the act of judging the meals.
I didn’t think a lot about the act at the time, but on reflection I can’t quite believe how fantastic it was. My friend and I discussed every ingredient of the dishes that we ate, we critiqued the appearance of our meals, the balance of flavours, the decor of the restaurant each others lives. The conversation spanned speculating what a particular ingredient was (turns out it was cauliflower that had been made into sheets and shattered – of course) to arguing over which of the dishes was actually the best and disagreeing spectacularly. We spent our entire meal talking an laughing, and while this isn’t really surprising in and of itself, doing so through the lens of critiquing the meals added a whole extra layer of enjoyment to the evening. I have one of the best nights out I have had in a very long time, and while obviously the company was an important ingredient, it was the way that the Sage Dining Rooms Taste & Test event framed our dinner that made it truly luxurious.
The Sage Dining Rooms Taste & Test event is for dinner only, available Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings and runs until 16 March 2017. For bookings phone 02 6249 6050.