Nestled between an old building and another possibly even older building, up at the beginning of Marcus Clark Street in Acton, you’ll find a little restaurant. It’s not super fancy looking, nor is it awfully active on social media. You won’t find this place doing crazy and creative degustations or the hottest thing off the press in Paris or New York. Yet this is my favourite restaurant in Canberra.
This restaurant is Courgette.
Courgette has always been a favourite for many Canberrans. However, in recent years it hasn’t quite received the same love, at least outwards love that I can see. With all the new fine dining restaurants popping up, international rankings not quite giving Courgette it’s due as well as the activities of its more innovative rivals, Courgette has kind of been forgotten in my opinion; but for me, there isn’t another restaurant in Canberra that quite compares to Courgette. I’ve been to Courgette a couple of times now, and each and every time it has always been consistent, delicious and simply amazing. You won’t find any crazy ingredients, dishes or cooking methods here. Just simple, rustic great food done well.
So, after many years of dining at Courgette, I’m very excited to finally write up my most recent food adventure at Courgette.
Last week, whilst visiting Canberra and as a kind of last toast to this quaint city, I decided to relive one of my first fine dining experiences in Canberra. During all my previous visits to Courgette, I went for dinner. This time I decided to try their lunch menu. For $66 per person, you get one entree, main and dessert. The lunch menu itself is quite similar to the dinner menu, with the option to add some sides like Paris mash or leafy greens for $10. We decided to go for the thee course menu plus a bottle of wine. Not because we now understand wine or anything but rather because we didn’t drive and this was a wonderful opportunity to appear cultured. There doesn’t seem to be wine matching at Courgette. However, I’m sure if you ask they’ll be able to provide some recommendations. We were too scared to, obviously.
As expected from any good fine dining restaurant, we were greeted with warm bread and butter prior to our lunch coming out. However, this wasn’t quite your standard dinner roll. This is going to sound pretty trivial and I do tend to get really excited about all things related to food. However, this bread roll from Courgette was easily the best bread roll from a fancy place I’ve ever had. This bread roll was fluffy with just that right amount of crisp on the outside. But what stood out was it’s flavour. The bread roll had this distinct tart sourdough like taste to it. However, the texture was anything but sourdough like, instead it was fluffy almost like a croissant, which was really enjoyable to eat. The matching whipped butter also lived up to its fantastic bread counterpart. The butter was whipped like you would expect from most of these places but it was probably the smoothest I’ve ever had. It felt as smooth as whipped cream or mousse, and spreading it was an absolute joy. As someone who is exceptionally lazy, I really appreciated how smooth it was.
Another great thing for any hardcore bread fans out there, this delicious warm bread comes in unlimited supply! Okay, I’m not sure about unlimited but you can definitely get more than one. Promptly after we finished ours, we were offered a second one and we didn’t even need to ask! We loved the gesture but sadly had to turn it down in fear of getting too full. Hey, it happens.
Our first entree from Courgette was the Chicken liver parfait with brioche, quince onion jam, sultanas and wild flowers. This was a hard decision to make. Of the four entrees available, all of them sounded absolutely amazing, even the vegetarian option caught my eye. It wasn’t just your standard vegetarian pasta, instead for all our tree hugging friends out there, (it’s okay, according to that, I must really like… hugging whales or something) there was a Mediterranean inspired dish with ‘goats cheese cloud’. I don’t know what that is but it sounds pretty awesome to me.
Of course for me, it was a massive battle between the prawn, scallops and pate option. Should I go for the light and summery scallops, the rich and flavoursome pate or the Italian hillside prawn cannelloni?! After much contemplation, I settled for the pate. An unusual choice for myself, normally I tend to opt for prawns but today I wanted something rich and indulgent.
This little dish you see here, is as tasty as it is pretty. My initial regret after ordering the pate vanished with my first taste of it. It was the perfect combination of rich creamy flavours with fruity and sweet elements, which surprisingly actually cut through the richness instead of contributing to it.
There was no sharp and harsh chicken flavour or that horrible grainy texture that leaves you flicking your tongue for the next two courses. Instead the pate was silky smooth, but also surprisingly fluffy and light. There was also this really creamy and slightly sweet layer that coated the rim of the pate. I thought this added quite an interesting and contrasting flavour. Finally, there were the condiments which really just added to the pate instead of taking away or dwarfing it, the richness of the brioche, the sweet almost teriyaki like flavours from the burnt sultana sauce and the caramelised onion jam. It was just the perfect combination of savoury, richness and sweetness.
Our second winning entree was the Seared scallops, smoked cauliflower puree, fennel crunch and fermented black garlic. This was absolutely delicious, and whilst the scallops are clearly the main event here, I feel like it’s only fair to talk about the supporting cast first. The fermented garlic was a beautiful addition and there was only a tiny amount on each scallop, but each dab just oozed of flavour! It was strong, quite sweet, and really earthy with a flavour that kind of reminded me of vegemite, except I hate vegemite and I loved this. The cauliflower puree which was splotched in amongst the flowers was an amazing smoky and mild sauce that just grounded the whole dish together. A fantastic addition, especially for me, someone who loves savoury sauces.
Now to the scallops themselves. These were amongst some of the best I’ve ever had, though it was for a reason I wasn’t expecting. These scallops were seared really nicely but on touching them, they were oddly quite firm, so much so that my first thought was that they were overcooked. Then with each bite I took, I actually grew to love how the firm texture of the scallop played off the smooth cauliflower puree and fermented garlic. At that point, I realised I just couldn’t imagined this dish with softer scallops. They were easily some of the best scallops I’ve ever had, and whilst it doesn’t make me go back and think all the scallops I’ve had in the past were undercooked, it definitely opened my eyes a bit to the possibilities of the humble scallop!
Oh I almost forgot, the fennel crunch! It might not be visible in the picture, but this whole dish was served on a bed of fennel crunch ‘crumbs’. As you can imagine, it was extremely crumbly, like biscuit, but once it was in your mouth it just melted away, it was a great feeling. There was also a slight aniseed taste to the crumbs and honestly it reminded me a bit of a ginger snap.
Really loved this dish, and was my favourite of the two entrees!
Promptly after we finished our entrees, in rolled our mains. As with the entrees, we had four choices. Your two meats, lamb and veal. Your vegetarian dish, featuring a ‘cauliflower steak’ , at first I actually thought there was a steak dish on the menu and got really excited. Imagine my disappointment when I finally noticed ‘cauliflower’. Finally there was the fish option which came with two types of fish.
While we struggled to pick between the entrees, the mains were given. My first choice, which required no contemplation at all was the Cobia fillet, smoked salmon with avruga caviar, courgette blossom, charred baby leeks and a pea puree. I love fish but I just find it so boring and completely hit and miss at most places. It’s either really dry, littered with bones or a boring salmon fillet. But the one place where I’m always keen to get fish is at high end restaurants. It’s always perfectly cooked, carefully inspected to ensure I don’t end up attempting to shallow rice for the next 8hrs and done in the most interesting and intriguing ways. Plus, they always go out of their way to use weird cuts and species that I’ve never heard of. I guess as a chef, they probably like the challenge of making something plain, amazing.
This dish was no different. There were so many different elements, all done differently and all with a different purpose but together they made one he’ll of a bite that would make you go hmm. Whenever I get a dish with multiple elements, I always try to try each component separately to see if I can identify the ingredients and flavours separately. Only after I’ve done that will I try all the elements together. With this fish dish at Courgette I followed my usual routine, with a little bit of disappointment. The fish was quite salty and the complimenting elements were quite bland. At that point, I was getting a little nervous. Was this fish dish going to fail me?! Alas it was meant to be.
The rather salty but extremely tender fish worked perfectly with the strange vegetarian caviar, apparently avruga is a fruit, which is weird because it tasted quite fish and salmon like but lacked that saltiness you would normally expect from caviar. Other normally salty elements, like the smoked salmon was also rather mild but instead full of smokey flavour. It truly was a strange mix of elements. Finally there were a number of other components that contrasted the saltiness and balanced out the fish like the extremely sweet, light and flavourful mashed peas and the crispy and airy deep fried courgettes stuffed with minced salmon. There was also a super crispy and light squid ink rice cracker which added a nice amount of texture to the dish which wasn’t already really present. Surprisingly, the squid ink rice crisp actually had this mild intriguing flavour to it as well, which was cool because to me squid ink is historically more visual than flavourful for me.
Our second main from Courgette was the White rocks veal with parsnip, baby spinach, red cabbage gel, artichokes and a thyme and port jus. While I thought everything at Courgette was extremely pretty, so much so that I just wanted to googly eye them instead of actually eating them, this dish was by far the best looking. It literally looks like spring on a plate. The vibrant colours of the red cabbage gel, the greens from the baby spinach and aspargus and then there was the deep red from the very fine and raw veal.
Funnily enough, it also kind of tasted like spring, with so many strong and contrasting flavours. There was saltiness, sweetness and even a little bit of earthiness and sourness.
Again, a wonderful dish with so many elements that it would take me ages to attempt to go through them all, so forgive me if I forget anything. First, lets start with some of the smaller elements, like the red cabbage puree. This puree was actually really really sweet, so I appreciated that they just gave you a few little drops all around the plate, it honestly tasted like it could’ve been a grape puree, it was that sweet! Still, the contrast in flavour was pleasant and really got me thinking about all the crazy things people can do with food. The parsnip puree on the other hand, formed most of the ‘base’ for this dish, it was really smooth with a slight taste of white wine and I used it heavily to coat each bite of the delicious veal.
The mushrooms were just kind of thrown over the plate in a haphazard way, but come on, I think we all know plates like these are never just ‘chucked’ on. Flavourwise, they were quite mild and not overly salty, this worked really well to break up the meaty flavours of the veal. The artichokes on the other hand were really flavourful, and served fresh, instead of pickled like we are use to. I honestly wasn’t too sure on the distinction, but Lily swore by it!
Now onto the veal itself! To be honest, the veal was not my favourite part of this dish, which is a bit sad. It was really quite pink, which really excited me, but felt extremely firm and dense, a bit too tough for me sadly. This is somewhat embarrassing to admit, but I actually think that the time that I used to capture this picturesque veal led the veal to cool off a bit too much, leading to this not so great texture. If that was the case, that was silly of me.
Still I really did enjoy this dish, and it was one of the few dishes in my life where the main attraction in the dish let me down, and yet the supporting cast and composition of the dish itself won me over despite it all. Really good, and I’m sure that the toughness of the veal was a once off.
Last but most importantly, dessert! Besides the cheese option, which included four cheeses, which I found super impressive for a cheese finisher, there were three other choices for dessert. Two were light and fruity, while the third one was rich, chocolatey and decadent. We decided to go for the two light options, mainly because the chocolate option came with bananas and I wasn’t feeling particularly banana-y that day.
This here is the Japanese citrus panna cotta with cinnamon crumb and mandarin gel in a lemon and ginger consumme. I’m not 100% sure which Japanese citrus fruits have been included in this panna cotta but I kind of just assumed it would have yuzu. I mean, how many other unique citrus fruits can Japan have? With this baseless assumption firmly in my mind, I naturally opted for it because I absolutely adore yuzu and I might have a tiny obsession with it. Secretly I really hope yuzu doesn’t become the next matcha, which is slowly also happening to my other favourite Asian flavour, pandan. Matcha, pandan and yuzu are my absolute favourite flavours, more than red velvet, chocolate and vanilla. Prior to the great matcha surge of 2015, these flavours were honestly ‘underground’ and I don’t really want to be all hipster about it, but it really was better for me that way. Only those who loved them sought them out and were able to enjoy their goodness. This had the initial effect of making me feel so cool and cultured, typical hipster behaviour, but also had a side bonus, that these ingredients were way cheaper! But now, there is matcha and now pandan everywhere and every man and his dog is eating at Cafe Cre Asion and Blaq Piq. Now I just feel like every other photographing trend following Asian person with a camera. Which honestly is something I never really wanted to be. Also, my wallet is lighter than it normally is.
I think the point of that whole rant was, I love yuzu and I’m glad it hasn’t quite hit mainstream yet. Now that I’ve gotten that out, I should probably mention something about how this dish tasted. Well, if you can ignore the probable bias, I really enjoyed this. The panna cotta itself was silky smooth with a strong and fragrant orange blossom flavour to it. It was quite dense with a really light after taste. It didn’t really leave a sticky film or anything in your mouth. Instead every spoonful was full of flavour which lingered for a short while and allowed you to savour it.
In addition to this, there were also lovely crunches of orange rind and dehydrated strawberries throughout the panna cotta which added bursts of flavour. Surprisingly, there was very little to no sourness or bitterness to these additions. To further supplement those textures, there was a cinnamon crumble which added this lovely gingerbread flavour to the panna cotta. I’m actually really surprised how well hearty Christmas spices like ginger and cinnamon work with citrus flavours. I must note that for my upcoming Christmas baking needs, and maybe I’ll make citrus gingerbread men this year!
Finally there was the ginger and lemon consomme which was extremely mild and added just that little bit of sweetness and moisture. My favourite part of this dish, of course was the yuzu meringue which had a lot of sourness and kick to it, plenty of airy texture and crispiness and that lovely fruity and citrus flavour to contrast all the other richer flavours and textures.
At this point, we were suitably full from our foolish bread decisions earlier. But despite that, it was time for our second dessert, the Seasonal berries, shortbread, toasted Italian meringue and mango sorbet with coconut curd and silvered pistachio nuts. This dish was a great showcase of everything that I believe Courgette stands for in a restaurant and was something I really enjoyed. The dish came out and while it had some fantastic flourishes, like the little dollop of lime goo in the corner, it was really a basic idea just done incredibly well. Whilst a lot of other places out there today will try to wow people with cool ways of using standard ingredients, or some sort of gasto combination, Courgette will always ensure that the flavours on the dish are paramount, and they are not afraid to keep things simple if necessary.
This dish had a ton of little elements, but what I need to start with was the amazing, amazing meringue! It was the softest meringue I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating, with a consistency that reminded me of burnt marshmallow more than anything, it was absolutely decadent and a great base for this dish. The coconut curd was just slivered all over the dish as a white cream that added springy freshness to whatever bite it found its way into, and was a really cool addition.
Then there was the mango sorbet, which contrasted everything else with its really strong mango flavour and slight sourness. Though to be honest, most mango sorbets I have are pretty amazing, even store bought ones, so I’m probably a fairly poor judge of mango flavoured foods.
Last but not least, was the fantastic assortment of fresh berries. To be honest, if you’ve never had a berry before, then I doubt you’d be clamouring for this dish, despite what I say here. So lets just say these were just as good any other berries I’ve ever had. And as berries should, they added a light sourness to contrast the overwhelming sweetness from the meringue.
So that’s it then! Our trip to Courgette. I’ve been here a few times now and each time I failed to adequately take pictures, until now! And finally, I’ve gotten the chance to write about my favourite food place in Canberra. I’m so glad that I finally managed to get this off my chest. Everything here at Courgette is imaginative, colourful, but most importantly, delicious.
54 Marcus Clarke Street, Canberra Civic
Monday to Saturday
12:00pm to 3:00pm
Monday to Saturday
6:30pm to 11:00pm