Monday, February 24, 2014

Valentine's Day at The Artisan

I know some people are dead against dining out on Valentine's Day due to forced romance and set menus at restaurants. I on the other hand don't really need an excuse to go out for a nice meal. And since Valentine's Day happened to fall on a Friday, there was never any doubt of going out for dinner that night and my restaurant of choice was always going to be The Artisan because the boyfriend was yet to dine here. Oh and who says you should leave dinner reservations on special occasions up to the man? I'm rather particular (to put it nicely) when it comes to where we eat at so we've come to an understanding that decisions of this kind will be left up to me. It's about picking your battles, right?

So off we went to The Artisan for our 7pm booking. I had received a copy of the set menu in advance, which was a 4 course menu for $95 per person or 3 courses for $85. We went for the 3 course option as the boyfriend isn't a fan of oysters, which was what the first course was. For two out of our three courses there was a choice of two dishes per each course followed by a dessert assiette to share.

The service was wonderfully attentive all night. We were served by the same lovely waitress throughout the night, which made for an intimate evening. The time between courses was just right. There were no mix ups and no hovering by wait staff. Water glasses were refilled and drinks were always offered at the right times. There were no hiccups what so ever as far as the service was concerned.

We were treated to glasses of Chandon sparkling rosé to begin our meal, which was a nice touch.

Then came an amuse-bouche of figs, toasted hazelnuts and blue cheese; a nice little mouthful of flavours.

For entrée I had the Chipotle braised pork belly with avocado mousse, apple slaw and crackling which was nothing but perfect. Melt in your mouth pork belly with the perfect crackling worked beautifully with the creamy avacado mousse. The apple slaw added a nice summery touch to the dish.

Boyfriend's entrée was the olive oil poached ocean trout with air dried tomato, gin compressed cucumber and quail egg. The trout was beautifully poached and the other flavours of the dish were very subtle and allowed for the trout to really shine. The gin compressed cucumber was intriguing in a good way. Had we not known it was cucumber it could've been anything, such was the subtlety of the flavours.

My main was oven roasted quail with chorizo, chickpea, spinach, preserved lemon and jus gras. The quail was incredibly succulent and the portion was rather generous. The chorizo and spinach was a good combination to go with the quail. I'm not a massive fan of chickpeas so I wasn't all that excited to see there was an overwhelming amount of it served with this dish. But the boyfriend was happy to polish off the chickpeas on my behalf so no harm done.

Boyfriend had the Gremolata brushed rack of lamb with parsnip puree, broccolini, baby carrot and jus liè as his main. While he loved the beautiful medium rare lamb, it was also rather fatty so the extra chickpeas from my dish was a good thing as he left quite a bit of the lamb uneaten (I secretly thought he was being too picky though!). He was however, highly impressed by the delicate perfection of his vegetables and loved everything about the creamy parsnip puree. 

The dessert assiette to share was a thing of beauty. Unfortunately I didn't do it justice with my photos; something about too many glasses of wine and the very dim lighting by this point of the evening I think... But this platter had all The Artisan regulars; Hibiscus panna cotta with rose honeycomb, elderflower sorbet and popping candy, soft and crispy meringues with seasonal berries, macadamia nuts and blackberry ice cream and of course a Wagon Wheel of marshmallow, shortbread, raspberry jam and peanut praline with dark chocolate. 

Obviously there are many different textures and flavours at play here but everything worked really well together on the whole without one particular component overpowering the others. And we all know one thing from watching My Kitchen Rules (and by we, I mean me) and that is to serve a dessert that is too sweet is a food crime. This platter would've pleased Pete and Manu as it was a well balanced end to the meal.

So the verdict: Even with a set menu, a full house to feed and multiple sittings, all the dishes were close to being perfect (with the fatty lamb being the only minor complaint). Service was also faultless and I still stand by my review from three months ago that The Artisan really is at the top of my list when it comes to Canberra's fine dining. 

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