TABLES Triumph in the capital
Judith Elen visits a Canberra restaurant with a great pedigree
OMING here to Water’s Edge is like driving into the unknown. It’s right beside Canberra’s Lake Burley Griffin, but even for my local friend it’s a puzzle. Out of the built-up streets, in the vicinity of the grassy fields inhabited by the National Library of Australia and the new National Portrait Gallery, it is isolated, especially as the restaurant is tucked under a roof that, on the non-lake side, rises out of the field itself.
My friend, Annie, being an intrepid parker, drives over a couple of mounds and pulls in next to a clutch of cars in front of the lighted, glassed-in space that has suddenly emerged out of the night. Water’s Edge looks bright and welcoming. We choose a table beside the wall of glass at the front and pick out the Australian War Memorial, a distant pool of light at the end of Anzac Avenue on the far side of the lake. Occasional joggers flicker by on the lakeside path in the half-light from the restaurant and, high on one side, the tall row of flags that crests the hill at our roof level shimmer and snap.
It’s a Monday night, so the restaurant’s not packed. There is a governmental-looking couple at one table and a group of youngish men, who later turn out to be chefs and staff from two or three of Canberra’s leading restaurants, including Aubergine. Later, six suited men, some with US accents, take the centre table.
Water’s Edge is the latest in the restaurant collection that includes Courgette and Sabayon, and formerly Aubergine, owned by chef James Mussillon. Open since midyear, it comes with a top-class pedigree; Mussillon cooks with Jason Rodwell, formerly of Aubergine, as his sous chef and the menu is full of promise.
Annie chooses an entree of seared Queensland scallops with pressed sticky pork, pear and parsnip salad and star anise caramel while I decide on the caramelised rabbit and game terrine with foie gras parfait, crostini, black sherry and prune reduction ($19 each).
We’re exploring the mains list when our waiter arrives with a plate of amuse bouche that includes quail dumpling with scallop ceviche and lemon myrtle foam on a scoop of dark beetroot, and luscious quenelles of pate and rillettes.
For her main, Annie continues on her virtuous seafood path with seared John Dory, marinated baby peppers, mussel beignets and saffron foam, while I slide further into decadence with a choice of duck confit, roasted duck breast, apple and foie gras beignets, radish coleslaw and roast garlic jus ($34 each).
When the entrees arrive, I can’t help feeling mine is best. The terrine has the luxurious texture of rillettes and the parfait is, exactly as it says, perfect. As for Annie’s dish, the sticky pork is also rillette-like and delicious. She finds the scallops a little too firm, but the sparkling fresh
Fine lines: Smart and professional is the verdict on Water’s Edge restaurant in Canberra salad of pear slivers, fried parsnip and baby leaves, with droplets of caramel and a sweetish parsnip emulsion, is excellent.
Perversely, given Annie’s seafood and my duck, she has chosen a glass of 2004 Little Brother Cabernet Merlot Great Southern from Western Australia and I have ordered a glass of Muscadet Sevre-et-Maine, an appellation from France’s Loire region ($10 each), but she enjoys the soft red with her dishes and the clear, fresh Loire white is perfect with the richness of mine.
The menu has its special echoes: rillettes, beignets, parfait. I decide, on the basis of the rillettes, and later the duck, that the kitchen’s great strength is in southern French cuisine. Despite this conviction and despite the fact that Annie is not completely in love with her fish, which she finds a little dry, the rest of her main is one Commonwealth Place, 40 Parkes Place, Parkes, Canberra. (02) 6273 5066; www.courgette.com.au. Open: Lunch, Wednesday to Sunday; dinner seven nights. Cost: About $140 for two for three courses without wine. Drink: Good selection from around the country and overseas; well-priced choices by the glass. Reason to return: The cheese list: mostly French (six), with English stilton and oak-smoked cheddar, a Swiss appenzell, Spanish garroxta and two locals: a Gippsland gouda and Barossa Valley Wanera washed rind.