High expectations tested one Saturday night in Griffith

IT’S an honour to wear two chef hats – a true honour. And Aubergine’s owner and head chef, Ben Willis, was no doubt pleased as punch when he received the juicy news that the “Sydney Morning Herald’s 2012 Good Food Guide” critics had bestowed upon his restaurant the honour, for the second year running.

Aubergine is an elegant restaurant in Griffith, with a warm and inviting atmosphere, and expectations of diners who arrive for dinner are justifiably high. I know ours were.

Four of us dined on a recent Saturday evening when Aubergine offered us a set menu for $80 per person (wine not included and no byo allowed). We were asked to select from an early setting (6pm to 8.15pm) or an 8.30pm setting (you can stay till closing).

Service was attentive and we sipped on lovely champagne as we reviewed the menu – five entrée options, five main options and five dessert options ($8 extra for the cheese selection).

Two of us ordered the crisp pork belly dish, served with hand-picked spanner crab, perfect cubes of watermelon and rouille. It was the dish of the night for me, with the pork belly tender, the spanner crab sweet and juicy and the rouille packed with flavour. The cold and refreshing watermelon sat pretty on the plate, adding a welcoming dash of colour, but we found it overripe, which meant the flesh was not super crisp.

For entrees, the two others in our party ordered the lovely confit of ocean trout, served with smoked trout parfait. One diner found it disconcerting that the fish roe was quite hard.

With mains, the tender roast Tasmanian Cape Grim beef ribeye was cooked to perfection, but I felt the parsley emulsion was messy on the plate and the cabbage rather ordinary. The two orders of grilled lamb ribs, rump and pastille arrived with the meat, but missing the “ribs” the menu promised. Plating is critical with fine dining – food is to be a feast for the eyes. Most dishes featured many elements, but we agreed the presentation was busy and complex, not refined.

The evening didn’t end well on the dessert front. Three of us didn’t finish our orange crème caramel because it was not silky smooth. The staff noticed and enquired, thanking us for our honest feedback.

In the end, we all wondered whether our Aubergine experience was true value for money. As one friend later noted, for only $100 you could go to famous Grossi Florentino in Melbourne, for a recent offer of four courses with matching wines, and perfection on the plate.

Aubergine, Griffith shops, open Monday to Saturday dinner. Call 6260 8666.

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