Small Wineries dinner @ senso restaurant & culinary studio, Canberra
Whenever Soy and I visit a bigger city and then return to Canberra, we are always struck by the contrast. The number of people, the number of things happening- it’s just not as buzzing and in-your-face with a population of 360 000. It’s so understandable therefore, why Canberra gets bagged out so much. One of our readers who is moving to Canberra recently commented that they were glad to know that Canberra is not a culinary wasteland. And no, it is not! We’ve been hearing about Flavours Culinary Centre at Fyshwick markets for a long time. Our friends thoroughly enjoyed their truffle lunch there a few years ago. With the recent Fyshwick market upgrade, Flavours has become senso, restaurant and culinary studio.
senso recently hosted a dinner showcasing 9 wines from 4 Canberra wineries- Four Winds vineyard, Maipenrai, Quarry Hill and Ravensworth. It was a new experience for Soy and I because our experience in the past has been to match wine to food, but during this event, it was the reverse. Head chef and owner, Jan Gundlach created the food in 5 courses to bring out the best of the wines, which were the feature of this dinner.
Soy and I got the opportunity to speak to Chef Jan throughout the dinner, and he was absolutely lovely. His achievements include Michelin stars and form a long list, but we are most interested in his stint as head chef at Raffles Hotel in Singapore. Raffles Hotel is of course a global icon. Soy and I were much too young when Jan was there to have been able to sample his cooking, so we were feeling very fortunate that he and his partner made a lifestyle choice in moving to Canberra from Singapore for a change of pace. This is definitely something Soy and I could relate to.
Jan has such a nurturing manner, evident when we pored over his cookbooks together, and also in the obvious bond between him and his team. I imagine he would be an excellent teacher. Since Soy has been wanting to attend a cooking class at Flavours for years, I think she will finally do it at senso, especially with the beautiful large light-filled open kitchen.
Back to the food! We started with entrées on the balcony of the restaurant. These oysters were fat, succulent and delicious. I found the verjus just a tad too salty, but the next round of oysters were served au naturel and they were perfect.
I’m a little wary of cured meats because they can sometimes be too strong for me, but this jamon serrano was just right, and very moreish. The entrées were served with 2006 Quarry Hill sparkling shiraz and 2008 Ravensworth riesling. I absolutely loved the sparkling shairaz and I sacrificed some of the later wines for a second glass of the shiraz because I was the designated driver.
A note on the wines- Soy and I are firm believers that a good wine is one that your tastebuds say is good. And since we all have different tastebuds, we truly think that wine is a very personal taste. Our comments on the wine therefore reflect our tastes as well as our friends’ comments, whose tastebuds for wine are much more mature than ours (our dining companions included long-time wine afficionados as well as winemakers).
Chef Jan chose this course to go with a 2008 Ravensworth riesling and 2009 Alinga riesling. Some of the comments from the table were that the Alinga riesling had a great nose and was a great pairing with the scampi sashimi, and the Ravensworth riesling was acidic and resembled a semillon. I loved the creaminess of the fresh scampi, which was enhanced by the dill and peas. I’m not usually a fan of goat’s cheese, but the smoked curd was very subtle.
I was looking forward to this course as I love escargot (sounds less icky than calling them snails!) and it definitely did not disappoint. The mushrooms and the escargot were juicy and tender, and everyone was mopping up the veal jus, which was a favourite. Everyone was trying to guess the spices they could taste in the jus, and Chef Jan confirmed that what we were tasting was primarily cinnamon. He had created the flavours to go with a 2008 Maipenrai pinot noir (which was the table favourite) and a spicy 2006 Quarry Hill pinot noir.
I have had very bad quail and very good quail, and this magret of quail definitely constitutes the latter. The lemon definitely came out in the sauce and the quail was tender and was flavoursome without being gamey. The quail was paired with 2009 Ravensworth sangiovese (table fave) and 2009 Alinga sangiovese, which was both peppery and acidic.
By this stage, I am starting to feel quite full, but I am a sucker for a great piece of steak, and this one has my name written all over it. It’s cooked just the way I like it- a little more on the cooked side of medium rare. The texture of the meat is melt-in-your-mouth and is just gorgeous with the shiraz reduction and creamy mayonnaise that we watched Chef Jan making just a few moments before. The wagyu rump shares the limelight with a 2009 Ravensworth shiraz viognier and a 2008 Quarry Hill shiraz. Our friends comment that the Ravensworth shiraz is more refined, and the Quarry Hill shiraz would do with a few more years of cellaring.
Now, you know how much I love dessert- so I was a little disappointed when I first saw the menu that did not feature a sweet. However, this boutique cheese plate totally made me backtrack. There was a chèvre which was pungent and everyone enjoyed. I however, stuffed my face with the perfectly ripened brie. The cheeses were served with a walnut bread, which was simply divine. Our table requested a second serve of bread, which was also promptly polished off.
All in all, this was the best dinner that we had had in a long time. The food was simple and very delicious- the best kind in our books. No need for outlandishness and over-dressing. That and the stunning local wines, informative conversation with the chefs and the open kitchen where we could watch our dinner being created, and a beautiful restaurant, made for a memorable night. And evidence that Canberra has its hidden gems and is far from a culinary wasteland!
senso restaurant and culinary studio
Corner Dalby and Mildura Sts
Fyshwick Fresh Food Markets, Canberra
02 6295 7722
Open for lunch Thursday- Sunday and dinner Thursday-Saturday. Check out the Culinary program on the website.