Waters Edge is a rare find in Canberra - there's not many like it.
It is undeniably beautiful here on the lakefront in the dark. Sure, the posts and bulwarks and other concrete furniture outside are more post-industrial than bucolic, but the War Memorial and Anzac Parade are lit up gently across the lake, the dim lights are reflecting off the water, and outside the windows the row of neat maples that have turned red are lit brightly from below, and reflections are everywhere so I can even see our tables echoed out in the dark.
We're at what must be one of the only two restaurants on the lakefront - Waters Edge. The only people out tonight on the lakeshore are runners and bikers who flicker past in the dark occasionally, which all in all makes for a calm and lovely feel.
The restaurant has expanded since we were here last, with a back section made more private by a partition. Lighting is low inside, which I like, and the set up is carpets and tablecloths, cloth napkins and decent glassware.
The menu is set at a perfectly reasonable two courses ($55) or three ($70), higher prices on Sundays, and this set price is a good approach. It emphasises seafood, especially in the mains, where three of the seven courses are fish - a barramundi dish, snapper and cod.
In the entrees, we hit on pork hock terrine and caramelised pork belly with celeriac puree. This turns out to be favourite dish of the night, the terrine a triumph of salty deliciousness, and the square of pork belly cooked to fall-apart fatty perfection.
Our other entree is beetroot custard with horseradish pannacotta and parmesan gnocchi. It's a pretty dish and it sounds good and earthy. But it tastes of not a great deal to me, which is strange. The pannacotta is a little white pile with silky texture. The beetroot custard, spread in a kind of tube across the plate, has a deep crimson, appealing colour, but little intensity. The little whole beetroot, though, halved and presumably roasted, is delicious and gives the flavour hit that you hope for from this vegetable.
In ''chargrilled grain-fed beef fillet, braised brisket cigar, 14 hours butter poached [the brisket presumably], beef tongue carpaccio, watercress cream, oyster mushroom duxelle and smoked bone marrow jus'', the beef is cooked rare, is a well-prepared sizeable piece of meat, sitting high and round and generous on the plate, cooked charry on the outside and rare inside, with plenty of flavour. The ''cigar'' is a long spring-roll type arrangement with meaty punch on the inside, an enjoyable poppy kind of addition; there's lots of sweet sticky jus, in which we're not detecting smoked flavour; there's a pile of intense greens and another pile of chopped mushrooms tasting intensely of mushroom. All of these are fine in themselves and the beef, as we say, is well handled, but the elements in this dish aren't adding up to something better than the sum of its parts. The plating in the beef dish and in others at Water's Edge is intricate and quite complex, with lots of elements on the plate - showing plenty of care in the presentation. But of course, dinner is about more than the way it looks.
On my plate is ''roast lamb loin, prune braised neck crepinette, carrot and ginger puree, heirloom carrot, watercress and fennel salad, lamb jus''. The lamb loin, like the beef, has been well-handled in the kitchen, served sliced into rounds, nicely pink on the inside. The crepinette alongside is full of pungent flavour, en enjoyable pile of shredded meat. There are some tiny narrow carrots, roasted into lovely submission, and the puree is good. In a bowl of buttered vegetable greens ($8) we get some nicely crunchy snowpeas and beans.
In the wine list, wines from overseas focus on France, including by the glass some cheaper French offerings, like the Chauviniere Muscadet Sevre-et-Maine Sur Lie 2008 ($10) from the Loire that we order. We ask about it and we're told it's a light French riesling-like wine. Which is a pretty good description. It is light, indeed, boring as anything, really. Among a handful of other white offerings is Jeir Creek Chardonnay ($14), a local wine which we enjoy rather more.
For dessert, the chocolate, of course: chocolate marquise served with banana jelly, banana ice cream, passionfruit foam and hazelnut praline. The marquise is layered dark and white, not as likeable as the banana and passionfruit accompaniments. Little jewels of square jelly topped with a pinch of what I think is fresh raspberry, and very banana-y ice cream.
The other is a warm orange and frangipane tart, poached rhubarb chocolate soil and yoghurt sorbet, in which the almond-meal tart is positively hot, and quite buttery, one of the little lengths of rhubarb still crunchy, but the others nicely giving. The ''soil'' adds no pleasure here; it's chocolaty, yes, but also crunchy with what is presumably sugar. It's OK, but I don't really understand this pile, or the dessert as a whole.
We're left with the impression of a restaurant with some complexity and clear ability to handle the protein on our plates very well, although it hasn't given us the sense of excitement that you want at this level of fine dining to lift the evening into something really special.
Address: Commonwealth Place, 40 Parkes Place
Phone: 6273 5066
Owner: James Mussillon
Chef: James Titheradge
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, lunch noon-3pm, dinner 6.30pm-9pm
Licensed: Yes, plus corkage $15 a bottle
Vegetarian: An entree and a main on the main menu, loads of fish
To Pay: American Express, Visa, Mastercard, Eftpos
Wheelchair access: Yes, including disabled toilets
Wine list: 2/4
Value for money: 3/4
Summary: A fine setting for a restaurant with some complex dishes; could do with a little more excitement on the plate.
11 something went wrong. 12 not so great tonight. 13 fine for a cheap and cheerful, not so for a place that aspires to the top end. 14 good. 15 really good. 16 great, when can we move in. 17-20 brilliant.
(The stars are a quick reference to the key highs or lows. They do not relate directly to the score.)