Canberra’s greatly praised restaurant, Aubergine, has seasonality and provenance at its core. Since 2008, Head Chef and owner, Ben Willis, has relied on his selection of local farmers and producers for the best possible ingredients. His main goal in finding ingredients for his menu is not to simply tick items off a list but rather allow his benchmark suppliers, as experts, tell him what is best on the day – it is from here that the day’s menu evolves.
Before opening Aubergine and becoming one of Canberra’s most notable chefs, Ben spent nine years mastering his craft and travelling the world. He cooked in the Sydney Opera House kitchens as well as The Harrington Club, Criterion Restaurant and Chez Bruce in London before returning to his hometown of Canberra with his wife, Andrea.
Ben’s dishes are created from quality, Canberra-region produce that ranges from shitake mushrooms, duck breast to lamb rump. While the menu changes daily, it remains refined and contemporary. It remains true to classic techniques and flavours that Ben has ingrained in his cooking over the years. Aubergine has a four-course fixed menu that traces the seasons, starring high-quality produce, and experiments with a wealth of cultures and cuisines. The result is a polished, fine dining experience that will by no means break the bank.
To match a menu that is so carefully created is no easy feat. However, Aubergine’s Sommelier, Cyril Thevenet, has curated a wine list that has been recognised on a national level, on more than one occasion. A collection of over 500 wines, his list looks both locally and beyond Australian borders to well known and emerging producers. Cyril has placed a strong focus on wines that are made sustainably, though his choices show a depth and breadth that is found in only the most carefully researched collections.
Thanks to a renovation in 2016 by local design studio Capezio Copeland, Aubergine’s interior now finally matches the polished, contemporary fare that fills each table. The sleek, monochrome dining room gives the restaurant an air of mystery. No longer does this dining destination seem out of place, but rather a canvas on which Ben’s food is the star.
From the moment you sit down until that last mouthful, Aubergine is an experience in itself, not just a restaurant. Rather than shying away from the deep-running Canberran roots of his venue, Ben has crafted an experience has a very strong sense of place.