Roo with a view

El­iz­a­beth Mery­ment vis­its a re­vamped Can­berra favourite that’s not just a pretty space

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence -

AP­PAR­ENTLY I’ve been spending too much time in the big city. It’s hard to come to any other con­clu­sion con­sid­er­ing my dis­pro­por­tion­ate ex­cite­ment in see­ing, on the drive to Onred restau­rant at the top of Can­berra’s Red Hill, a large, red kan­ga­roo graz­ing be­side the road. Like an Olympic swim­mer be­ing in­ter­viewed af­ter winning a medal, all I can say for some time is, ‘‘ Oh my God.’’

My Can­berra friend is more cir­cum­spect. ‘‘ Oh yes,’’ she says. ‘‘ We see them all the time around here,’’ adding, af­ter a mo­ment’s con­tem­pla­tion, ‘‘ I won­der if there will be roo on the menu?’’

As it hap­pens, roo is not on the menu at Onred, but it is per­haps not sur­pris­ing to en­counter one on the way to this restau­rant, which is lo­cated up an iso­lated road with no through traf­fic. It’s only a five-minute drive from busy Manuka, but there’s noth­ing up here apart from the Red Hill look­out with its great views of the na­tional cap­i­tal, the restau­rant and a bar. Th­ese last two are housed in a glo­ri­ously retro 1964 build­ing, the restau­rant hav­ing been taken over by chef Jodie John­son and her brother Ben in De­cem­ber, and given a glam makeover. Now you’ll find linen table­cloths, muted lighting and a wine wall. . . all very city sleek.

Jodie is al­ready some­thing of a hero in th­ese parts, hav­ing last been well re­ceived at Graz­ing, the restau­rant in the his­toric 1865 Royal Ho­tel at Gun­da­roo, about 30 min­utes north, where she pro­duced some im­pres­sive mod-Oz food.

Onred con­tin­ues this theme: its menu reads like that of an am­bi­tious in­ner-city bistro. Grilled calf’s liver comes with mash, beans, mac­er­ated sul­tanas and onion cream ($17); a Bun­gen­dore aged sir­loin is served with onion con­fit, a bone mar­row dumpling and hot-mus­tard coleslaw ($29) and, for dessert, pineap­ple is poached with gin­ger and mint and served with al­mond pesto ice cream and meringue ($14). It is all very promis­ing, es­pe­cially for a venue that could eas­ily rely on its views to at­tract the tourist trade.

And the views are in­deed fab­u­lous; the twin­kling lights of the ACT be­low us on this cold Fri­day night are like a blan­ket draped with fairy lights. Restau­rants with views can of­ten veer to­wards the kitsch, but as we set­tle in with glasses of New Zealand Kapooka Sau­vi­gnon Blanc ($9), it’s hard not to en­joy the as­pect.

The menu, which is full of in­trigu­ing flour­ishes, is also a treat. While the calf’s liver sounds ap­peal­ing, we opt for en­trees of ri­cotta and Per­sian fetta tortellini with a salad of peas, cau­li­flower beignet and chervil, tomato jam and thyme vinai­grette ($18), and smoked ocean trout with av­o­cado and horse­rad­ish mousse, cel­ery and mesclun salad topped with a poached quail’s egg ($18). While the cheese tortellini is nicely done, the pasta parcels are soft and yield­ing and the lit­tle pea salad of­fers a pleas­ing green con­trast, the beignet (‘‘dough­nut’’) cau­li­flower chunks leave us stumped. The tex­ture is odd and it’s hard to see the point of it.

Like­wise the quail’s egg on top of the hot smoked trout. This smoky, sub­tle fish, which sits in a soft mound above the mousse, all topped with salad leaves, is de­li­cious, but the small, runny egg seems su­per­flu­ous.

For the mains we try a con­fit duck leg with a schmick-looking beet­root and jelly ter­rine, parsnip puree, goat’s cheese cream and or­ange syrup ($29). The duck is fab­u­lous, richly flavoured, crisp-skinned, with flesh that is soft to the touch of the fork.

But the cold beet­root ter­rine melts quickly be­side the warm meat so that by the end of the meal, the plate looks as though some­body has spilt red cor­dial. And while beet­root and goat’s cheese is usu­ally a match made in heaven, here it doesn’t quite work: the ter­rine seems too sweet for the salty cheese cream.

A pan-fried, crisp-skinned At­lantic sal­mon fil­let with a rich blue-cheese cream, warm shal­lot and rocket salad and pork crack­ling ($29) is served too rare for our tastes and could lose the crack­ling, which adds noth­ing to the dish.

De­spite th­ese mi­nor quib­bles, both meals are en­joy­able and the cook­ing is solid. Desserts of rhubarb bread-and-but­ter pud­ding with rhubarb syrup and dou­ble cream ($14) and chocolate brownie with red wine syrup, cookie-dough ice cream and chocolate tu­ille ($14) are hearty Land good.

On the whole, Onred is a qual­ity, in­no­va­tive din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and Jodie John­son has put thought and en­ergy into en­sur­ing the venue will at­tract lo­cals as well as vis­i­tors.

As we head back into the night af­ter our meal, two more roos hop qui­etly past us, fill­ing me, again, with child-like glee. Thank good­ness roo is off the menu at Onred. All Ta­bles vis­its are unan­nounced and meals paid for.

Check­list

Onred 50 Red Hill Drive, Red Hill, Can­berra. (02) 6273 3517; www.onred.com.au. Open: For lunch, Tues­day-Satur­day and din­ner, Wed­nes­day-Satur­day. Cost: About $200 for two for three cour­ses and wine. Drink: An in­ter­est­ing and rea­son­ably priced menu of lo­cal and im­ported drops. Don’t be tempted to over-in­dulge: the road home is dan­ger­ously pop­u­lated. Rea­son to re­turn: To see if calf’s liver ac­tu­ally works with mash, beans, sul­tanas and onion cream.

Cap­i­tal out­look: The view across Can­berra from Onred com­ple­ments the am­bi­tious menu; Per­sian fetta tortellini, right

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