Roo with a view
Elizabeth Meryment visits a revamped Canberra favourite that’s not just a pretty space
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.
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