20 Lonsdale Street Braddon, Australian Capital Territory 2612
|Opening hours||Tue-Sat noon-2.30pm; Daily 6pm-late|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Bar, Late night, Licensed, Romance-first date, Wheelchair access, Outdoor seating|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||02 6161 8686|
More than four years after opening with a rebel yell, full of chaos and confidence, eightysix has established itself as more than a one-hit wonder, settling into the Lonsdale Street food strip like an old-timer.
It's still busy, noisy but not ridiculously so, and with people packing through the door to stand at the bar with a drink while they wait for tabled to turn over. It's popular and rightly so, with up-to-date food and wine, good service and relaxed feel.
The restaurant is set up for cosiness – close tables, people squishing past between the row of tables and high seats at the long bar where you can watch the frenzied kitchen activity. It's not about calm and elbow room, and that's fine with us.
The menu reads well, modern and brief, without getting caught up in entrees and mains. The duck buns ($9 each) are a permanent fixture, lovely little hold-with-one-hand bites, using the soft Asian buns that swept the world thanks to Momofuku chef David Chang. They're simple, sandwiched with shredded duck, hoisin and cucumber.
The hotdog ($9 each) is an organic hotdog, not, it seems, a contradiction in terms; such a thing actually exists. The trendy little hotdog is served on a pillowy bun with finely grated cheese and salsa with coriander. There's not a huge amount to it, but it's a fine snack, albeit quite pricey, like the duck buns.
Steak tartare ($26) is a dish we order on every visit, and every time we see it on a menu. It's overwhelming with heat here, drowning out most else, and while this dish of raw meat mixed with raw egg, capers and onions normally has a sparkling quality to it, it feels a little flat tonight. We would prefer simple old-fashioned toasts to the prawn crackers, which are a bit of an affectation, and – although prawn crackers are not as silly, it has to be said, as the fries that accompany the steak tartare at the newly opened Pulp Kitchen. The new Pulp is eightysix's sister restaurant in Ainslie and we love it already, but the fries are a little misplaced – try balancing a mix of raw minced up meat on a shoestring fry and you'll be with me. However, that is a separate thing entirely, and the prawn crackers at eightysix do the job.
Spiced cauliflower with pomegranate and goat's curd ($19) offers crunch from the cauliflower, pop from the pomegranate and intensity from rough-cut parsley leaves. But the execution is not brilliant. Instead of being a confident main with ingredients that could standalone, it is presented like a salad with the cauliflower cut small and the elements all bundled together.
Likewise, heirloom carrot with hummus, mint and pistachio ($19) feels like a salad on the side, with thinly shaved carrots tossed with the other ingredients. We like the crisp mix of apple and carrot, with the creamy hummus and crunch of nuts, but the dish is less than exciting.
As it happens, we have ordered lamb shoulder ($79) as a central shared main, so both the cauliflower and the carrots are fine as side dishes and don't need to carry dinner alone, as they might have had we ordered differently. The lamb is a decent sized hunk of meat, dark on the outside, served without too much fuss. The oily chilli salsa and yoghurt are great accompaniments.
The caramel popcorn sundae ($17) has been on the dessert menu since eightysix opened, and for good reason. Popcorn in dessert is usually irritating, but here it all comes together in a cold, sweet, highly likeable upside-down ice-cream with sticky caramel in the bottom of the glass.
Banoffee pie ($18) works also, with a thick biscuit base, filled with thick caramel and cream – another dessert we order frequently and enjoy.
The wine list is good, focusing on the interesting and the unusual, and keeping things succinct.
Eightysix is a fun place to eat out, where you can be confident of getting up-to-date food and wine. Everything is in place here, down to the sense that you're where you should be on a Friday night. The challenge for eightysix now is to keep checking and testing the menu to ensure every dish retains that excitement, and with the shift in attention to Pulp Kitchen, that's probably going to take a bit of work.