Steak tartare at Eighty-six. Photo: Melissa Adams
My message read, "Can you find me a new place to review, something unique, exciting, undiscovered?'' It was a joke - this doesn't happen very often - but I got a message back saying, ''Well, yes, I can''. Bugger me.
But you better get in quick, I'm told. One of the things about living in the social media age is that you need to check out new restaurants fast, otherwise you're like a dinosaur at an ape party. The bloggers, tweeters, Facebookers, urbanspooners, foursquarers are there from the get-go. So we're way past waiting for a new eatery to settle in and iron out the wrinkles. No, they must hit the ground running, as no doubt their first service will be full of eager fingers poised over smart phones.
This works well if everyone concerned is ready. And at Eighty-six, they certainly are. This is the destination tonight, on a corner on Lonsdale Street, where there is much development afoot.
Eighty-six: A fast-changing blackboard menu. Photo: Melissa Adams
The team has cut its teeth at Ellacure in Belconnen, which has shown how to do suburban dining well. Gus Armstrong and team have been solid, with passionate, well-trained staff and food that delivers good value in a fairly safe suburban form.
At Eighty-six, they've raised the bar and thrown caution to the wind to show they can do modern inner-city dining, too. It's a busy L-shaped room around a bar and kitchen. You feel like you can turn up as is, which, for me, is straight from work with two hungry boys.
Eighty-six has been open just a few weeks, and is rockingly full already. We sit at the window bar as Armstrong goes through his routine, looking pretty sharp with some chin art going on, his passion for the new venture palpable.
Popcorn sundae. Photo: Melissa Adams
The walls look like they've been attacked by a team of preschoolers with crayons and chalk. The menu is scribbled across the main wall, ready to be crossed out when a dish runs out.
We are encouraged to take a walk to check out the menu, though the waiters are very vocal about what we should order: ceviche, steak tartare, pickled pork terrine, confit duck salad, oxtail ragu, buttermilk fried chicken, caramel popcorn sundae, goat's cheese and beetroot. Sounds good, so I say, sure, I'm dining with a 13-year-old who is hollow, let's start with that.
The wine list is a start-up list but there's good signs that, like the food, it will stay dynamic and interesting. The local Lark Hill Gruner-Veltliner is on by the glass ($17) and I can't pass up the chance to try this rare beast. Gruner is an Austrian variety and here it is showing the complex savoury, spicy, grapefruit-pith aromas and a plush, nutty palate.
Gus Armstrong and Sean Royle, owners of Eighty-six in Braddon. Photo: Melissa Adams
It arrives about the same time as the ceviche ($20) and this turns out to be a pretty good combo; the limey backbone in the marinade along with chilli and coriander are lapped up by the GV's acid backbone. I like this intense salad, the fish is half-cured so still has some rawness to it and corn and diced capsicum sweeten and balance the dish.
The plates range from large-ish entree to decent-sized main but you are encouraged to share. Which sounds like a good plan except I have no intention of sharing the raw beef. Steak tartare ($21) is a classic French dish, hand-chopped rump and fillet, seasoned with salt and Worcestershire sauce, topped with a raw egg yolk and sides of cornichons, onion and parsley, capers and tabasco. We are encouraged to ''smash them up'' and smear it on prawn crackers. It's a fantastic arrangement, confident, light as a feather and, clearly, all really fresh. I haven't had this for years, and Vail, Colorado, 1995, comes back to me with amazing clarity tonight.
Duck confit has been a standout standard at Ellacure, and here the dish, confit duck salad ($22) is a more complex arrangement. Like a Bach fugue, it appears simple but there's a lot going on: scattered morsels of juicy duck among brussel sprout petals, shaved radish and corn kernels, with creamy mayo binding the piece together. I love this style of food, light and elegant but with good flavour.
Pickled pork terrine ($16) is also on the menu. Clearly, all the staff have this as their ace in the hole, but I look at them like, you don't think I'd order this anyway? It's a jolly dish that is like a laz-y-boy recliner, a little old-fashioned and you know it's going to be comfortable. Doused in gribiche, it's a joyous, amicable dish. I'm loving it and it me. Keep them coming.
The most substantial dish of the night is a pair of buttermilk fried chicken marylands ($33), dark and served with a pile of decent slaw. It's clearly a tilt at Southern food, and I'm with them, so beautifully cooked, juicy, crispy, you really need to get your hands and cheeks dirty here. The young chefs in the kitchen know what they're doing.
Oxtail ragu ($27) is an intense dish, the oxtail cooked down to a thick gravy-cloaked mass of yumminess. There's some dumpling-like cubes of gnocchi that soak up the sauce plus a shaving of good, salty parmesan, and parsley. If there's one thing you do this year, it's come here and have this dish. It's everything you want in richness, complexity and intensity.
We tend to overdo the savoury, as you can see, and cheese and dessert is generally too much, but this menu is really working for me and the excitement the staff exude about the ice-cream sundae ($14) means we can't say no. This is so retro it's like someone has dropped a cornetto into a glass from the balcony of the Orpheum movie house in Cremorne. There's caramel-coated popcorn, peanut brittle, rich popcorn ice-cream and a broken waffle cone sticking out of it. A fun dish that has me reminiscing of my first movie visit and taste of a cornetto way back when.
So you have here the emergence of another local star, fresh, noisy and exciting. It's going to be hard to get a seat, but I'm just so happy to have got in early to see this talented team as they take the city by storm.
Address: Mode 3 building,
- 02 6161 8686
- Cuisine - Modern Australian
- Prices - $20-$33
- Features - Accepts bookings, Bar, Licensed, Wheelchair access
- Chef(s) - Michael Carey
- Owners - Sean Royle, Gus Armstrong
- Cards accepted - AMEX, Cash, Mastercard, EFTPOS, Visa
- Opening Hours - Tuesday to Sunday, lunch noon-2.30pm, dinner from 6pm
- Seats - 60
- Author - Bryan Martin