15/20

Mocan and Green Grout

19 Marcus Clarke Street, NewActon, Canberra, ACT

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Mocan and Green Grout chef Sean McConnell and owner/ operator David Alcorn.
Mocan and Green Grout chef Sean McConnell and owner/ operator David Alcorn. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

Bryan Martin

I sometimes ask myself whether we need lavishly designed and built restaurants serving intricately arranged food and offering a wine list that boasts multi-vintages of a super-premium first-growth or grand cru. Don't we just want a feed?

Early restaurants would no doubt have been set up to cook and serve people in the locale, offering food that is simple and seasonal.

Mocan and Green Grout, in New Acton, is channelling this rather fundamental restaurant style. It opened last year as a tiny coffee house with great coffee and became a place where you could hitch your bicycle and have breakfast or a light lunch in your lycra. (As an aside, nothing looks better than sweaty people eating in lycra.) Now it has moved into evening meals, but only Tuesdays to Thursdays at this stage.

The cosy dining area at Mocan is arranged around the kitchen bench.
The cosy dining area at Mocan is arranged around the kitchen bench. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

I have no idea what Mocan and Green Grout means, but the feel here is that someone has just opened the doors of their centrally located apartment and started cooking for their neighbours. It's as though you are in someone's home, with no separation between kitchen and diner.

The kitchen is a bench and table in the middle of the room; washing up is done at another bench, also surrounded by tables and activity. So you are front and centre to what Sean McConnell is cooking. I don't need to ask whether the Manning River oysters are freshly shucked because I can see him doing it right next to our table. When the plump little oysters arrive with a little dollop of salmon roe to intensify the seashore sensation, I almost feel like I've harvested them myself. To get them any fresher, I'd have to jump in a car and head to the mid-north coast, which makes the four bucks seem cheap.

From what I can glean, the idea is to have a changing menu of small plates to mostly entice the locals, of whom there are many in this little corner near the Parkes Way. These residents should see Mocan as a neighbour who really knows how to cook, and one you can visit any time without having to reciprocate.

Snapper with fennel and grapefruit.
Snapper with fennel and grapefruit. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

The menu includes two appetisers, eight share plates and a couple of desserts. On our visit just before Christmas, we order the rock oysters topped with salmon roe ($4 each); cured ocean trout with apple and liquorice ($4 a piece); braised Dutch carrots with honey and nasturtium ($15); pressed potato terrine with fried capers and chervil ($15); pork belly with apple and mustard fruits ($18); caprese salad with olive dust ($16); roasted confit spatchcock with lentils and cranberries ($18); and line-caught snapper with fennel and ruby grapefruit ($19). This is most of the small menu, but you don't need to order this much, one dish each is fine.

The food is simple – just a few ingredients – with preparation that lets it speak for itself.

The cured ocean trout is wafer thin. Sweetly salty, an intense anisette condiment overlays the seasonings and is a real highlight of this dish. The two vegetable dishes are precisely what I want to eat – sweet baby carrots with peppery flowers, and a lovely delicate potato terrine, both worthy as standalone dishes.

Cherry and Chocolate Dessert.
Cherry and Chocolate Dessert. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

The pork belly is a triumph, with its super-crispy chicharron-style skin, fresh and delicate apple slaw, and heat from pickled mustard fruits.

The caprese salad is another fantastic vegetarian dish, a mixture of early-season tomatoes seasoned with dried olives.

Twice-cooked anything is always good. There's nothing like poaching a baby chicken in fat until it is perfectly cooked, then just crisping up the outside. A delicate lentil salad and plump cranberries give the dish balance and a Christmassy feel, like a really good leftover meal, which seems to be the idea.

For me, the dish that really sums up what's good about Mocan is a beautifully cooked fillet of snapper, caught on a fishing line, which sounds so much better than "trawled from the ocean with everything else that got in the way".

Seasoned perfectly, it floats in pan juices and is served with shaved raw fennel and a few sections of deeply coloured ruby grapefruit. It's just so light and delicate, and so much what I feel like eating, that I shed a small tear. Why do we live so far away from New Acton? Surely we can afford an apartment upstairs so we can eat like this three nights a week.

The service is excellent during our visit because waiting tables is none other than Michael Gray, the head of food and beverage for the Molonglo Group, which is developing this precinct. Not sure how often that happens.

There is no wine list here – and there won't be until toilets are installed (at the moment, you go to the foyer of a neighbouring building). But the food is very wine-friendly and you can pick up a reasonable bottle from the food store a couple of doors away or plan ahead and bring your own. BYOs are great, and I'm not sure a formal wine list would fit Mocan's spontaneity.

So, with a serious amount of regret, I recommend Mocan and Green Grout to you – regret that I can't get here as often as I would like, and regret that even if I could, it's not easy to get a table as they don't take bookings.

Food: 3/4

Wine list: n/a

Style: 4/4

Value for money: 3/4

Service: 3/4

Summary: A little gem of a place still evolving in the New Acton area; love the inner-city feel.

Breakdown scores are a quick reference to key highs or lows. They do not relate directly to the score out of 20.

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19 Marcus Clarke Street, NewActon, Canberra, ACT

  • Cuisine - Modern Australian
  • Features - BYO, Wheelchair access, Vegetarian friendly, Outdoor seating
  • Chef(s) - Sean McConnell
  • Owners - Myles Chandler, David Alcorn, Nectar, Johnathan Efkarpidis
  • Cards accepted - Cash, Visa, EFTPOS
  • Seats - 20 inside, 20 outside
  • Author - Bryan Martin
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