The view from Onred Restaurant. Photo: Jeffrey Chan
Some restaurants are catnip for dating couples. They're posh rather than cool, all crisp-white linen and little tables that press you up against each other. Everyone is bathed in soft lighting, often accented by flickering tealights, and the waiters are discreet and speak in a murmur. And there's a view.
By this token, Onred should be the central hub of romance in the capital. It's a perfect place for a special date. The dining room, perched like a torch at the top of Red Hill, is softly lit, the little tables are clothed in snow white. And who could resist that sparkling night-time vista of Canberra, spread out lavishly from the lights of Parliament House all the way across to the homes of Tuggeranong.
The wait staff are discreet but friendly and happy to help orient diners to the view, pointing out landmarks and indicating which bits of Canberra lie where. They're also good at orienting us to the menu - diners choose how many courses they're up for, three courses ($65), four ($74) or five ($86). The menu is detailed but also verbose (''rabbit wrapped in pancetta and stuffed with shiitake mushroom with smoked buffalo yoghurt, confit rabbit cigar, pickled shallots, carrots and shao hsing dressing'' anyone?). It's just changed over but is still wordy.
Deconstructed trifle of olive oil sponge, anglaise, mandarin puree, orange jelly, poached date and pistachio kataifi pastry balls at Onred. Photo: Jeffrey Chan
There are individual plates, desserts and a separate section for shared dishes, which must be ordered by everyone at the table.
This appears to be aimed at lovebirds but is a little limiting for a bigger group and won't please menu rangers, those people who love to travel widely across the dishes on offer and pick at each other's plates (ironically they're the biggest oversharers of dishes). My friend and I can't find anything that both of us really want so we only pick one thing from the shared dishes.
The first cab off the rank is a plate of scallops with yuzu, an apple salsa, green olive and a mustard cream. It's an ambitious mix of flavours. The scallops have a good, clean texture but the overpowering impression is of tartness. The apple salsa, to me, is reduced to bits of sour fruit and the yuzu predominates even over the mustard cream. If we were on a date, our grimacing yuzu-inspired faces would probably ensure no one was invited up to the apartment for a post-dinner nightcap.
Fig frangipane with palm sugar caramel, vanilla cremeux, white chocolate, almond and puff pastry crumbs and sweet potato ice cream at Onred. Photo: Jeffrey Chan
But things improve almost instantly with the arrival of a brilliant dish of crumbed lamb's brains. These are like tiny arancini - crisply breaded on the outside and creamily delicious on the inside. They're so moreish and are simply accompanied by a mild bread sauce and a handful of delicately scented, caramelised baby carrots. It's thoroughly enjoyable and a dish you don't want to share.
Now comes the almost inevitable pork belly dish - this time a lovely slab of pork with black pudding, dark prunes and a drizzle of pumpkin puree. The pork has a layer of crisp on the outside and is tender on the inside but lacks that melting, dreamy quality that makes pork belly so special. That said, it goes well with the lightly spiced poached prunes. It's a beautiful dance of salty shreds of pork, sticky sweet prune, earthy black pudding and back again to sweet with the pumpkin puree and a ginger cream. It's gutsy and a perfect winter combination, perhaps a bit rich but delicious.
The longest-worded dish on the menu, rabbit wrapped in pancetta and stuffed with shiitake mushroom with smoked buffalo yoghurt, confit rabbit cigar, pickled shallots, carrots and shao hsing dressing, turns out to be a lot simpler than it looks. The pancetta-wrapped rabbit is juicy and has a very clean flavour with hardly a trace of gameyness. The confit rabbit is wrapped in flaky pastry. They're both nicely cooked and great to top with the yoghurt sauce (a much more balanced tartness) and sweet glazed carrots. The translucent slices of shallot adds savoury warmth.
Braised rabbit croustillant with dried sultanas candied carrot and a celery and bacon salad at Onred. Photo: Jeffrey Chan
The night is going well - the food is pretty and comes out at well-timed intervals, just far apart enough to try and work out why there are bright green lights next to the War Memorial (traffic lights, genius). The sole shared dish of confit duck with fennel and orange slices is the final main. Again there's a conscious attempt to produce an interplay of contrasting flavours with the dark savoury duck, the zesty slices of orange and sweetness in the form of toffee pieces. It doesn't live up to the more interesting pork belly and the lambs brains. The toffee bits are also tooth-crunchingly hard.
Desserts are a little uneven as well. A fig frangipane with sweet potato ice-cream works well and is a great winter dessert. The ice-cream captures perfectly the spice of sweet potato and the slice of cake is dotted with beautiful, dense fruit. But a deconstructed trifle is not quite as successful: it's a disarray of dry, broken olive oil sponge, orange jelly, dates, and a spidery nest of Greek pastry surrounded on all sides by creme anglaise.
The service, hitherto friendly and bright, falters when it comes to the coffee and tea at the end of the meal and it's a little odd to be asked, by two different staff, to pick a favourite dish from the night, survey-style. A special dinner for two comes to about $180.
Onred is clearly determined to produce an exciting menu with interesting dishes rather than simply bask in its glorious location. The food is well executed but the flavour combinations can be hit and miss and the menu could be a little simpler.
- 02 6273 3517
- Cuisine - European, Modern Australian
- Features - BYO, Views, Vegetarian friendly, Licensed, Accepts bookings
- Chef(s) - Jodie Johnson
- Owners - Ben Johnson, Jodie Johnson
- Cards accepted - EFTPOS, AMEX, Visa
- Opening Hours - Lunch - Friday 12-3pm, Dinner - Tuesday to Saturday, 6pm-late
- Seats - 60 people
- Author - Natasha Rudra