15.5/20

Pulp Kitchen

Shop 1 / Wakefield Gardens, Ainslie, Australia

All Details
Impact ... Pulp Kitchen's new head chef, Keaton McDonnell, is delivering punchy, flavoursome dishes.
Impact ... Pulp Kitchen's new head chef, Keaton McDonnell, is delivering punchy, flavoursome dishes. Photo: Rohan Thomson

Kirsten Lawson

There's no getting around the fact that Pulp Kitchen has changed. You still have Daniel Giordani looking after the floor - before he was employee, now he is owner - and you still have the edgy unfussy bare-tabled bistro feel about the decor. But there's a different set of hands in the kitchen, which has brought inevitable differences on the plate.

Keaton McDonnell's style is more complex than the former chef and owner, who kept things relentlessly simple, with just a couple of great, punchy flavours in each dish. For us, that simplicity was part of what made Pulp one of the city's very best, and there's no getting around the fact that we miss it.

Pulp Kitchen is a relaxing place to be, largely undecorated, a little bit groovy, candles on the tables, a blackboard at one end.  

But McDonnell surprises us this night, delivering plate after plate of food that is really very good, right from the get-go. It starts with a plate of crusty bread served with a delicate wild-mushroom butter, perfectly spreadable.

Nice touch ... Rabbit-loin roulade, braised rabbit loin ragout, with mustard-braised pinenuts.
Nice touch ... Rabbit-loin roulade, braised rabbit loin ragout, with mustard-braised pinenuts. Photo: Rohan Thomson

Then duck liver mousse ($16) which is rich and dense. It's a pate that emphasises the richness, creaminess and gentle pungency of this offal, rather than trying to soften those excellent characteristics. The richness is offset with a pile of sweet crumbs and sweet sultanas. There's also little intense blobs of bright purple red cabbage, thin slices of baby fennel dried into pretty fans, and little splodges of apple cream and walnut cream. This is too many things on the plate, in my view, but nevertheless it all works beautifully together, and we're very happy with what we've eaten.

Similarly, a chicken terrine ($18) is gorgeously textured, rustic, with all the shreddy meat retaining its texture. It's clean and fresh tasting and good with the strong leaves of watercress and parsley and the little jewels of grape jelly. This dish is presented Jackson Pollock style, the pea puree applied from enough distance to splash artistically, and is in shades of green - the pea puree, grapes, watercress and parsley. There's a plate of good toasts alongside.

Rabbit-loin roulade, braised rabbit loin ragout, with mustard-braised pinenuts ($24/$38) displays, like the two entrees, a great understanding of the essence of the meat. This is a dish of intensity. The pinenuts are really good, salty and rich.

Intriguing ... Watermelon dessert has squares of poached watermelon, and scatters of black sesame ?cake".
Intriguing ... Watermelon dessert has squares of poached watermelon, and scatters of black sesame cake. Photo: Rohan Thomson

The ragout has been shaped into croquettes and fried, crusty on the outside, with dark and shreddy meat inside. The loin is tender and delicately cooked, but still full of flavour. There are little piles of bacon on the plate, adding fat and salty flavour. And little cups of onion with a creamy sauce inside that might be mustard based. Plus more green splashes.

The beef bavette ($22/$34) is possibly the dish of the night, which probably sounds odd given all the goodness to date. But we love the simplicity of the piece of skirt steak, and the lack of prettiness. It's just there, all loose and uneasy in its messy shape, dark and nicely cooked, full of flavour, and delicious with the other things on this plate - mustard seeds and gelatinous, rich rounds of beef cheek. Everything on this plate is irresistibly charry, and very good. Alongside, a simple dish of boiled potatoes ($9), skins on, with lemon to flavour.

Desserts do nothing to undermine the sense that every plate (bar the steak) has an awful lot going on. You're also left with the impression that they're conceived by people who don't really like sweets so much because they're quite determinedly intriguing, relying not at all on sweetness to carry the day.

A watermelon dessert ($16) recommended by Giordani has squares of poached watermelon, and scatters of black sesame "cake", which is super bitter, like dark chocolate or coffee beans. There's a pistachio crumb as well and a chocolate mousse-like ice-cream. All in all, an enjoyable combination of uneasy tastes.

A banana dessert ($12) includes banana ice-cream or mousse spiked with cloves, chocolate mousse, what looks to be an unsweetened egg-white crisp, like a meringue without the sugar, and dense spiced pieces of banana cake. There's a smart range of sorbets and ice creams from Canberra's ice-cream maestro John Marshall.

Pulp Kitchen is a relaxing place to be, largely undecorated, a little bit groovy, candles on the tables, a blackboard at one end. Service is attentive and well-informed, and the wine list looks in welcome fashion to less-well-known European varieties, French cider and the like. Yes, we would like more simplicity, but the food tonight has been very good. And it's clear Pulp in its new guise has a happy future.

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Shop 1 / Wakefield Gardens, Ainslie, Australia

  • Cuisine - Contemporary
  • Features - Vegetarian friendly, Licensed, Wheelchair access
  • Chef(s) - Keaton McDonnell
  • Owners - Daniel Giordani and Nathan Brown
  • Cards accepted - Visa, AMEX, Mastercard, EFTPOS
  • Opening Hours - Lunch Wednesday-Friday noon-2pm, dinner Tuesday-Saturday 6pm-10pm, brunch Saturday and Sunday 9am-3pm
  • Seats - 60 inside, 40 outside
  • Author - Kirsten Lawson
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Punchy flavours ... Pulp Kitchen's new head chef,  Keaton McDonnell, has created more complex dishes compared to its previous chef and owner. Click for more photos

Pulp Kitchen

Punchy flavours ... Pulp Kitchen's new head chef, Keaton McDonnell, has created more complex dishes compared to its previous chef and owner. Photo: Rohan Thomson

  • Punchy flavours ... Pulp Kitchen's new head chef,  Keaton McDonnell, has created more complex dishes compared to its previous chef and owner.
  • Out of the hat ... Rabbit-loin roulade, braised rabbit loin ragout, with mustard-braised pinenuts reveals a great understanding of the essence of the meat.
  • Gorgeously textured ... Chicken terrine is rustic, with all the shreddy meat retaining its texture.
  • Bit of a twist ... Part of the mix that made up the "Poached watermelon" dessert.
  • Giordani's watermelon dessert ...  "Poached" watermelon, black sesame cake, pistachio crumbs, and yogurt jelly.

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4 comments so far

  • relaxing? you have to be joking.
    1. the noise level is so high it is impossible to hear someone more than 1 seat away
    2. The seating is so tight and the staff so disorganised, that one of our party was hit in the head by a waitress when she was taking the orders for the next table
    3 Serving sizes differ widely for main courses, meaning that in a group some people can be well fed and some some people will leave starving. The night we went the fish main course was smaller than some of the entres, and was about 1/2 the size of the other main courses. This was not relaxing for us as a group

    Commenter
    digda_beat
    Location
    Date and time
    October 24, 2013, 10:53PM
    • Do you realise that all their meals are available in small or large? Some people like me order a small serve because I have a small appetite. It is not very fair of you to criticise the size of other peoples meals when you don't understand how the menu works.

      Commenter
      Andelain
      Location
      Date and time
      November 02, 2013, 11:50AM
  • I took 10 people there for a birthday celebration. All we said was, everything share plates and keep it coming till we call time.

    From the first bite to the last it was SENSATIONAL. It is now in my top 3-4 joints along with Pistachio Dining at Torrens, Italian and Sons, On Red and La Cantina....

    If you have just one dinning out a month this is a not to be missed food experience. Don't worry too much about some noise or where you sit,,,,,, its all about the FOOD!

    Commenter
    Hammer
    Location
    ACT
    Date and time
    October 25, 2013, 4:56PM
  • This isn't the place for a quiet, intimate meal. But if you want excellent food served without pretensions then it's great.
    I love it that most mains are available as large or small servings, so if you just want a small meal you're not limited to the list of entrees. Vego and gluten free options are also extensive - I've never been with a group where anyone felt there wasn't lots of choice.
    I love this place so much that I have a photo of one of the desserts as wallpaper on my phone!

    Commenter
    Mark
    Location
    Canberra
    Date and time
    October 26, 2013, 6:08PM

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