15/20

The Artisan

16 Iluka Street, Narrabundah, Australia

Devoted ... The Artisan's co-owners David Black, left, and Sam McGeechan, with chef Josh Hinves.
Devoted ... The Artisan's co-owners David Black, left, and Sam McGeechan, with chef Josh Hinves. Photo: Graham Tidy

Natasha Rudra

Look, I like tacky music as much as the next teen who bought Now! That's What I Call Music 1996, but this is the next level, as the kids say.

Here we are, ensconced at a table for two, in the Artisan's softly lit dining room. The seats are comfortable, the linen is white and crisp, there's a bookshelf at the end of the room filled with what looks like cookbooks (hard to tell in the lighting).

The Artisan is one of those Canberra things - a fancy restaurant in a quiet suburban shopping centre.  

But through the speakers comes the voice of a woman warbling an easy-listening version of Wonderwall by Oasis, complete with a tinkling piano.

Chilli chocolate slab with poached pear.
Chilli chocolate slab with poached pear. Photo: Graham Tidy

''I'm expecting Kenny G to chime in any minute now,'' my companion mutters.

The Artisan is one of those Canberra things - a fancy restaurant in a quiet suburban shopping centre. Next door is the local chemist and a tiny supermarket is on the corner.

When we arrive, we watch the chemist come out, lock up his shop and hop on his bicycle to head home. People stroll past, out for an evening. House prices in the leafy nearby streets are going through the roof.

But back to the meal. Although Sally can wait, we don't have to - a couple of rolls appear in a basket on the table soon after we place our orders. They're good, with an even, chewy crust and warm, soft bread inside.

It's the flavoured butter that is the revelation though, a lovely yellow dollop filled through with smoke and salt. Just as well there are only two rolls in the lot, because we could probably eat a couple more each.

Can you really go past Patagonian toothfish ($19) if it's on the menu, even out of pure curiosity? It's a really ugly creature, bearing a strong resemblance to a grumpy, aged great-uncle, but with fangs. It's also endangered, although, we're assured, it is now protected and sustainably fished.

On the plate, the toothfish has a smooth texture, almost like a slab of vanilla gelato, and is pristine white. The flavour is delicate but clear. There's a tangle of celeriac ribbons, and some tiny radishes add crunch and go well with the fish.

A trio of chipotle pork belly blocks ($19), topped with luscious-looking crackling, starts out strong. The meat is tender and melds well with a soft, green avocado cream on the side, an unusual but excellent combination. It's accompanied by matchsticks of apple in a sort of coleslaw. The only bung note is the crackling, which is chewy and dense rather than crisp, and the fact that you can't taste any hint of the promised chipotle.

Outside, on the streets of Narrabundah, it's a pretty, golden evening. A couple walk past with the family dog and a young child in a stroller. A man in tracksuit pants follows with a less charming looking bulldog on a bit of rope. We enjoy more unsuitable songs made over in an easy-listening style: a limp version of Bon Jovi's It's My Life and Stevie Wonder's Superstition stripped of all its funk.

The beef ($35) is perfectly cooked to order (medium), with a light charring on top and a strong meaty flavour. There's a touch too much mustard for my partner's taste, but the rest of the dish makes up for it. A fluffy, well-baked potato souffle is a fun accompaniment and tastes like a hybrid of Yorkshire pudding and mashed potato.

I find my miso-poached barramundi ($35) to be a lovely, moreish piece of fish, with a generous wedge of scampi on top. Not a hint of rubber in either the fish or the scampi and a big pile of crunchy, barely-cooked sliced beans and baby asparagus lend a freshness and a happy contrast of texture.

The desserts are pretty good too. It's nice to see classic old flavours like banoffee and salted caramel coming back into fashion, although I feel we've reached peak salted caramel in this town. The Artisan's tarte tatin ($15) is banoffee inspired, with a ring of glazed, gorgeous banana slices atop a pastry base.

We could do with more of the toffee, but a scoop of dulce de leche ice-cream on top is satisfying. A chilli chocolate slab is light but sweet and is accompanied by poached pear ($15).

After a quick glass of something refreshing and a cup of tea, we're back out on the easy streets of Narrabundah.

The Artisan is the kind of place you'd take someone you really wanted to impress, like your girlfriend's conservative parents. The food is excellent, simply presented, cleverly executed and clearly at the high end of Canberra's restaurant scene.

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16 Iluka Street, Narrabundah, Australia

  • Cuisine - Modern Australian
  • Features - BYO, Licensed, Vegetarian friendly, Wheelchair access
  • Chef(s) - David Black and Sam McGeechan
  • Owners - David Black and Sam McGeechan
  • Cards accepted - AMEX, Cash, EFTPOS, Mastercard, Diners Club, Visa
  • Opening Hours - Tuesday to Sat, 12-2pm, 6-10pm dinner
  • Seats - 44 inside, 10 outside
  • Author - Natasha Rudra
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Dark chilli chocolate marquise with Calvados poached pear. Click for more photos

Restaurant review: The Artisan

Dark chilli chocolate marquise with Calvados poached pear. Photo: Graham Tidy

  • Dark chilli chocolate marquise with Calvados poached pear.
  • Perfectly cooked ... Pure black eye beef fillet with smoked potato souffle.
  • Pork belly and soft, green avocado cream  is "tender and melds well".
  • Impressive ... The Artisan is great place to take friends.
  • The Artisan is at 16 Iluka Street, Narrabundah.

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Restaurant review: The Artisan

This is the kind of place you’d take someone you really wanted to impress.

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