18 National Circuit Barton, ACT 2600
|Opening hours||Lunch Monday to Friday, midday-2.30pm; dinner Monday to Saturday, 6-10pm|
|Features||Licensed, BYO, Accepts bookings, Wheelchair access|
|Prices||Expensive (mains over $40)|
|Payments||AMEX, Diner's Club, Mastercard, AMEX, eftpos, Cash|
|Phone||02 6163 1800|
Gone are the days when hotels had one restaurant and one bar, catering to weekending couples and travelling businessmen. Now a clutch of eateries is much more the fashion, catering to the culinary whims of every guest, and all manner of well-dressed locals as well. And on a bustling Friday night, the Hotel Realm is certainly a hot spot.
Nested in the heart of the Realm, Konoba is glassed in and rather nicely laid out - low lighting, stylish Danish-style leather and wood chairs, and French music but no matter what they do, the elegant mood is hard to maintain when the place is surrounded by a very lively, albeit stylish bar. This is not necessarily bad but is an interesting juxtaposition.
We are the first customers in a little after 7pm, and staff attention is prompt and polite. We are presented with menus and a wine list, and choose a glass of cider and Ki Ki sparkling sauvignon blanc from Marlborough, a crisp start to oil the decision making.
The menu is mercifully brief, with about half a dozen starters and about 10 mains. There are the hotel-restaurant main-course staples: a number of steaks, lamb, duck, two fish dishes and a vegetarian offering - zucchini and spinach rotolo.
We start with a scallop dish and one of prawns. The roasted chimichurri prawns ($20) arrive with two king prawns, well-basted with a pretty mild version of the Argentinian marinade, chimichurri, and settled on a generous smear of tahini yoghurt given a little crunch and sweetness with apple. The bodies are cleanly peeled and the heads only for show. This is a pleasant dish, carefully presented - nothing jars, all is fresh and palatable, but there is little excitement.
The scallops ($19) arrive all in a row, with a smear of mild cauliflower puree - little batons of apple across the top and sweetened a little with raisin and pinenut dressing. Flavours are harmonious, ingredients are good, and the dish is pleasant, if not startling.
A range of steaks are offered with a sauce boat of bearnaise, peppercorn, cabernet jus or mustard, and are accompanied with a side serving of nicely dressed salad and mash. The menu says all the Black Angus steak is grain-fed, and it's free of ''hormone growth promotants''.
The eye fillet ($39) arrives alone at the centre of a white plate, cooked just so at medium rare. The meat seems well rested, and is certainly tender under the fork, but has very little juice. Still, it is nicely flavoured, and goes well with the classic creamy mash, which is just slightly cooler that it should be as it hits the table.
Pan-fried trout is a good piece of fish, resting on top of a decent serve of peas liberally flecked with bacon pieces. Saffron mussels are arranged around the side, and are good in themselves, but do not combine flavours to heighten the whole. A side serve of green beans is tangy with lemon dressing and a nice crunch is added with salty toasted almonds.
By this stage, the bar outside has thinned out a little, and five or six tables enliven the interior of the restaurant. Service continues to be attentive and courteous, if sometimes a little confused.
A decent range of Australian, New Zealand and a few local wines make a reasonable wine list, and with pretty reasonable prices and mark ups. Fifteen wines are available by the glass, including a rose and a pinot.
Dessert is an indulgence after what has already been a decent meal but rounds the evening out nicely. Summer-berries pavlova ($16) is a good dish of flavoursome berries, with a thin-shelled ball of meringue at the centre, making a light and fresh dessert perfectly pitched for the steamy weather.
The cheese plate ($14-$32, depending on size) is extremely generous. A Jensen's washed rind and Roquefort Papillon are the highlights and are accompanied with muscatels and quince paste.
Konoba is a calming and pleasant restaurant to soothe away the flurry of the week. Do not expect to be challenged or surprised by the food, and you won't be disappointed.
Catriona Jackson is chief executive of peak lobby group Science and Technology Australia.