25 Edinburgh Avenue Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 260102 6287 6287
|Opening hours||Seven days 6.30am-1am: breakfast from 6.30am-noon, bar menu noon-1am, all-day lunch and dinner menu noon-10pm|
|Features||Wheelchair access, Licensed|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Seats||100 inside, 20 outside, 60 in a private room|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard|
The working title Godzilla seemed good to me, right era, right amount of geek sci-fi skinny pants appeal. But I guess on reflection a monster that fed on nuclear fuel might have seemed completely the wrong fit in these studiously eco-chic surrounds. For whatever reason, Godzilla became Monster as it opened its doors in June, only a name but for what it's worth equally as ill-fitted to the actual atmosphere here which despite the strikingly oddball timber yard entrance way is nothing short of charming.
This is the much anticipated eatery of Hotel Hotel (yes indeed, but what's in a name), and it makes you think of someone's very cool warehouse living room, a big space full of nooks, nothing conventional in the furnishings.
When there are actual tables, they're odd shaped, but there’s no need to sit at a table when you can eat from a coffee table on a stool, or lounge by the faux fire, or even grab a window seat with big cushions.
Concrete columns and dividers, even a concrete bar at the servery, and lots of wood give that inside-on-the-outside industrial look but somehow it stays highly home-like and intimate. Quiet, too, despite the number of people and amount of activity. Monster is a hotel lounge, although you wouldn't know it, which means it also serves that function as a place just to sit, read through your paperwork or whatever, as well as all-day restaurant and bar.
In the kitchen is Sean McConnell, one of the trio of Melbourne brothers who have risen so markedly in the food world and the chef also who created such a groovy little kitchen at Mocan and Green Grout, in the same precinct in New Acton.
The menu is equally loose and relaxed - shared plates, snacks, small plates and more substantial ones. The food is marked by good produce, largely locally sourced, and simple combinations – and very good prices.
Slow-cooked salt-baked celeriac, jersey milk curd, local Trufflegate truffle ($26) comes as thick discs of celeriac, with a soft white sauce (the milk curd) and truffle, which adds the unmistakable and irresistible truffle smell to the table, if not much in flavour. Celeriac and truffle: a classic and very good combination.
Palmers Island Mulloway, almond butter, broad beans, mint, peas ($28) is a piece offish with a beautifully caramelised, umami unctuous skin and silky flesh. If there’s one reason to go to chef’s school, it’s to learn how to do this with fish. Utterly delicious treatment. It comes with little onion cups fresh peas and broad beans, pea shoots and mint, plus nuts for crunch. Again, a sensible treatment using stuff that grows together and is supposed to go together.
Eggplant, smoked goat’s curd, katsuobushi and sesame ($18) is recommended and rightly so. It’s super rich, sticky glooped and powerful. The eggplant is sliced, smoky and hot, with shavings of katsuobushi (dried tuna flakes), slices of radish, and pieces of nori. Fishy, seaweedy, marmite-y all at once, with extra richness from the smothering of creamy goat’s curd. A no-holds-barred dish.
Pulled lamb shoulder ($28) is a substantial serve of lovely meat, soft, spicy and citrusy, with yoghurt, pistachio, pomegranate, fried brik pastry and vine leaves – the vine leaves doing nothing much in flavour sense, but nevertheless adding to a highly themed picture.
The wine list and service from Michael Gray, food and beverage manager for this extraordinary New Acton complex, is stacked with knowledge and interest (well-priced too. You’ll find Australia’s boutique best, a sensibly selective choice from Europe, a big focus on Canberra wines, a long and chichi spirits list.
For dessert, the souffle ($18) is a big pot, super-light and delicate, with a gentle mandarin flavour, faintly eggy and risen high, and served with a rich chocolate sorbet in case you thought souffle was just too restrained a dessert.
Creme catalan ($16) is very sweet and spicy, a delicate custard with a thick compot of spiced quince.
Dark chocolate, lemon, olive oil and hazelnut ($14) is a kind of chocolate mousse covered in exploded crumb bits, an increasingly common affectation this, with lovely dried sweet slices of lemon and sheets of lemony meringue.
That’s dinner, but you can test your toes in the water at Monster all day, starting with breakfast from 7am, when you can go as simple and carefully provenanced as “A. Baker toast, Pepe Saya cultured butter, Lynwood preserves ($8)”, or during the afternoon for a drink and bar snack – again not missing a beat with the world’s current favourites, like the little pork buns made with “38-hour pork neck” and served with cucumber kimchi. The hand-cut chips ($10), are skin on, dry and healthy-feel chips, with house-made ketchup alongside, all smoky with Mexican flavours and difficult to get out of its little bottle without banging it upside on the table, and a little dish of sea salt and rosemary. And that’s just the chips.
Monster won’t feel unfamiliar to fans of Mocan and Green Grout, and A Baker, too, which has a similar approach if not quite as assured, but it epitomises this style of loose, modern, customer-focused dining. Easy to love.