1 Wakefield Garden Ainslie, Australian Capital Territory 2602
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.
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.
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.
Pulp Kitchen is a relaxing place to be, largely undecorated, a little bit groovy, candles on the tables, a blackboard at one end.
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.