15 Moore Street Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 260102 6249 6683
|Opening hours||L D Mon-Sat; Fri-Sat Late|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Bar, Breakfast-brunch, Business lunch, Licensed, Romance-first date, Outdoor seating, Wheelchair access|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Chef||Ben Willis, Chris Darragh|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard|
In music, the term ''unplugged'' is a sign of a musician at the top of their game. The moment when they can eschew the facades of amplification, mixing, anything. It's just about the music itself and the acoustics of the space in which they play.
Having the rock-star equivalent of the chef world open a bar and grill has the same feeling. Well, for me, anyway. You take away all the tricks that a high-end kitchen has at its disposal and base the food around a wood-fired grill. Cooking at its most elemental, almost primeval level.
Enter Ben Willis and Chris Darragh. We all know Aubergine well, if you aspire to eat nosh at the pointy end - it was best restaurant three years running. You have to wonder how they fit all this in, but on a first visit to Temporada, it looks worth the effort and investment.
Talking with Willis about his new endeavour and why he thinks Canberra needs somewhere else to eat, it turns out he just wants a place that he would like to hang out himself. Simple as that.
There's also - and I'm just pondering this myself - the fact that over the past few years at Aubergine, Willis has created a league of loyal diners who might be inclined to try anything he puts his hand to. You wouldn't go to Aubergine every week; it's more of a special-occasion place. I could do an exit poll on the steps at Griffith and really sort this out, but that would be weird, so I'll leave it at, say, four to six times a year.
Temporada, on the other hand, you can go weekly. The food is more the tapas, sharing plates that have overtaken Canberra. The design is pretty cool. A large bar dominates the centre of the room, with lots of counter space to dine or imbibe. The look, not being a design expert, has a country feel - lots of different materials like you see in old renovated farmhouses; expensive-looking tiles on the floor, painted wooden fence palings on the wall, pressed steel roofing. Interestingly, it's not clumped together on a strip with other restaurants. It's boldly on its own - come and find me.
The menu is based around this magnificent wood-fired grill - Willis and Darragh are the barbecue kings. At first I'd figured this was a bar with a menu to support it, but the menu is pretty detailed so you can easily find a full dinner. A lot of the food harks back to when Aubergine was developing its menus, and also to the food that chefs and cooks tend to eat - simple, uncomplicated food.
The starting point is the oyster list - five to choose from, either natural or wood-grilled. I'd definitely recommend the latter. Sure, oysters are great freshly shucked and downed, but you have to wonder why you need a restaurant to do this. Have them grilled on wood. For me, this really takes you places, like sitting on a beach, campfire burning, setting the oysters on the edge just until they open. Tonight the wood smoke has really entered the oysters' very being. We have two quite large Sydney rock oysters, plus a pair of flat angasi. Stunning.
The wine list is fantastic. Josh over at Aubergine is let loose here, so bring your adventure boots and try something different. A Stift Goettweig gruner from Austria fits in well with the oysters ($10). The idea is to have wines on the list here that you won't find at every restaurant.
I'll just charge on through the food. It mostly speaks for itself and will no doubt change often. Marinated sardines on toast ($4.50 each) - yay. Rich, oily in a good way. Wood-fired shishito peppers ($12) - so good just grilled and salted, simple finger food with a kick. Grilled sweet corn with lime butter and coriander ($9) takes me this time to a beach in Thailand. It's super-sweet, seared, juicy, a little messy but, hey, this is casual dining; no frowns from all folk dressed up being splattered by corn juice.
Two interesting wines arrive. The white is clearly Italian; the La Spinetta vermentino ($12) has the richness and flavour to handle anything the kitchen can pump out. A glass of grenache from the southern Rhone Valley, Domaine Gramenon Cotes du Rhone ($17) has earthy flavours to match the food splendidly.
Moving on to some more substantial plates, we have veal tartare, glazed sweetbreads and potato crisp ($27). Casual dining doesn't get much better than this - a rugged dish of chopped raw veal with great balance of delicate, seasoned, meaty flavours. Alone it's pretty neat, but plonk a couple of crispy balls of veal gland and, well, you know how the saying goes, you had me at tartare. Then a couple of tentacles from an octopus, wood-grilled with rockmelon, prosciutto and rouille ($22) - amazing; tender, smoky, the picante sauce melding everything.
The last main troubles me for being so good. Grilled lamb ribs with spiced eggplant ($34) has a Middle Eastern flavour spectrum. The ribs are just so tender and there's this subtle smoky character linking everything but without overpowering anything.
Desserts carry a more Aubergine-like finesse, seen clearly in a caraway meringue with whipped rhubarb and raspberries ($16). It has that earthy comfort from rhubarb, a little style with plump raspberries, and the meringue is close to perfection - a crispy, glassy exterior then chewy and luscious inside. This is worth ordering, even if you're not a huge dessert-eater.
It's early days yet. I have a little disbelief that it's this good, so I'll be a little reserved in scoring them at this point, but I feel this will go down like Eric Clapton's original unplugged on MTV years ago. Temporada don't seem that pressed tonight, but pumping out food this good won't go unnoticed for long, so I'd say to you now, pick up the phone and get in early.