9 Lonsdale Street Braddon, Australian Capital Territory 2612
There is hardly a nook left on Lonsdale Street that has not been converted into a funky eating spot. Out with the old is the order of the day with the car yards and panel beaters almost banished and the old-style restaurants a threatened species.
And this is no bad thing, with the bar raised on food quality across the board, from the high end and seriously good to the seriously good value, with places like 86, Autolyse and Roasters (now with more food to add to the coffee). It means that with every new place comes a set of pretty high expectations and an enthusiastic eating public ready to move in.
Newcomer Vitis Eatery sits on the site that was the old traditional Greek place, Ostratos. Ostratos had an authenticity that made it unusual in Canberra, with all the things you expect from a Greek family restaurant: huge platters of fried calamari, chips with everything, lots of fish, dips and dolmades, all at a pretty good price and pretty reliable quality.
But enough of nostalgia. Vitis has kept the shape of the open plan, split-level space, with floor-to-ceiling windows on to the street, the bar running down one side and the kitchen up the back, but everything else is different. Chunky wooden furniture and metal mesh "walls" filled with stones and plants divide and decorate the urban warehouse-style space. The rear is the "restaurant", the front a more casual space where the menu is still available, but you could also just take a drink and a nibble.
Staff are super friendly and clearly proud of the place that has just opened, and greet us and sit us down neatly. The menu is intended to share, and divided into smaller and larger dishes. We start with a bowl of warmed olives ($6), glossy with olive oil, aromatic with a strip of orange peel. A glass of Chaffey Brothers Riesling and a Hawthorne IPA beer made a nice start, from a wine list with good range and prices.
Scallop tartare ($6) is a nice round of bread with raw scallop piled on top and a dollop of mildish wasabi on the side. This dish looks pretty, and is perfectly nice, but it but lacks the subtle, textural elegance and flavour that should be present in a dish like this. Chicken croquettes ($18) come four to a plate, attractively scattered across a big smear of watercress dotted with pearl couscous. A promising crunch on the outside gives way to a slightly dry interior of shredded chicken, with little flavour to hold the interest.
Quail dolmades ($16) are better, with tender rare strips of quail along with the wrapped meat. Currants and tiny florets of cauliflower are good with them. Lamb ribs ($19) have a slight crispness giving way to the warm tender lamb, served with a grain salad and a yoghurt sweetened with honey. The meat is good, but something stronger is needed alongside to cut through the richness and the residual fat.
A salad of raw beetroot and herbs ($13) adds some much-needed crunch and cut-through, but is a little underdressed and under-seasoned, dulling the clearly good ingredients. Under-seasoning seems to be a feature across almost all the dishes we tried. I have no problem with minimal salting to allow for different palates and preferences but a little salting is not a bad thing.
A larger dish of Barramundi ($32) is a disappointment, with three pieces of fish a little overcooked and dry as a result. Accompanying deep-fried mussels were crisply battered, but also left with little of the juiciness that makes fish and seafood a pleasure to eat.
Orange brulee ($14.50) is served with good-quality glossy chocolate sorbet, a rubble of chocolate pieces and some strips of semi-candied peel. The brulee itself has a pleasant orange aroma and flavour but the texture lets it down: stiff and thick, it gets in the way of the flavours.
You get the feeling Vitis Eatery has potential. It certainly has charming and engaged staff and owners, but at this early stage its food does not do them justice.