Marble and Grain

Kirsten Lawson
Intriguing: Chocolate tart with mini fennel meringues.
Intriguing: Chocolate tart with mini fennel meringues. Photo: Rohan Thomson

22 Mort Street Braddon, Australian Capital Territory 2612

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Opening hours Breakfast 6.30am-10am Mon-Fri; 7am-10.30am weekends; Lunch 11am-2pm daily; Dinner 6pm-9pm daily; Bar menu 10am-10pm daily
Features Licensed, Wheelchair access, Accommodation, Outdoor seating
Prices Expensive (mains over $40)
Chef Paul D'Monte
Seats 70
Payments eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 02 62469555

You might have said a year ago that Lonsdale Street and its surrounds were saturated with eateries, home to about as many as Braddon could sustain. But even in one short year, numbers have ballooned, bringing to mind one of those multiverse scenarios where new infinitely massive universes are being birthed at incomprehensible pace all around us all the time.

One of the more recent to appear like a decent-sized space station in Mort Street is Marble and Grain. No little hole in the wall, this smart diner in the back of a Northbourne hotel refurb could soak up a serious number of diners with its long open front.  Marble and Grain is veritably swish, almost corporate in feel, dark wood on the ceiling and in the tables, leather banquettes, staff wearing name tags and aprons the colour of crema over their dark clothes. There's plenty of money in the fitout and for all its rather generic smart, upmarket feel, I like it. It's comfortable on the banquettes, the lighting is beautifully low and there's a sense of openness to the street. The music, though, is annoying, with its insistent party beat, but it is Friday night and I guess you put up with the idea that life is a party at this end of the week.

The food is equally serious. It's based on the meat cabinet that sits near the entrance, where meat is hung, aged and cured. Eighty per cent of the food on your plate, our waiter tells us, is made on-site. Down to the salami, the bread and the butter. I like menus based around these simple basics done well, although at Marble and Grain things get a lot more complicated as well.

The deli board features four house-cured meats.
The deli board features four house-cured meats. Photo: Rohan Thomson

The "deli board" ($20 for two) is good, featuring four of these house-cured meats. There's a squid ink salami, gorgeous-looking with its black colour and rounds of white fat, translucent from thin slicing, a honey and truffle salami, and dried shaved kangaroo and tuna. The honey and truffle salami is a favourite, sweet and clearly truffle-infused. This plate comes with bowls of little thin dried toasts from a housemade olive bread. There are also smoked almonds on the plate, reflecting an emphasis on the smoker.

The entrees are surprisingly studious affairs, technical in their preparation and precise in their presentation. Black pudding ($16) comes as a tidy little round of cacao-dusted, very smooth, butter-like black pudding. The menu says, "venison blood, rhubarb, hazelnuts and mushroom, cocoa", most of which I'm assuming is part of the blood-pudding mix but difficult to distinguish. It's dark and intense in the way blood pudding should be. Smoked chicken rillettes ($15) are also correct, fresh and likeable. The meat is shredded but not blitzed, well balanced in its flavours, fresh with thyme and making a good spread for the toast, although I like it better without the dark sweet jus on top. A row of thin slices of "pepper-pickled peaches" and carefully chosen single leaves rings the plate. Pretty presentation, lovely peaches and the white pepper is used to great effect, if a little fussy and minimal.

Service starts oddly –  handed from guy at the door to guy showing us to the table then introduced to the woman who will look after us for the night, handed menus and poured glasses of water, then inexplicably abandoned without drink or ordering for what feels like much too long. But our waiter turns out to be helpfully direct, with a close understanding of menu and wine.

Smart: inside Marble and Grain.
Smart: inside Marble and Grain. Photo: Rohan Thomson

The wine list is brief and not immediately exciting or especially experimental (sauvignon, riesling and chardonnay – most places have moved on from these as the core offerings), plus there are no vintages on the wine list. But the wines by the glass turn out to be well chosen of their kind – and we enjoy what we drink, including an Abel Tempest chardonnay from Tasmania and a Stonier pinot noir from the Mornington Peninsula. There is a focus here also on boutique beers.

The rye risotto ($28) sounds appealing – "cauliflower, pickled chanterelle, caraway, black garlic, onion", but we're told it's nothing like the risotto you might be used to, that the rye rice is very chewy, and also that you need to like cauliflower to like this dish. None of which puts us off in itself but the severity of the warning makes us think we should steer elsewhere, which means the steak.

Beef of various cuts and levels of ageing is a centrepiece of the menu: pasture-fed angus sirloin, "full-blooded wagyu", 28-day dry aged Rangers Valley rib-eye, and  Riverine flank steak. We choose the pasture-fed sirloin ($36), mainly because it's grass-fed but also because it's not $65 like the wagyu, or $130 and a massive 1kg like the rib-eye.

The sirloin is crisscrossed with the char grill and has the irresistible taste of fire like so much of the menu here. The meat is good, plenty of texture, properly cooked. You choose your sauce from the classics – bearnaise, bordelaise, mushroom and cafe de Paris butter. The butter is lovely with plenty of mustard and a good accompaniment, as is the spinach and cauliflower alongside, excellent and roasty. This amount of meat is challenging but there are plenty for whom it is just what they're after on a Friday night.

The beef short rib ($32), with "gentleman's relish, oyster, bone marrow, carrots" is surprising - a big hunk of rare-cooked meat, connective bits still intact, making it very chewy and for me so much so that it's difficult to eat. I love, though, the umami-tasting crust and the roast carrots and onions alongside.

In desserts, we're expecting crowd pleasers, but we get what feels like extraordinary experimentation. The parsnip brulee ($15) is anything but. The smooth brulee tastes precisely like roast parsnip; on top is a red-wine sorbet tasting exactly, insanely like red wine, and all over the place are cereal-like flakes.  This dish is positively savoury and a bit of a challenge. The chocolate tart ($15) is a dark little tart of smooth, uncompromising chocolate, again not sweet. The tiny fennel meringues and candied fennel seeds are intriguing and likeable alongside. A sophisticated dessert.

Marble and Grain epitomises hotel dining in the era of sophisticated food. It doesn't feel especially Canberran, or especially Braddon. It's what you might find in top, modern hotels anywhere touched by our obsession with food and in that respect feels a little corporate. But it is well-provenanced, highly homemade, precise, and focused by the grill. Gone are the days where you need to escape the hotel to get good food.

http://www.marbleandgrain.com.au/