Onzieme review

Canberra restaurant Onzieme is like an Antipodean tribute to the funky Parisian wine bars of the 11th arrondissement.
Canberra restaurant Onzieme is like an Antipodean tribute to the funky Parisian wine bars of the 11th arrondissement. Photo: Ashley St George

shop 5 39 Kennedy St Kingston, ACT 2604

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Opening hours Dinner Tue-Sat from 6pm
Features Accepts bookings, Licensed, Romance-first date, Bar
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Phone 0424 894 763

The wine list at Onzieme, in Canberra's inner south, is divvied up into Fun Wine and Classic Wine. So the vegan, biodynamic Do.t.e Skinphony viognier 2018 from Tuscany ($28/120) is filed under Fun White, and the spicy 2021 Two Tonnes Pinot Noir from Tasmania ($80) under Classic Red.

While some of us would classify all wines as fun, it's a handy guide for those who want to explore the more unconventional borders of winemaking, and for those who don't want anything too feral and skinsy.

It also shows a fresh attitude to current dining conventions, which is something of a signature move for owner-chef Louis Couttoupes. Over three years at Canberra's Bar Rochford, Couttoupes shifted our thinking on dining in a wine bar to new heights.

Pressed lamb shoulder with a golden pond of soft, loose polenta.
Pressed lamb shoulder with a golden pond of soft, loose polenta. Photo: Ashley St George

In 2021, he and his father renovated this clever corner site with its in-the-know basement wine bar (11e Cave) below.

It's not French, but more an antipodean tribute to the funky French wine bars of the 11th (hence, Onzieme) arrondissement of Paris. Sommelier and restaurant manager Tom Blakely is a towering presence, and behind the tall bar, Brett Nebauer turns foraged ingredients into well-formed cocktails.

Rather than separate them, Couttoupes tends to fuse both fun and classic – the expected and the unexpected – into each dish. A silky-smooth duck liver parfait ($18) sits under a coat of tangy apple puree, made from a crate of heirloom apples dropped in by one of the restaurant's early diners.

Charred sprouting broccoli on a bed of pale, creamy anchoiade showered with pangrattato.
Charred sprouting broccoli on a bed of pale, creamy anchoiade showered with pangrattato. Photo: Ashley St George

A little bit of magic happens when all components of a dish get along with each other, and I love how the apple tweaks the richness of the pâté.

It happens again with a vegetable-forward dish of charred sprouting broccoli ($24) on a bed of pale, creamy anchoiade showered with toasty pangrattato breadcrumbs that crunch like breakfast granola. They're like lifelong friends.

Feijoas were always going to turn up somewhere, given that every backyard in Canberra has a tree heavy with fruit right now.

Prawn ceviche with sees sweet prawns quickly tossed in lime, sea salt and feijoa juice.
Prawn ceviche with sees sweet prawns quickly tossed in lime, sea salt and feijoa juice. Photo: Ashley St George

Sure enough, prawn ceviche ($26) sees sweet prawns quickly tossed in lime, sea salt and feijoa juice, making it fresh and hyper-seasonal. Leaves of huacatay (Peruvian black mint) from the chef's garden lift the fruitiness.

By 7.30pm, noise levels are up, and young staff members cruise the floor like primary school teacher aides, keen to jump in and help.

There's energy and momentum in the dining room as tables turn over, people wait at the bar, and chefs in the kitchen move behind glass scrawled with the day's offerings. And I mean the day.

Duck liver pâté with heirloom apple.
Duck liver pâté with heirloom apple. Photo: Ashley St George

The date-stamped menu is small and tight, listing padron peppers with lemon aioli, sardines with lovage oil and nasturtiums, and smoked duck with quince.

If it's out there on trees or in paddocks, it's in here, turned into relaxed, reinvented dishes that finish each other's sentences.

Take the lamb shoulder. I've had a lot of lamb shoulders, but this is something else again. By cooking the lamb over the wood fire with lemon and garlic, then pressing the meat together overnight and taking a slab of that meat and finishing it in the oven until the fat crisps, it's a different, er, animal.

Pain perdu with buttermilk ice-cream.
Pain perdu with buttermilk ice-cream.  Photo: Ashley St George

Placing that slab on a golden pond of soft, loose polenta lightens and balances it considerably.

A dessert of yuzu posset ($16) gets overwhelmed by Italian meringue but "pain perdu" ($16) brings Under Bakery's surplus cardamom buns back to life as French toast, pan-fried until crisp and crowned with buttermilk ice-cream, woo hoo. (Really, Canberra? Surplus cardamom buns?)

Defining Onzieme is a bit hazy, in that it doesn't want to be a fine diner (no tasting menu), nor a traditional bistro (no chips or frites, unlike most Canberran restaurants).

Instead, it defines itself with great produce, intuitive cooking and thoughtful wines, with an almost European understanding that a priority on these things in life is a very good thing.

The low-down

Onzieme

Vibe Buzzy local bistro with casual-but-serious food and wine

Go-to dish Pressed lamb shoulder with polenta, $44

Drinks House-made "projects" (plum wine, strawberry liqueur), artisanal cocktails and a mostly natural wine list with a sense of adventure.

Terry Durack is chief restaurant critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and senior reviewer for the Good Food Guide. 

https://www.onzieme.com.au/