1 29 Jardine St Kingston, ACT 2604
|Opening hours||Lunch Tue-Sat from noon; Dinner Tue-Sat from 5.30pm|
|Features||Licensed, Wheelchair access, Accepts bookings|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||02 6260 6066|
Dining hall? What's a dining hall? And how different is it to a restaurant, bar or bistro? It all sounds a bit Hogwarts, if you ask me.
So I get to the newish Otis Dining Hall in Canberra, and see that it is, indeed, a baronial dining hall, by way of a wild west saloon.
The mood is set by some serious wood panelling, loads of mirrors, broad leather dining chairs, dark wooden floors, leather menus and a massive wooden bar that runs down one length of the room.
It's not what I was expecting from the first solo adventure of former Sage chef, Damian Brabender, but then, Canberra is full of surprises these days.
There's brilliant coffee (Ona, the Cupping Room); bread (A. Baker, Silo Bakery), bar action (the delightful Bacaro, the funky Bar Rochford), and some classy designer hotels (Hotel Hotel, QT and East Hotel).
So while the decor might suggest you're there for roast beef and Yorkshire pud, Brabender and head chef Adam Wilson are more about contemporary French bistro classics, such as beef tartare with smoked eel, sesame and sago crisps, and creme caramel with whisky and smoked sea salt.
A fresh, clean first course that combines look-alike cubes of pink yellowfin tuna and compressed watermelon ($19) is like an IQ test for your taste buds.
Another is of two long cigarillos of marinated wallaby rolled in pickled vine leaves, dusted with macadamia floss and accompanied by smoky little buttons of burnt onion emulsion ($18). It's instantly likeable; an Australiana steak tartare reminiscent of Dan Hunter's lean, austere style at Brae in Victoria.
The inherent drama of each composition is underscored by poise, restraint and some lovely flavour balances. Like a winter-is-coming confit pork jowl ($34) that's all fatty crispness and melting softness on a splash of jet-black burnt eggplant puree, with a tumble of fleshy, smoked mussels and nori seaweed.
Or a luminously green pea risotto ($28) dotted with goat cheese and chervil that comes with a perfectly runny 61-degree poached egg nestling in the middle, as if a dotty hen just wandered in, laid it, and moved on.
The risotto – a dish that so often palls over a few repetitive forkfuls – has a hint of acidity that keeps you coming back; more good technique at play.
Service is keen but not polished, and a well-priced, easy-going wine list makes my "drink local" policy a doddle, from a lively Capital Brewery Coast Ale ($9), to a light and savoury 2016 Lake George pinot noir rose ($12/$54) and a delicious, full-bodied 2014 Lark Hill Mr V Rhone blend white ($84). Even the chef's five-course tasting menu is matched to purely Canberra District wines.
You really need to know what you're doing when you take something like a "magnum" ice-cream ($16) out of the corner shop and into the restaurant. Luckily they do, from the choc coating and rich ice-cream to the gilding-the-lily extras of crumbled shortbread, gooey lemon curd and minaret of burnished meringue.
Otis brings a new dimension of dining to the capital, with its clever, contemporary cooking matched to an easy, relaxed vibe. It's open until late for truffle martinis (no lock-out laws here), but I reckon dinner is the go. It is after all, a dining hall.
Best bit: The food looks as good as it tastes.
Worst bit: Clunky chairs.
Terry Durack is chief restaurant critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and senior reviewer for the Good Food Guide. This rating is based on the Good Food Guide scoring system.
Go-to Dish: Confit pork jowl, smoked mussels, burnt aubergine, nori, $34.