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|
As a city only 103 years old, Canberra is a monoscape of shopping centres that haven't developed over time with layers of history, but are instead all of an era. Which means a sense of richness and character can only be imposed with the help of modern interior designers.
Newcomer Otis Dining Hall manages with some success to take you out of the late 20th century look of the Kingston shops and cocoon you in a kind of loose version of a Euro bar, or perhaps a mix of 18th century library, gentleman's club and old London-meets-Spain. The interior features wood panelling, dark wood tables, lovely Moroccan-look floor tiles, Bentwood-look embossed chairs and hanging lights.
Despite only being open a matter of weeks, Otis is busy enough to already do two sittings on the weekend and then flexible enough to accommodate our untenably late arrival for the early sitting. We sit at the bar to stay out of the way of the next sitting.
The menu is up-to-date, the kind of big-flavour, exotic smoke and nori action you find at Monster. The list of entrees and mains is not large, which is good and keeps things focused.
The beef tartare ($19) is fresh and simple in the raw meat, not highly interesting, but with lots of heat and pepper. There's a twist with the addition of smoked eel, always welcome, and sago puffed crisps, which are a little greasy, but have an intriguing earthy taste.
This is a better entree than our other choice of "sweet corn, parmesan custard, horseradish, corn bread" ($17), a dish that makes me feel vegetarians are too often hard done by. It's served cold, which is confusing, and there's a kind of little cheesy soufflé that reminds me of cooking class, with scattered corn off the cob and popcorn. We like the horseradish bite in the "custard" and the peppery microgreens but this dish doesn't come together in flavour or texture and doesn't feel like a success. We're wishing we had ordered the chicken pâte instead.
The mains, though, bring things right back on track, and have us judging Otis well on its game. The confit pork jowl, with smoked mussels, burnt aubergine and nori ($34) is a really well handled piece of meat, a thick later of crisped skin and fat, very rich, and under a good piece of pork meat that miraculously is not fatty at all.
The smoked mussels are an attractive addition and work with the nori. The burnt aubergine puree is rather too burnt to tell what it is; rather than flavour, the black sauce adds drama and darkness to the plate. Despite the puree, this is a successful and well-coordinated dish. The guy serving us offers a manzanilla alongside. This Spanish sherry can be a challenge, but, as he promises us, it works really to cut through all that rich pork.
You'll also find steak and chips, and a pea risotto with poached egg and goat's cheese that almost diverts us. But we order the butter roast chicken with artichoke ($29), encouraged by the promise of loads of butter in its booking. It's done very well, a roll of chicken meat, with a super-rich and lip-sticking outside, gently caramelised. I love the mashed artichoke underneath. This is one of those vegetables that's so fiddly to deal with but rewards the effort. And there's a delicious salty crispy fried things on top which I think are artichoke skin.
Desserts are a stand out. The "magnum, meringue, lemon curd, shortbread" ($16) is a kind of deconstructed lemon meringue pie, but in a way that is not in the least annoying. None of the elements are too sweet, the curd is beautiful, the meringue soft and lovely. On the side there's a small chocolate-dipped ice-cream, also delicious.
The dessert of peanut butter parfait, soft chocolate, candied nut and caramel ($19) is good also. The ice-cream tastes precisely of peanut butter, impressively pure although a bit confronting. It's served alongside a good salty chocolate ice-cream, with a dark chocolate biscuit and crunchy nuts.
The wine list is considered although the offering by the glass feels a little narrow, where it focuses essentially on Australia and Canberra – not a bad thing but we expect to find some more European drops here, given the feel and look of the place. We're served with attention and plenty of knowledge.
Otis works on many levels – the feel, much of the food, and the sophistication it brings to this part of the city. It's modern dining, not stuffy nor formal; it's creative, adventurous and serious.