Paydirt

Kirsten Lawson
Mushroom and ginger dumplings with a cracked egg on rice (sesame and chilli oil).
Mushroom and ginger dumplings with a cracked egg on rice (sesame and chilli oil). Photo: Graham Tidy

108 Wallace Street Braidwood, NSW 2622

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Features BYO, Cheap Eats, Family friendly, Vegetarian friendly
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Chef Zac Kadri
Seats 20 inside, six outside
Payments Cash
Phone 0404 026 616

My vision of the perfect restaurant has long been the kind of place that offers one thing, OK perhaps two, and that's it. Dinner is served; take it or leave it.

This is akin to the French prix fixe model and, as far as I can tell, it allows restaurants to be responsive in a whole lot of ways - to ingredients at their best day by day, to inspiration as it might strike, and to customers. And it avoids that problem of ingredients sitting ready for a long menu, ingredients that might languish past their best, and that problem so deadening to localism, gardens and creativity: the need for restaurants to find a guaranteed consistent supply of ingredients.

So to Paydirt, which, as we arrive for lunch has just one thing on the menu - a dish in the midst of ''evolving'' from brunch. It's ginger and mushroom dumplings with cracked egg on rice ($13). As we sit, we're told we can also have crispy lamb dumplings done the same way, as the kitchen is now turning its mind to a dish for lunch ($19).

Rose Ricketson ... Co-owner of The Paydirt Eatery in Braidwood.
Rose Ricketson ... Co-owner of The Paydirt Eatery in Braidwood. Photo: Graham Tidy

And after we order, we watch as the lamb dumplings are added to the blackboard, although not in our follow-on-from-brunch version, but with ''red cabbage and Paydirt tomatoes with salted yoghurt and paprika oil''.

We're also offered chicken and corn soup ($17) made with free-range Araluen chicken, which might set you to thinking about Will, Halt and Horace, but if you come from around here - Paydirt is in Braidwood - you would recognise as chicken from a beautiful former gold-mining valley outside Braidwood. The Paydirt tomatoes are from chef and owner Zac Kadri's garden, which is just across the road - out the back of the Albion Hotel - where he has turned a vacant lot into a vegie garden. He lives close by too, above the Albion.

Kadri opened Paydirt in Braidwood's main street in June last year. It's a tiny shop front and a tiny room - just three tables - one of them a long, shared table, as well as a window seat and coffee tables.

Cosy ... Inside the Paydirt Eatery in Braidwood.
Cosy ... Inside the Paydirt Eatery in Braidwood. Photo: Graham Tidy

Above the door is a sign for the Kain Brothers Butcher, which occupied this space until about the 1950s. Kadri uncovered and restored the old paintwork as he was refurbishing. With the op-shop-style tables, the white lace draped in the window and what I guess was a sheep's skull now painted and acting as table decoration, it's all comfortable, casual and very in keeping with the on-show history of the area.

At one end of the room is a tiny, open kitchen where Kadri and a couple of helpers are putting together lunch.

The mushroom dumplings look great with their egg and rice, simple but appealing. The dumplings themselves are clearly freshly made, bitey and enjoyable, although the filling lacks grunt, with pretty muted mushroom and ginger flavour. They're on a pile of rice, and on top of the lot are coriander and a runny-yolk egg, which is lovely and brings the brunchy dish together.

Pork wontons with duck confit, served with duck broth and chinese vegetables and daikon.
Pork wontons with duck confit, served with duck broth and chinese vegetables and daikon. Photo: Graham Tidy

The lamb dumplings have the same freshness, although they too could probably handle a flavour boost. The thick yoghurt on top is good and the chilli oil adds spice, and there's a runny egg, as with the other dish. We like it. It's a simple dish, very easy to eat for lunch, and you finish feeling as though you've eaten something good, quick and fresh, not rich or heavy (a feeling that can kill lunch).

The chicken and corn soup is a standout, packed with more chicken than you would say is strictly necessary, but also with cabbage, corn, bean sprouts and coriander. The broth is clear and well flavoured with a persistent sweet spice running through it. Kadri uses star anise, cinnamon and cardamom here.

By the time we're finished, another dish has appeared on the blackboard - a salad with persimmon, red cabbage, lime, fish sauce and chilli - the chilli grown and dried by the chef. And we're told the menu will continue to ''evolve'' towards dinner. At dinner, you'll find dessert, maybe a tart with berries and generally something for the gluten-free.

At lunch, there's a plate of cookies and a friand-style cake. We grab a slice of that on the way out and it's a little disappointing - a very tiny serve for the $7, and quite a puddingy, squishy kind of cake.

Kadri was born in Cyprus and brought up from the age of seven in Sydney. He worked front of house in Sydney restaurants, including for Anders Ousback at the Wharf at Walsh Bay, before heading to Braidwood for a tree change a decade ago. He helped start the Albion cafe, and says he taught himself to cook, working at the Mona Country Manor House before opening his own venture. He plans, he says, to expand his no-menu approach, so you'll head in there and he'll let you know what's on that day, a couple of dishes for lunch and a couple for dinner, depending what he's sourced. Which is excellent news.

Paydirt is funky, unusual and feel-good, the kind of place you'd eat at often if you lived here, and a most welcome newcomer to Braidwood, a town that also has the Dojo bakery across the road, where you can pick up a block of very good, weigh-a-tonne-dense rye on the way home, and about 15 minutes out of town, the Old Cheese Factory, where you can detour for some home-grown cider. A charming part of the world.

Kirsten Lawson is Fairfax Canberra food editor.

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