Pulp Kitchen

Kirsten Lawson
Confit duck croquettes, prunes, pickled carrots and sauternes.
Confit duck croquettes, prunes, pickled carrots and sauternes. Photo: Graham Tidy

1 Wakefield Gardens Ainslie, ACT 2602

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Opening hours Lunch Fri-Sun from 11.30am; Dinner daily from 5.30pm
Features Licensed, Wheelchair access, Accepts bookings
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Seats 60 inside, 40 outside
Payments eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 02 6257 4334

So, straight up, Pulp is not only a long-time favourite, it's my neighbourhood restaurant, the only one I can walk to in five minutes or so. It's an easy like if you live near the Ainslie shops, so anything I write about the place is underlined with a lingering affection.

However, Pulp Kitchen has been through some changes in recent years and I'm not so starry-eyed about it that I haven't noticed the missteps, which have annoyed me more than they might otherwise since I have liked the place so much.  

Tonight and on our past few visits, things have been inconsistent, but in parts very good and thankfully largely eschewing fancy plates and staying in touch with what it does best. What it does best is simple Euro-French bistro food, generous and uncomplicated.

Neighbourhood bistro: Pulp Kitchen, Ainslie.
Neighbourhood bistro: Pulp Kitchen, Ainslie. Photo: Jay Cronan

On offer first is a plate of chippy whitebait ($7) a lovely snack to start, a bit of heat, salt and oil, in this pile of tiny fish, with excellent little eyes and crisp bodies, served with fresh aioli. And with a plate of chewy bread and good peppery olive oil, it's just the right note to start.

A goat's cheese entree ($17) has at its centre a round of goat's cheese fondant – lovely, soft, rich and warm, creamy and pungent. I like its salty beetroot powder on top. Also on the plate are beetroots, radish, walnuts and greens, all sensible flavours with each other and with goat's cheese, but strangely un-integrated, quite disparate elements that, unlike the beetroot powder, haven't been shown how to get up close and squidgy with the goat's cheese, which seems a shame.

Confit duck croquettes, prunes, pickled carrots, sauternes ($18) is three-breadcrumbed cylinders of duck meat, with little squares of jelly, hardly any prunes, and carrots. There are also onion cups with aioli. These should work well with a street-food vibe, duck meat, a crisp case and a simple aioli dip, but tonight the breadcrumb coating tastes way too salty, which is very distracting. The jellies, which I'm guessing is the "sauterne", are enjoyed by one of our group, but a little inexplicable to this diner. The carrots, which I think are gently pickled, are likeable. A good concept, this dish, but just let down in the execution tonight.

Ashed veal loin, pumpkin, baby cos and hazelnut beurre noisette.
Ashed veal loin, pumpkin, baby cos and hazelnut beurre noisette. Photo: Graham Tidy

Seared lamb liver, pomme puree, bacon, colcannon ($19/$29) is one of those dishes we order repeatedly, not for an especial predilection for liver – quite the contrary, really – but more for the thrill, the thrill of offal that tastes so edgy and dark. We should have listened to our own brain advice and ordered the entree, rather than be persuaded to the mains size, because the plate of liver that arrives is so generously portioned that it beats us. Liver is best eaten in small portions, methinks, and this is just too much. It's thin-sliced and seared, scary, pungent, and feels like a tradesman's breakfast, precisely what I love about the idea. It's with bacon and on a big pile of proper substantial mash, such a welcome relief from the usual watery white tasteless puffery, milled into textureless baby food, that normally passes for restaurant mash. Not for Pulp. Its mash has texture and taste.

Ash is undoubtedly an ingredient du jour and at Pulp shows its face in "ashed veal loin, potato, roast eschalots and blueberries ($24/$36)". The ash crust is quite thick, but good, adding a charcoal flavour, which feels pleasantly seaweedy. The meat is tender, substantial and nicely chosen and handled. On the plate also is lettuce, which is luxuriously bathed in burned butter and hazelnuts. The plate also has fat marbles of what I believe is butternut pumpkin, although the menu description has me confused. 

When a menu offers quince frangipane tart, you come to a halt and you sit like a stubborn donkey refusing to budge until it is yours. We're happy at the choice, quince layered in a correct little pastry case with excellent ice-cream – and I think the ice-creams here are still done by the brilliant local maker John Marshall. 

Poached quince and frangipane tart at Pulp Kitchen.
Poached quince and frangipane tart at Pulp Kitchen. Photo: Graham Tidy

A kind of inside-out apple crumble ($17) comes as a whole, peeled, apple, poached, with custard inside, a crumb on top, and "sour butterscotch sauce",  which is indeed a dark-tasting sauce and entirely not sweet. Excessive sweetness is something you won't encounter in a Pulp Kitchen dessert. There's also a light "salted butter caramel" ice-cream. 

The feel is casual, bare tables, polished concrete floors, one wall covered by a blackboard, another by red bricks, a third by floor-to-ceiling windows and the last dominated by a long bar in front of the open kitchen. It's small, cosy, gently lit and a very  soothing place to sit. Service is good, with the added bonus that the owner – the guy with the French accent – is on the floor, and the wine list is well pitched lower-priced European wines, gutsy and interesting.

When you decide review a restaurant for which you feel affection and which you have frequented over many years, you approach with trepidation, the please-let-it-be-good feeling all the more intense than usual. Thankfully, tonight it is good, and we trip home through the dark streets of Ainslie expressing general all-round gratitude to no one in particular that the night has worked out, the vibe has been right and the meal has been good; good enough for a decent score and a tick of approval.