Pulp Kitchen review

Zingy tang with crisp pastry: Lemon tart with fresh cream.
Zingy tang with crisp pastry: Lemon tart with fresh cream.  Photo: Jamila Toderas

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

Respect: that lemon tart. That zingy tang, that silky just-set custard, that crisp pastry, that mirror glaze. It's A Great Lemon Tart, in the long line of Great Lemon Tarts that stretch from the Roux brothers' famous tarte au citron to Marco Pierre White's at Harvey's to Greg Doyle at Pier in Rose Bay to the current virtuosic incarnation at St Peter in Paddington.

Such classicism is not what I was expecting from the new Pulp Kitchen in Ainslie, Canberra's quintessential "leafy suburb" – especially when I hear the tart was cooked by a 19-year-old pastry chef, working for a 22-year old head chef.

A long-standing, slightly worn-and-torn Ainslie favourite, Pulp Kitchen has long turned out decent European bistro fare at amenable prices for an older, local crowd. Then along came Gus Armstrong of restaurant eightysix, the rowdy, high-energy Braddon diner that gave Canberra dining a kick up the proverbial when it opened in 2013. 

Go-to dish: Griffith butcher lamb rack, braised cos and morels.
Go-to dish: Griffith butcher lamb rack, braised cos and morels. Photo: Jamila Toderas

He has installed a more serious, wide-open kitchen, smart pendant lighting, bentwood chairs and a young kitchen team from eightysix headed by Josh Lundy. Glasses are big, tables are black, and noise is high, and even the once-scruffy outside loos have been made presentable. So, now what? That's what I – and all of Ainslie – want to know.

Armstrong calls the food "Australian bistro", which means foie gras parfait with brioche, French onion soup with vintage comte cheese, duck tortellini in mushroom consomme, and steak frites of koji-brushed rump with bearnaise and frites.

There's even a "stolen egg" appetiser, a rich little steal of French three Michelin-starred chef Alain Passard's hot-and-cold egg.

A 'stolen farm egg' appetiser.
A 'stolen farm egg' appetiser. Photo: Jamila Toderas

Pulp is into gentle disruption rather than revolution. Jamon Iberico with baguette ($21) sees the jamon sliced as finely as prosciutto, lining a large white plate like pink, lacy wallpaper. A perfect lemon cheek and length of somewhat stolid Sonoma baguette sit on a folded white napkin like a still life.

"A small risotto" ($15) is heaven for risotto purists and hell for Instagrammers. White-on-white with no garnish, the al dente arborio rice is swollen with pipi stock and dashi; subtle and lovely.

The wine list is short – almost curt – and well-priced, limited to 20 wines drawn from across Australia with each and every one offered by the glass. Team the earthy, savoury Lark Hill Mr. V Rhone blend ($13/65) of marsanne, roussane and viognier from 2017 Young Gun of Wine Awards finalist Chris Carpenter with the red emperor ($38).

Head chef Josh Lundy (left), owner Gus Armstrong and floor manager Ross McQuinn.
Head chef Josh Lundy (left), owner Gus Armstrong and floor manager Ross McQuinn. Photo: Jamila Toderas

The buttery chunk of fish is intelligently and gently steamed, its purity underlined by a fruity provencal piperade of red and yellow peppers and limpid green basil oil.

The Griffith butcher lamb rack ($42) is a beauty, the three meaty, deeply flavoured cutlets served with braised soft/crunchy cos and a silky smooth pool of buttery pomme puree.

Here's where the "Australian bistro" concept really hits home, as you hungrily gnaw bones and scrape up left-over mash and order more wine. And then, of course, there's A Great Lemon Tart ($12), served with fresh cream.

Prices are up and portions aren't huge, but Pulp is a celebratory blending of tradition and neighbourliness with youth and energy. Not so much welcome back, then, as welcome forward.

The lowdown

Best bit: The gentle disrupting of bistro tradition

Worst bit: Canberra bakes great bread. Why go to Sydney?

Go-to dish: Griffith butcher lamb rack, braised cos, morels, $42

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.