The Duxton review

Pub classics include the pan roasted salmon.
Pub classics include the pan roasted salmon. Photo: Jamila Toderas

Macpherson St O'Connor, ACT 2602

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Opening hours Mon-Thu 12pm–12am; Fri 11:30am–12am; Sat-Sun 11am–12am
Features Accepts bookings, Outdoor seating, Gluten-free options
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Payments eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 02 6162 0799

Back in the late '80s, a long restaurant called The Vietnam occupied the prized corner at the O'Connor shops. Upstairs was the very discreet gay bar and cafe Canberra City Steam. There was a newsagent and butcher as well.

That was years ago. The IGA and chemist survive but now it is mostly coffee and eats, a fancy bike shop and the sprawling Duxton.

After a major refurbishment which has opened up the huge space that occupies all of the Macpherson street side of the shops – ground floor and upstairs – the Duxton's food has had a lift as well.

A major refurbishment has opened up the Duxton.
A major refurbishment has opened up the Duxton. Photo: Jamila Toderas

The bistro area spills out on to the footpath, with tables set for eating, and an open kitchen at the end, but you can eat anywhere in the pub, ordering at the bar. Upstairs is considerably quieter, with views over the street, or the rooftop beer garden in the back.

Seeking a quieter spot is a thing here, with noise levels that make conversation at anything less than a shout almost impossible downstairs at least.

But to the food. Pub classics remain, with fish and chips, schnitzels and a slew of burgers and pizzas, but there are plenty more adventurous dishes such as huge platters of ribs and slow-cooked lamb, plus prawns in the shell, a range of steaks, good salads and sides with the char-grill getting a good workout.

For sharing: the spiced barbecued beef short ribs.
For sharing: the spiced barbecued beef short ribs. Photo: Jamila Toderas

Snacks are not to be mistaken for entrees, and all the food is very generous so keep this in mind when ordering. Sides are sharing size.

We choose a porterhouse ($35), prosciutto pizza ($23), chicken schnitzel ($24) and a side of sweet potato fries ($12) and green beans ($9).

The steak comes cooked precisely medium-rare as ordered. Tender and flavoursome, this is a quality piece of beef. The meal is completed with three small, shiny potatoes in their skins, with a little floss of fresh-grated parmesan and some buttered green beans cooked just right – a very good meal.

Churros served with little pots of chocolate and salted caramel.
Churros served with little pots of chocolate and salted caramel. Photo: Jamila Toderas

Likewise the schnitzel, such an abused pub standard, is properly cooked and delicious. Crispy and oil free on the outside with juicy chicken inside, it's matched well with finely sliced coleslaw that is subtly dressed. Chips are fluffy inside, crisp and good.

Prosciutto pizza, like most of the pizzas here, is not overtopped. A scattering of green chilli cuts through the richness of the cheese and air-dried pork, with a handful of rocket and reduced balsamic on top for good measure. A great mound of glossy green beans is terrific with chunks of good feta, and toasted almonds – great value at $9. Sweet potato fries are a huge thatch of crisp orange straws, sweet and salty and irresistible. If you have a huge crew, a share platter of ribs and a bowl of these would be a good plan.

On previous visits, we have given a thumbs-up to the burgers, with good-quality patties and a decent mix of other ingredients. The wood-fired prawns are smoky and charred and well worth getting your fingers dirty.

If you have even an inch of space left for dessert, the crisp hot churros (long Spanish doughnuts) are great, and come with little pots of chocolate and salted caramel.

It is great to see the locals getting a good go on the wine list here, and a fun range of well conceived cocktails – try a Frosé – rosé with creme de cassis and berries – or for the more serious a barrel-aged negroni comprising gin, Campari and really good vermouth.

Despite the almost nightclub atmosphere in much of this place almost everyone seems to eat, and you can see why. The food is great, and impressively consistent given the number of people they are feeding. The Duxton has raised the bar on the food, and the buzzy young atmosphere has the crowds flocking in. If they could just dial back the music a little we could talk about how good the place is.