17 Eastlake Parade Kingston, Australian Capital Territory 2604
|Opening hours||Mon-Sun 11 AM to 12 Midnight|
|Features||Vegetarian friendly, Wheelchair access, Licensed, Pub dining, Bar, Accepts bookings, Gluten-free options, Family friendly, Romance-first date|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Cash, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||02 6239 6648|
Restaurants now have morphed into something that is in many ways more complicated than what they were a generation ago, at least in Australia. Once a place you went for a special occasion to have a semi-formal meal, they're now places we gather to catch up, drink, and eat with varying degrees of care and concentration.
Which leaves restaurants trying to be all things to all people, and sometimes confused, perhaps, about the effort that should go into the kitchen versus the bar, into service versus leaving people to their own devices, into cultivating a party buzz or facilitating people in conversation and dinner.
When we say complicated, it's a balance many places achieve to a very happy standard, but sometimes I wonder whether the pub and cafe end of Canberra dining has really worked out what it is trying to be.
Tonight, we're at Walt & Burley on the Kingston foreshore, a part of town still with an unattractive uniformity of architecture and feel, all chrome, glass and concrete, all of an era. But a part of town that is nevertheless getting increasing busy and full of people in the evenings. There's a lot happening in this restaurant strip.
Walt & Burley, I think, is the foreshore's version of the neighbourhood pub where you might come each Friday night for a beer and burger - and that's probably where its menu should be chiefly focused.
There is a guy in the corner that looks like he's managing the music, headphones on, but early in the evening we're not into full DJ mode.
Wooden floors, bare tables, booths, and metal on the ceiling, it's casual in the set up. There's a dining area and one end and a larger bar area at the other, complete with big screens – plus a large outdoor area where it would be pleasant to sit in summer.
It's self-service, so you order food and drinks at the bar, pay upfront and take your number back to the table. But Walt & Burley is trying for a bit more range in the menu than simply fish and chips and burgers.
We order from the entrees and mains list, but all of the food arrives together, and very fast, so we face a disconnected series of quite large dishes.
Sticky chicken wings ($14) come smothered in a "honey bourbon sauce" which is way too heavy on that intense flavour. Four arancini balls ($16) are large, crisp in texture, with a simple and sensible tomato sauce, and porcini mushroom flavouring the filling. But there's also smoked mozzarella in there and the flavour is overwhelming, letting down the dish.
Salt and pepper calamari ($16) with lime aioli and crispy garlic, is okay, but the light mayo adds nothing to the dish.
The barbecue pork rack ($38 for a half rack) is slow-cooked for 48 hours and comes as quite a plateful – seven large ribs, full of meat, and served with coleslaw. It's solid, decent meat, and lots of it, but is once again let down by the smothering of smoky barbecue sauce which lacks subtlety. The ribs are also quite cold.
The mushroom risotto ($28) is our favourite of the dishes. It has a decent texture, and is creamy and full of porcini. It's heavy and rich, filling and a big dish to get through. It's dominated by the truffle oil, which could have done with more measured handling.
We ordered and paid for the ice-cream/sorbet dessert upfront, but it turns out not to be available. So part of the cost is refunded and we're offered vanilla ice-cream instead. The other dessert, eton mess ($16), is super sweet, a mix of what looks to be chocolate sponge broken up on the plate, with meringue, raspberries, strawberries and blueberries.
We leave Walt & Burley feeling like the food offers more than it delivers. It's busy and clearly has a place among locals on the Kingston Foreshore as a spot to gather casually in the evenings. Next time, I would take Walt & Burley in this context, and order a burger and a drink, and I can imagine that on this level it might work perfectly happily.