Efkarpidis St Gungahlin, ACT 2912
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||02 6171 6257|
I always think restaurants that call themselves names like "Young and Frisky" are setting themselves up for a fall. But confidence and energy in a kitchen are always good, so perhaps I should shelve the attitude.
Anyone who has watched conniving politician Frank Underwood devour barbecue ribs at Freddie's in the TV series House of Cards cannot help conclude that Southern soul food provides mouth-watering sustenance to even the most murderous of us. The ribs, and no doubt Freddie's fried chicken, are comfort and sentiment on a plate, with all the obsessive back story that every American tradition carries.
So while Australians may see buckets of chicken with long red stripes as road side desperation food, this is a whole cuisine, and one to taken seriously. So our mixed group - from the very young to middle aged and chirpy if not frisky - dove in to Gungahlin's newest gastro pub with open minds and empty stomachs.
The fried chook (all $18 including a side dish) comes as wings, thighs, drumsticks and popcorn bites, and ranges from Southern Fried to "plucken hot". This is food made for sharing and we choose side serves of coleslaw, macaroni cheese and pickled vegetable sides to combat the heat and richness.
As anyone who has tried to make fried chicken knows it can be great and it can be greasy and nasty. The heat of the oil and the coating technique are critical, and everyone has a special recipe. Whatever the Young and Frisky crew are doing they are doing it right. Barely a trace of oil or fat remains on our wings and thighs. The flesh is tender and juicy, encased in a sensationally crisp shell. Vegos can sample a southern fried tofu burger.
All the side servings are generous and well made. Cheesy macaroni has a smooth and well flavoured sauce, none of that fluorescent orange muck that some fast food fans love. Coleslaw is crisp and well dressed, pickled vegetables the perfect antidote to the rich meat. A special of lamb riblets ($18) is the dish of the night – everything ribs should be, fantastically flavoursome, with the fat all rendered away, and enriching the sauce. Like all the food here they are a generous serve, and would hold up well in a much pricier establishment.
Chimichangas ($15) take juicy prawns and spicy Spanish chorizo, rolled up in a burrito and skilfully fried to a crisp shell, and cut on the cross. Sour cream and guacamole add softer flavours and balance, and round out a good version of this increasingly common dish. Roast vegetable salad strikes a much more mod Oz note – rocket, root vegetables, pepitas and fetta nicely combined with a good eschalot and caper vinaigrette ($16).
A short list of regular Aussie pub favourites are also on the list, but did not divert us. Desserts are a highlight, with the Old Fashion ($14) combining wickedly good whisky ice-cream, strips of excellent orange jelly, brandy snap and shaved chocolate ($14). Apple pie ($15) is cooked just right, spiced with cinnamon and scoops of very good butterscotch ice-cream.
All in all the food here is a cut above that offered by most in the "beer and ribs/hot wings" trend that seems to be sweeping the nation. Ordering is at the bar, but they will run a tab if you ask, and there is a casual and welcoming vibe. The wine list is not huge, but has plenty of good drops, bar staff offer jogs of exotic concoctions and they feature a good range of rum and whisky.
If you are after an intimate, refined evening out go somewhere else. If you are up for a night chock full of lip-smacking flavour, with a side of noisy, roll up your sleeves and dive in.
Go-to Dish: Fried chicken.