Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Better and better – a cold night in at Pulp Kitchen

After a regional road tour through Victoria to Adelaide and back – packed with produce of every kind – the best recipe for happiness at home was a quiet spot in the corner at local restaurant Pulp Kitchen, enjoying a very different meal in a very different restaurant, after almost two weeks of very good  – and sometimes exceptional – food and drink.

The best antidote to the enchroachment of winter nights in Canberra is to catch up with friends at a table in the corner of Pulp Kitchen in local hotspot, Ainslie. Ainslie is sometimes called the Red Centre, because it has the highest Labor vote in Australia – maybe it's all those disaffected public servants who’ve seen way too much behind the scenes. However it’s more of a local shopping hub, which along with the restaurant, sports a bar, a spectacular Breton café, patisserie and baker, a very good supermarket with an excellent delicatessen, and an elegant and inventive homewares shop.

Very different meals, in very different restaurants
Our night out was soon after our return from a regional road tour through Victoria to Adelaide and back, which encompassed much eating and drinking of fine regional produce. The trip culminated in a five course degustation dinner at Wickens Restaurant at the Royal Mail Hotel in Dunkeld, at the southern tip of the Grampian Mountains. Each of these two meals – in Dunkeld and in Ainslie – was very different, in very different restaurants. Yet they were both excellent in their own way, ­‘fit for purpose’ as they say.

Fettucine vongole, garlic, lemon and chilli.

At Pulp Kitchen we ate carefully prepared dishes and consumed carefully made wine to while away the night as autumn disappeared in the rear vision mirror. Being a relatively large group of five people meant that we could try a range of dishes. We started with three smaller dishes – kingfish, avocado and pickled ginger; smoked trout, chevre, beetroot and orange salad; and smoked cheddar soufflé, all of which were excellent and widely different in their flavours. With these three dishes, I knew the night had started exceedingly well.

When one of our party started comparing notes on making a good soufflé with the restaurant staff, it was clear the choices were definitely a hit.

Each of these two meals – in Dunkeld and in Ainslie – was very different, in very different restaurants. Yet they were both excellent in their own way, ­‘fit for purpose’ as they say. 

All that it required was a cool glass of La Lisse Soie d’Ivoire chenin blanc from Languedoc in France (why does it remind me of ‘languid’?) to start my night in style. Amongst our party we also tried the Pikes riesling from the Clare Valley in South Australia and the La Prova pinot grigio and the Unico Zelo ‘Harvest’ sauvignon blanc, both from the Adelaide Hills, before settling on our final choices. On the last visit, we’d also had both the chenin blanc and the sauvignon blanc.

Smoked trout, chevre, beetroot and orange salad.

Then it was time for a few larger plates – fettucine with vongole, garlic, lemon and chilli; beetroot tortellini, with walnuts, poppy seed and balsamic vinegar; and one of the signature dishes the restaurant has kept from the previous regime ­– beef sirloin, paris butter and French fries. The beetroot tortellini looked very striking, with its red colour – it had impressed us on our previous visit as well. After much deliberation I settled on roast chicken, tomato and kale confit, potato puree and chicken jus, which seemed a perfect winter dish and turned out to be so.

Kale – from Romans to hipsters
The kale confit was a good pairing with the chicken, bringing out the strong chewy texture of the kale. It reminded me of when I first encountered the vegetable, many decades ago, when I lived in Collingwood in Melbourne, and used to frequent a roomy Portuguese restaurant owned by the Portuguese community called Café Lisboa. It featured dishes from across the breadth of the former Portuguese empire – Goan curries and Mozambique pirri pirri dishes – as well as ancient Roman dishes like kale soup. Kale is a fashionable vegetable now, but to the Romans – and the Portuguese – it was an everyday ingredient, related to the much humbler cabbage.

'Kale is a fashionable vegetable now, but to the Romans – and the Portuguese – it was an everyday ingredient, related to the much humbler cabbage.'

With the larger dishes we tried the 2015 Le Fou pinot noir from Languedoc, the Ross Hill ‘Jack’s Lot’ shiraz from Orange and the local Ravensworth sangiovese 2106 and 2016 Helm cabernet sauvignon. I enjoyed the whites but, with winter settling in, it was an evening for red wine, so these were just right.

Roast chicken with tomato and kale confit, potato puree and chicken jus.

We finished with a few desserts – a couple of classic crème caramels, which was a special for the evening, and a pear tarte tatin with vanilla ice cream for two. Tarte tatin with pear is even better than with apple and the sheer luxurious pleasure of the crème caramel showed why this dish continues to appear on menus.

Better and better
In summer it’s good to sit outside and enjoy the atmosphere. Just along the way you can watch the bustle at Edgar’s Inn, the local Ainslie watering hole – which is also a regular haunt for us. I like the approach and feel of this place and the welcoming atmosphere. I also like the way they encourage you to try different wines with the dishes – they have a focused but interesting list and they are good for wines by the glass, so you can mix and match. They were even happy to let us try their wines before we committed to a whole glass. Our guests from England were keen to try the Australian wines and we were equally keen to try the European ones, so between us we sampled a good range of tastes.

Pulp Kitchen at work - a buzzy, busy local with style.

I've said it before but this visit confirmed it – this restaurant just gets better and better. I used to go there regularly before it changed hands and really enjoyed it, but this new incarnation is even better than before. They've kept some of the old favourites but I love the new well thought out and carefully prepared dishes and the range of different flavours this restaurant offers.

See also

'tableland' on Facebook – life on the land and at the table
'Life on the land and at the table, the companion Facebook site to this blog, for brief and topical snippets and vignettes about land to table – the daily routine of living in the high country, on the edge of the vast Pacific, just up from Sydney, just down from Mount Kosciuszko', 'tableland' on Facebook.

Dispatches from the Royal Mail – Wickens restaurant delivers the goods
I’ve always been interested in the Royal Mail Hotel in Dunkeld, at the southern tip of the Grampians, and its varied offerings. It’s been one of Australia’s best regional restaurants for many years and I am particularly attracted by regional restaurants. I took advantage of a regional road tour through Victoria to Adelaide to update my first visit from several years before. In every respect the experience was worthwhile. The attention to detail and focused application was apparent, from the signature restaurant to the wider range of services it provides, ‘Dispatches from the Royal Mail – Wickens restaurant delivers the goods’.

Catching up in the kitchen – Pulp Kitchen delivers the goods
‘I have been here twice since it changed hands and the capable crew from Restaurant eightysix in Braddon took over this Ainslie favourite, tucked away down the side of the shops. Each time it has been very good and very enjoyable. I used to really like the previous incarnation of Pulp Kitchen and went there many times, but this is even better. I was catching up with a friend I hadn’t seen for many decades and it made for an excellent night in a buzzy, busy venue in the heart of the inner North’, Catching up in the kitchen – Pulp Kitchen delivers the goods.

Travelling overseas in your own country ­– Austrian winter lunches in the high country
‘The pay off for cold Canberra mornings is that with no cloud during the night the days are clear and blue and brilliant. That’s when Canberra comes into its own. That’s the time to enjoy a long luxurious lunch with friends. The ACT is so tiny that is doesn’t take long before you have to cross the border in your quest for food and drink and spectacular landscapes. These outings are the slices of life in between the restaurants and bars where you go out in public. This is where the farmers markets and the home-grown produce and the local vintages come together in the privacy of your own home. With moments like this, even winter starts to look attractive’, Travelling overseas in your own country ­– Austrian winter lunches in the high country.

Eating out in the cold country – Grazing at Gundaroo
‘In winter your mind turns to food - well, it turns there anytime, but perhaps more so in winter. I can’t remember how many years I have been coming to Grazing restaurant, in the tiny historic town of Gundaroo, just outside Canberra – it seems like forever. In the time I’ve been coming here Prime Ministers have risen and fallen, Governments have teetered, illusions have shattered. On a Sunday recently, I ventured out from the cold of approaching winter on a clear, blue day and went there one more time for food, wine and firewood. I wasn’t disappointed’, Eating out in the cold country – Grazing at Gundaroo.

Mezzalira Ristorante – the Italian empire strikes back
‘I seem to spend a lot of time in the small Italian and Sons restaurant in hipster heaven in downtown Braddon, with its equally small bar annexe, Bacaro, at the rear. It’s so good and so pleasant that it’s easy to forget the other parts of the Italian empire. The flagship restaurant, Mezzalira, is across the the city, near the National University. It’s in the fabulous but somewhat neglected though stately Melbourne Building, with its Italianate arches and colonnades. I sometimes think that if suddenly the world was about to end (a bit like contemporary times) and I was offered the choice of only one cuisine until the crunch, I’d have to choose Italian. That way I could die happy,’ Mezzalira Ristorante – the Italian empire strikes back.

Ester – the sweet smell of success
‘Because the high country is adjacent to the low country, it takes only three hours to drive from the nation’s capital to the nation’s financial capital. In the early to mid 1990s Chippendale in Sydney was a suburb you travelled through to get somewhere else. All that is changing in a big way, with plenty there to explore. A sure sign of these times is eatery Ester, a restaurant that reflects the focus of its name on the science of food with some intrepid experiments in the culinary arts’, Ester – the sweet smell of success.

In a corner with a cake (or two) – the hidden attraction of local hangouts
‘Tucked away in a corner at the Ainslie shops where it’s easy to miss entirely ­– in the heart of the suburb know as the Red Centre for it’s exceptionally high Labor vote – is an unexpected delight. The location has hosted a series of less than successful ventures but this most recent has been an unqualified success. Who would have thought that a cafe hailing from Brittany could attract such a crowd. The secret of success is that it focuses on what it does and it does it well. You can park yourself inside the small venue or outside if the weather is fine and pick from some unexpected sweet pastries, throw down the odd glass of French wine or eat buckwheat pancakes or baguettes. The cafe also runs to daily specials that can be very unexpected. Long may it reign over us – Rule Brittany rather than Rule Britannia’, In a corner with a cake (or two) – the hidden attraction of local hangouts.

We all scream for icecream – cooling down in a cold climate with Frugii
‘I realise I may have just become a statistic. I have a suspicion that I have eaten more sorbet, gelato and icecream since local Canberra icecream outlet Frugii opened in Canberra’s Braddon perimeter than I have eaten in my whole previous life. Tucked away in hipster heaven, it keeps churning out flavours, in an ever changing smorgasbord of coldness’, We all scream for icecream – cooling down in a cold climate with Frugii.

A bustling Friday night in hipster heaven
‘On a bustling Friday night in hipster heaven, I popped into my favourite Canberra restaurant, Italian and Sons, planning for little more than a quick bite to eat. I managed to get my favourite spot – when I’m not settled comfortably in Bacaro, the adjoining bar out the back, that is – sitting in the window, watching the action on the street. I headed straight for a real blast from my Adelaide past, part of my earliest discovery of Italian cuisine – saltimbocca. Then I beat a path down Lonsdale Street to Frugii, Canberra’s own dessert laboratory. What is happening to this city? It’s getting cooler by the minute and it’s not just the icecream or the approach of winter’, A bustling Friday night in hipster heaven.

Peas in a pod – food takes off
‘Pod Food is in the heart of the slightly ramshackle gardening and nursery hub of Canberra, Pialligo , adjacent to the burgeoning exercise in urban growth called Canberra Airport. It was always the place you went to get large pots and even larger apples. Pod Food was always good enough – but now it is something a whole lot more impressive. On a rainy Friday I entered through their marvellous cottage garden entrance way to sit on the covered and contained outside deck. The entrance to Pod Food, formerly part of an operating nursery, is the sort of garden I eventually want to have. It felt highly suitable sitting at the entrance to the Australian high country as the rain came down, drinking the fine product of another high region on the opposite side of the world’, Peas in a pod – food takes off.

Vitello Tonnato for a life well lived in hipster heaven
‘It had been quite a week and I had been crushed by too many encounters with the crazy world of Centrelink as I fulfilled my long list of aged care responsibilities. I needed cheering up so last night ate out at the venerable Italian and Sons, the very first of the many funky venues which now enliven Braddon. My attention was drawn to the rare appearance of vitello tonnato. My imagination had been captured decades ago when I was a young boy by seeing the recipe for the dish in Margaret Fulton’s classic cookbook. I finally tried it in a tiny restaurant in Florence, during my first visit overseas, after a stint at the massive Frankfurt Book Fair in 1989. This most recent one was the best I have ever eaten outside my own home – well, perhaps the best anywhere. This is a favourite place, probably my most favourite in Canberra. Coming here always makes me feel happy and what more can you ask?’, Vitello Tonnato for a life well lived in hipster heaven.

Eating out in a cold, funky city – Canberra comes of age in the Asian Century
‘On a day and night which was bitterly cold – as cold as Canberra has been this year, with the hint of snow clouds overhead – I was reminded why I live here. As we wandered along after a full day of cultural institutions and design events, looking for somewhere to eat we impetuously popped into Restaurant Eightysix and even more impetuously were able to get a table. I had forgotten reading somewhere that famed long-former Adelaide chef, Christine Manfield was here for the month, cooking up an Asian-inspired menu. How much better could it get?’, Eating out in a cold, funky city – Canberra comes of age in the Asian Century.

Smoking for broke beside the Molongolo
‘Where the market gardens that supplied Canberra as far back as the 1820s used to be a small fortune has been spent turning 86 acres overlooking the Eastern end of Lake Burley Griffin into a superb regional restaurant, Pialligo Estate Farmhouse Restaurant. It made for a tremendous birthday lunch in a spacious airy and light space, full of exciting food treated well. I couldn’t take my eyes off the copper guttering and downpipes. I thought all the loose copper in the world had already been stolen but clearly it’s still available. It’s quite clear that even though work is still being finalised, when it is finished it will be a spectacular addition to the nation’s capital and the region’, Smoking for broke beside the Molongolo.

Provenance - knowing where good things come from
‘It took me only five years but I finally found my way to Provenance, the legendary regional restaurant established by chef Michael Ryan in Beechworth in 2010. Provenance is widely considered one of the best restaurants in regional Victoria, in a tiny state that contains many good regional restaurants. I had been meaning to eat there since it was established and given how regularly we travel to Beechworth and its surrounds I was amazed I hadn’t been earlier. It took some time but it was worth it’, Provenance - knowing where good things come from

In praise of the Berra
‘When I first moved to Canberra, almost as an accidental intersection of geography and employment after the Sydney Olympics, I used to say “if you had lived in Sydney and one day you woke up and discovered you were in Canberra, you would think you had died.” Then I changed my mind. It took ten years but it was inevitable. Berrans are a hardy bunch – they can withstand the hot winds of summer and of Australia’s Parliament, the chill flurries from the Snowy Mountains and the chilling news of budget cuts. The Berra is half-way between everywhere’, In praise of the Berra.

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