Review: Eightysix (Canberra, ACT)

Corner Elouera Street and Lonsdale Street
Braddon ACT 2612
+61 2 6161 8686
http://eightysix.com.au/

When it comes to dining out in Canberra, I’m sorry but there really isn’t much that will excite the discerning tastebuds of fickle Sydneysiders and Melburnians. If Melbourne is all about third wave coffee, ice cream shaped into delicate paper-thin scrolls and ‘artisan’ burgers, then Canberra is still stuck in the 1950s meat and three veg era.

Regardless, there seems to be a gentle stir in our capital’s dining scene; there are more options to choose from, places are open much later and you can see open kitchens all over the place. One such place that has got Canberrans raving is Eightysix, a favourite haunt for foodies and Braddon’s social set. I came here with Rachi one Friday evening and the place was buzzing and packed to the brim.

Eightysix offers a contemporary menu that is all about share plates (apparently a concept that Canberrans are still getting used to, according to a friend). There are also vegan and gluten-free options, plenty to appease the Bondi Hipsters. Meanwhile, the wine list incorporates wines from all over the place, including a few from the Canberra District like the Mt Majura Riesling I had ($12 a glass).

Carrot, verjuice, honey, hummus ($26)
Carrot, verjuice, honey, hummus ($26)

We started off with a carrot salad. I initially raised an unkempt eyebrow at the price of the dish (more than twenty bucks for a salad?! What is this?!) but I must admit I enjoyed every bit of it. I love the different dimensions of sweet interspersed with the nutty hummus, and it was good to see poor ol’ verjuice making an appearance too. This salad was also vegan and gluten-free.

Spanner crab and saffron risotto ($36)
Spanner crab and saffron risotto ($36)

We passed over the lamb ragu pappardelle for the spanner crab risotto. You can’t really go wrong with the combination of sweet crab meat, creamy stock and the richness of saffron – indeed it was a tasty dish. If I had to be picky though, I’d say the risotto was hovering dangerously close to the ‘cooked for too long’ side.

Black chicken with buttermilk slaw ($42)
Black chicken with buttermilk slaw ($42)

Rachi’s favourite dish, the black chicken, formed our main event. Two pieces of Maryland appeared in front of us; cooked sous vide in a Southern barbecue-style tomato jam, then charred until blackened, the chicken was gloriously delicious – think smoky flavours, sticky skin and juicy meat. At $42, it’s not a cheap but it was beautiful dish in its simplicity.

Caramel popcorn sundae ($16)
Caramel popcorn sundae ($16)

We shared Eightysix’s famous caramel popcorn sundae for dessert. For me, I’d say this was the highlight of the meal. Topped with salted caramel popcorn and peanut brittle, the sundae was not overpoweringly sweet which, as you know, is always a plus for this savoury fiend. I also liked the way they stuck a baby cone upside-down into the dessert – almost like a one-finger salute to the conservative Canberra dining scene.

Leaving the buzzing venue, I can see why this was Canberra’s jewel in the dining scene. The menu is fresh and exciting while the staff are friendly, efficient and relaxed (though I’ve heard people argue that they’re too relaxed). While the rest of Canberra sleeps at 8pm, Eightysix dares to push boundaries and I admire them for that. In saying that, I did find the prices quite steep for what the food was – and I still can’t believe I paid $26 for a carrot salad.

If Eightysix were to compete in Melbourne or Sydney, no doubt it would get slaughtered. There are dozens of restaurants in those cities that offer the similar kind of food – and wouldn’t charge as much for the experience. Then there are restaurants that will charge more than $20 for a salad or more than $45 for a main – but you’ll get a better dish. Of course, comparing Canberra to Melbourne and Sydney is like comparing Coles apples to organic oranges so suffice to say that, for Canberra, this is as good as it gets.

I eat too much.

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