Review: Monster Kitchen and Bar (Canberra, ACT)

25 Edinburgh Avenue
Canberra ACT 2601
+61 2 6287 6287

With Eightysix done and dusted, I wanted to check out another restaurant that has gotten Canberrans excited. Located in the NewActon (one word, no joke) precinct, Monster Kitchen and Bar is a favourite weekend lunch or Friday night dinner venue for a few of my Canberra friends.

You can find Monster on the ground floor of Hotel Hotel, which is possibly Canberra’s coolest venue, let alone hotel. We happened to be staying at Hotel Hotel so making our way down two flights of stairs and into the restaurant was no effort on our part. We must have walked past, through and around Monster several times during our 24-hour stay in Canberra. And while Monster was never busy, there were at least a handful of tables full so there was a constant buzz from early morning breakfast through to late night supper. Guests also had the option to sit in either the enclosed dining area or in the open plan lobby space

Our first Monster experience was a quick breakfast on a Sunday morning. All throughout this meal, I had the abomination that was Ne-Yo’s ‘Beautiful Monster’ playing in my head and it continued until we left Monster with the not-unpleasant-but-could-be-better coffee tastes in our mouths. Not unpleasant – I guess I could also say the same about the service here: it was inoffensive and safe but frustratingly slow and lacking in any real personality.

For example, there were only two or three other occupied tables when we arrived for the breakfast service. All we wanted was a plate of crumpets to share and two coffees. The coffees took more than 15 minutes to arrive, with the crumpets arriving 10 minutes after. I guess that’s not too bad but when you’re used to having coffees arrive in less than 5 minutes, 15 minutes just seems excessive. Secondly, we were seeing groups of up to five staff standing around talking instead of, you know, taking orders, serving dishes and checking to see if everything is okay. Eventually the staff did come around to take our orders – but in their own time, something that MVB thinks is a Canberra-wide issue.

But anyway, onto the food.

Crumpets with Hotel Hotel honey ($11)
Crumpets with Hotel Hotel honey ($11)

For breakfast, we had house made crumpets. Served with fresh honey obtained from the hotel’s very own bees (from hive #9, to be exact), they were warm and cakey without being too desnse. It was a perfunctory breakfast to start the day on.

Lunch was a bit more interesting. After checking out, we sauntered into the enclosed dining area at 12pm; because we had to leave for the airport by 1:15pm, we decided to go light on the food.

Unfortunately, the food did take quite some time to arrive. Look, I get that it’s Sunday; people like to take their time when eating and if you’re assigned to work on a Sunday, no doubt you’d be feeling a bit slow after a big Saturday night out. That’s all well and good. But a 35-minute wait for the first dish to arrive while there are only three other small tables occupied? I ain’t got time for that!

38-hour pork neck bao ($9)
38-hour pork neck bao ($9)

To be far, the first dish – the pork neck bao – was delicious. The pork was gorgeously soft and fatty while the spicy cucumber kimchi created a spicy crunch. Kudos to the kitchen for getting the bao on point too – it was beautifully fluffy with just the right amount of subtle denseness.

We wolfed down the bao in a matter of minutes … and then our empty plate sat there for another ten. After 45 minutes, there was no sign of our other dishes. I signalled for one of the waitresses to clear the plate and after asking if the other dishes were on their way, we were told that they would be ‘coming very soon.’ MVB then asked for the bill at this point in time just to we can quickly eat as soon as the dishes arrived and not wait around another 10 minutes for a bill to be produced. It was also his way of letting the staff know that we were in a rush, though I’m pretty sure our ‘we’re just here for a quick meal before our 2pm flight’ when we walked in would have sufficed.

Grilled WA octopus with almond cream, paprika, fennel ($29)
Grilled WA octopus with almond cream, paprika, fennel ($29)

Finally, our mains arrived and we wasted no time in demolishing them. The grilled octopus was cooked extremely well; gloriously tender with a gentle bite, the tentacles were served with almond cream as well as paprika and fennel for good measure.

Pulled lamb shoulder, pistachio, yoghurt, vine leaf, pomegranate, brik ($29)
Pulled lamb shoulder, pistachio, yoghurt, vine leaf, pomegranate, brik ($29)

I found it a bit odd that the lamb shoulder was only going for $29, especially given that the smaller octopus dish was the same price and given that mains were in the $40-something mark at Eightysix. Not that I was complaining, of course, the lamb was gorgeous and easily the highlight of our now-rushed lunch.

The meat fell just as easily as me after several glasses of whisky, while the other elements worked in unison to add flavoursome layers to the dish. I also liked how they added brik pastry pieces for a lovely crunch. We only had about 10 minutes to devour this and the octopus – which we did.

The mains were Monster’s saving grace but would we go back? Only if we were staying at Hotel Hotel again and only if we were too lazy to go elsewhere to try something new. The food was Canberra-good but the overly relaxed service really didn’t do it for us to make a special trip back there if we were staying elsewhere next time.

I eat too much.

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