Name: The Artisan
Address: 16 Iluka Street, Narrabundah, ACT, 2604
Ph: 02 6232 6482
Chefs: David Black and Sam McGeechan
Hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 12.00pm-2.30pm and 6.00pm-10.00pm.
The suburban shopping strip. It has always been the domain of the breakfast cafe, the fish’n'chips shop, and the cheap and cheerful Asian take-away. You could wander a few doors down and get some reasonable food, but wouldn’t consider it a night out.
In recent years, though, something else has sprouted up amongst the tree-lined boulevards. Alongside the IGA and the dry cleaner are smaller, quieter restaurants that begin to approach that idea of fine dining.
They have menus that fit somewhere in the realm of Mod-Oz, maybe with a touch of French. The room are very clean, lots of white walls and dark wood, aiming for classy without being expensive. And they will have waiters who are at least trying to do the right thing, and generally doing a better than average job of it.
These places pop-up because talented young chefs want to open their own places, and the rent is cheaper than in the city. And those who, unlike me, are happy to live away from the bright lights of the city (what there is of it) should be glad for it.
One such restaurant sits in the leafy surrounds of Narrabundah. The Artisan fits this mould exactly, with two young chefs sending beautifully designed plates out to a long, thin room, a sleek bar running down one side. The food is French-tinged, the room is simple and clean. And they’re doing a lot right.
Chefs David Black and Sam McGeechan are delivering a pretty serious menu. A dish of tissue-thin smoked venison was piled high with slices of sweet beetroot and the light bitterness of baby chard, with a surprising sugar hit from grains of candied cocoa. The salad was fresh and light, a spring picnic tossed on a plate, although it somewhat overshadowed the very gentle venison.
Cassoulet is the sort of dish I would struggle to ever pass up. The traditional white bean and meat stew was here lightened up a touch, using pork cheek and sausage but leaving out the confit duck. It had the required depth and richness, the fattiness coating my mouth as expected. Yet it also came with a second, almost completely unrelated plate of soft white slices of pork loin and kale. An interesting idea, but it didn’t connect.
Desserts range from classics, like creme brulee, to something more fun. The trend of turning childhood snacks into restaurant desserts has exploded in recent years, with Philippa Sibley’s Snickers and Christine Mansfield’s Golden Gaytime leading the charge. Here they roll down that road with a Wagon Wheel. Layers of biscuit, marshmallow, tangy raspberry jam and peanut praline came out unassumingly on the plate, before being cascaded with warm, dark chocolate. With enough richness to cut through the sugar, this is a giddily fun way to finish a meal.
Having a proper sommelier to help diners with their wine selections is a great thing, but it’s not always easy for a small restaurant. Artisan do the next best thing, offering a couple of wines by the glass suggestions for each dish. In most cases there is a fairly classic choice, and one a little more surprising. In every case, they matched well. It is certainly an easy way to deal with wine.
The Artisan seems to know what it is doing. The food is good, the place classy but relaxed, and you’re going to have a very pleasant evening here. It isn’t groundbreaking, nor is it particularly memorable, but it doesn’t really need to be, because if you lived around the block from this, you would be ecstatic.
One day I might be back living in the suburbs. If that happens, I hope my suburb has somewhere like this.