Before it is famous

Name: Dieci e Mezzo
Address: ActewAGL House, Cnr Bunda & Mort Sts, Canberra City
Ph: (02) 6248 3142
Owner/Chef: James Kidman
Hours: Breakfast, Monday to Friday from 7:30am; Lunch, Monday to Friday from 11am; Dinner, Wednesday to Sunday from 6pm

I am not usually on the front foot of trends. I was never the one to have seen the band before they were famous, or to be an early adopter of the new technologies. Usually there is a bandwagon and then I climb on it.

As such it was strange to be in the near empty dining room of what is sure to become the place to eat in Canberra.

Situated in the new ActewAGL House, next to a tiny, dirty alley, Dieci e Mezzo is the latest venture from James Kidman. Kidman arrived in Canberra last year to oversee the food at the National Gallery. Nominally Italian in style, this restaurant is of a quality that is not often seen in Civic.

Admittedly the room is a little stark. White plastic chairs on a white marble floor with white marble walls feels a little cold, and the floor to ceiling windows that reveal only the Subway across the road and scores of people passing don’t improve it much.

But to get over that chill, all you need do is glance at the menu. The description of every dish warmed my heart and stirred my loins, making decisions truly agonising. And every decision delivered.

Brilliantly fresh oysters come delivered with a chardonnay vinegar and shallot dressing on the side. These and the accompanying Canella Prosecco di Conegliano prove again that few things work better than oysters and sparkling wine.

An oft given but barely followed piece of advice of mine is that, if you’re eating Italian, you should try the pasta. A chestnut pappardelle with rabbit, beans and chestnuts presents a golden opportunity to follow this advice. The smell as this dish landed in front of me was heady and heartening. A range of textures provides a point of interest, but the real excitement comes from the hit of the juices at the end. Make sure you have some bread left to really savour it.

The waiter suggested a 2009 Collavini Pinot Gris to go with this. Not something I would have thought of, but it has a subtle roundness that works beautifully against the rabbit.

Pork belly really is the greatest cut of meat ever, especially when it is slow cooked and has an inch thick of silken fat. This melt in the mouth slab of piggy white gold is accompanied by sharp is baby onions, sweet quince, and the nuttiness of Brussels sprout leaves. This was meat and three veg taken to the next level, though it could have a few more of the sprout leaves. A glass of 2007 Albino Rocca ‘Rosso di Rocca’ has medium body with a hint of acidity coming through in the middle, cutting through the fattiness of the dish.

A side salad of pea sprouts, radicchio, pear and hazelnuts adds some freshness and just screams spring.

When it comes to dessert it is always hard to pass up a chocolate pudding with marmalade ice cream. And why would you when it is a soft, rich cake that oozes dark chocolate lava? When combined with the sharp orange of the ice cream, this is like the most exciting Jaffa you’ve ever had. I had it with a thick, viscous Romate Sanchez ‘Cardinal Cisneros’ Pedro Ximinez, also rich with a touch of citrus, that runs down the throat in a very happy way.

It is hard to really judge service in a room where there are as many waiters as there are occupied tables, but the signs are good. They were all attentive, friendly and knowledgeable, and felt a step above much of the floor staff in Canberra. It all bodes well for when they become busy.

And ‘when’ is definitely the right word to use there, because everyone should eat here. Go. Go now. Then, when you realise how good it is, take some friends and go again next week. Dieci e Mezzo deserves your custom, and it needs to succeed, because this city, and Civic in particular, needs a lot more places of this quality.

I look forward to walking past the windows on Bunda Street and seeing this place bustling with happy diners.

As long as there is still a table for me.


About freehugstommy

Food, films and politics are my triumvirate of passions.
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