Real meal, but real city?

Name: Onred
Address: 50 Red Hill Drive, Red Hill Lookout ACT 2603
Ph: 02 6273 3517
Owners/Chefs: Jodie and Ben Johnson
Hours: Lunch, Wednesday to Friday — Dinner, Tuesday to Saturday

I am not very nice about Canberra sometimes, in particular about its restaurant scene. It has always startled me that a place where people are willing to spend good money on food lacks any places in the top echelon of places to eat. My biggest praise of a Canberra restaurant is to say that it would survive in a real city.

After eating at Onred, I have realised that this is an unfair characterization. Perched atop Red Hill, its geometrically paneled windows offering a picturesque panorama of the city at night, this sophisticated restaurant would not only survive, it would thrive in other cities.

The building is a stunning piece of 60s architecture, looking like a modernist gazebo with bulging angular windows all around it. Heading upstairs past an interesting, twisted light feature into a well set out dining room. The tables are well spaced, and no one is too far from a window. It is comfortable, but makes you feel that little bit special.

The dinner preliminaries start well. A glass of Clover Hill 05 sparkling wine delivered exactly what it was meant to. More importantly, the bread was done right. The slices of fresh sourdough tasted the way bread should, and the butter was smooth and rich. With something this simple, it’s a wonder that so many places mess it up.

For my entrée I had braised rabbit wrapped in filo pastry, served with blobs of celery puree and a walnut, celery, cucumber and frisee salad. As with all the dishes, the presentation was clean and modern, with no hackneyed smears or streaks in sight. The filo wrapped rabbit was like a spring roll, filled with gamey goodness, matching well with the freshness of the salad. The celery puree was a little unnecessary, but didn’t detract at all.

As the perk of eating with a group (other than the conversation, of course), I got to sample a number of the other dishes. Particularly as one of the other diners was very fussy with their food. This allowed the opportunity to eat most of a piece of crisp skin pork belly. Rich, fatty pig with a layer of thin but very crunchy crackling, it was clearly a well sourced animal.

The chargrilled and confit octopus with tomato jam, fennel, olive and basil salad was beautifully tender, with a smokey char.

I continued with the game theme for main, going with venison. Served medium rare and a little blackened on the outside, this juicy fillet had more flavour than most venison I have eaten. The celeriac and apple puree was a solid base that the jus cut through nicely, while caramelised shallots and much maligned brussel sprouts added that little extra touch.

However, I suffered a little order envy when the waitress presented the ultimate winter dish of braised lamb shank with wet polenta. With Moorish, fall off the bone meat, this was a hug on a plate. I was so excited by it that I made some for myself two days later.

The table was split on desserts. Three of us went for something a little unusual, a rhubarb and apple bread and butter pudding with blue cheese ice cream. It was warming and comfortable, with the ice cream adding a surprising tang.

The other half of the table could not go past that famous ingredient, chocolate. A rich chocolate delice with raspberries and a suitably boozy drunken fruit ice cream was eliciting almost obscene moans of delight from numerous people on the table.

Both desserts had great flavour, and were beautifully presented, if, for me, slightly less exciting than the savouries.

The wine list is excellent. We decided to say close to home with the local legend that is a Helm Riesling, 2009. It was great to find a sommelier that understood matching, and service. He specially opened a bottle of 2004 Bayuls Cornet and Cie, a stunning grenache noir to go with the chocolate dessert. This wine both lifted and was lifted by the rich chocolate.

Service was solid and friendly, and didn’t make any of the common mistakes you find all too often in Canberra. Wines by the glass were brought to the table in their bottles, wine and water were filled up almost unnoticed, and the meal was spaced without seeming stretched out.

It confounds me that Onred is not mentioned in any of the national restaurant guides. This was one of the most enjoyable dining experiences I have yet found in Canberra, both in flavour and style.

If Canberra had a few more places like Onred, it might become a real city in its own right.


About freehugstommy

Food, films and politics are my triumvirate of passions.
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