Name: Pelagic Bar & Dining
Address: Shop 2 Baileys Arcade, 131 London Cct, Civic. 2601
Ph: 02 6162 0752
Hours: Lunch: Monday – Saturday 12 – 3pm. Dinner: Monday – Thursday from 6pm, Friday – Saturday from 4pm.
In a country where so much of our national identity is wrapped up in the beach, where the Bronzed Aussie is how the rest of the world sees us, it always bemused me that we went for an inland capital.
Imagine if Canberra was on the coast. Public servants could wake up in the morning and go for a surf, politicians might actually want to spend the odd weekend here, and Canberrans could have been eating incredibly fresh seafood for decades.
Well, while the surfing is still just a dream, fresh seafood is no longer out of our grasp. The team at Pelagic Bar & Dining, Civic’s exciting new haunt, are so fanatical about freshness that they’re collecting the fish as soon as it hits the tarmac at the airport.
Situated in the remains of the uninspiring Antigo, Pelagic does exactly what a good seafood restaurant should do. They take this wonderful produce, and they leave it alone. Then they serve it in an inviting environment, with exceptional cocktails and a solid wine list, and they make for a very impressive night.
It is rare to have a restaurant where the cocktails are this good. The Spiced Sazerac and Highland Rose that we tried were up there with the best drinks in Canberra. The room doesn’t have huge bar space, but it is worth coming here to start the evening regardless of where you go to eat.
Meal structures are loose, to say the least. The staff are very accommodating to how you want to eat. You can have a classic three courses, go a range of tasting plates, or even have a degustation created for you. It’s a rare flexibility, designed to make you comfortable.
We started with tasting plates, eaten at the bar, and chosen from a specials list longer than the main menu. Last week I spoke of the freshness of the sashimi at Iori. Well, Pelagic’s sashimi is a step above again. Salmon, kingfish, and the most beautiful ruby red tuna are cut perfectly and plated simply with fresh wasabi and pickled ginger. Too often sashimi feels as though as it has just been removed from a fridge, but here the flesh was properly served at room temperature, allowing that fresh flavour to come to the fore. Stunning.
Seared scallops were the very picture of plump sweetness, offset by the salty crunch of potato crisps and a touch of chili powder heat. A terrine of potted salmon was rich and rustic, served on a piece of real sourdough toast.
Alongside this terrine there was a basic rocket and lemon salad, and it was this salad that really demonstrated what was right about this place. Most of the time rocket is limp and dull and flavorless, but this was real rocket, crisp and with that peppery bite that the supermarket version doesn’t have. Real produce, served simply.
The bartender, unprompted, suggested a local pink sparkling wine from Wily Trout which matched perfectly. It was this personal level of service that made the place comfortable.
Returning to the table for our main course, and a huge, messy pile of chili crab was placed in front of me. I have always been an adherent of eating with your hands, so there is something undeniably thrilling about a dish that comes with a finger bowl. Sucking deep every single bite of sweet, fresh crab, mingling with the sharp but gentle heat of the sauce, I made a ridiculous mess and luxuriated in flavour. It was a sexy dish, and a wonderful way to eat.
A crispy crumbed slab of succulent King George Whiting, served with rich, salty fries and tangy tartar sauce was a classy take on fish’n’chips, and a stripped back salad of cos lettuce, poached egg and world class anchovies was clean and exciting, and reminded me what is so special about those little fish.
A Pewsey Vale Riesling from Eden Valley made a suitable accompaniment, making for a good day in the Summer of Riesling.
Desserts were surprising, taking the freshness of the meal all the way to the end. A deconstructed Pina Colada, with sharp pineapple and lime sorbet, cool coconut ice cream, tiny soft meringues and a properly boozy rum jelly was a delightfully artful taste of tropical summer. It was an edible cocktail, bringing the meal full circle.
This was beautiful, simple food, clearly made with passion. Service was just as passionate, and well-informed, if occasionally a little slow to come out of the kitchen. But it didn’t matter. Pelagic knows what it is doing, and that is delivering the sort of restaurant that Canberra needs.
The food isn’t cheap, but we got a lot of food and drink for the $300 for two including tip. It’s fun, it’s fresh, it’s hip without being self-consciously so, and I will be going back again and again.
It almost makes it ok that we’re not on the beach.