Name: Wig & Pen
Address: Canberra House Arcade, Alinga St, Canberra.
Ph: 02 6248 0171
Hours: Weekdays: 12pm – late; Weekends: 2.30pm – late
I like beer. And, let’s face it, I don’t think I’m alone in this. From pilsners to stouts and everything in between, most of the people in this country love a long, frothy one.
But beer often raises the question of what to eat with it?
Most of the time this is an easy question, with the basics that are found in every pub. Steaks, burgers, chips, schnitzels and just about anything that you can deep fry. There is usually a curry, too, and maybe something vegetarian just to keep people happy. But the foundations stones of fat and salt are pretty universal.
These days some places are going a little further, with matching beer to food in the same way you would wine. Restaurants like Josie Bones in Melbourne or boutique breweries like the Redoak Beer Café in Sydney are strong examples of this, raising the potential of beer and food.
In Canberra, the world-class beers being created at stalwart bar The Wig & Pen could do with a bit of this style. Bathed in the feel of an old English pub, all timber and warmth, this is an essential place to visit when you’re in town. Yet the food does not take advantage of this.
Not that there is anything wrong with the food, all of which is very acceptable and occasionally quite good pub grub. That British classic of bangers and mash comes as two large, fatty sausages on a mound of rustic mash. A Danish Hot Dog doesn’t seem to be particularly Danish, but is a decent frankfurter with some well-caramelised onions and sauce, although it suffers a little from a surfeit of bread. At least the fat-cut chips with it are crisp and buttery, exactly as a chip should be.
Even on a sub-zero night, one of the most exciting things on the menu is the cold platter that is a Ploughman’s Lunch. While some of it is a selection of very everyday lunch items, such as some generic roast beef and a chicken wing, these were saved by some wonderfully sharp pickled onions and gherkins, smooth, mild English mustard and a rich tomato relish.
But the real star was the meaty, slightly sweet pork pie. Not the most common of dishes in Australia, this fatty pastry parcel is a delight at any time of day. Sadly, the dish is let down by some cheeses that don’t come up to standard. It could benefit greatly to have just a single wedge of really bitey cheddar.
So, the food isn’t bad, but it just doesn’t reach the heights of the really incredible house-brewed beers. And while their regular range has some quality brews, it is the seasonal selection where you find real value. For this winter, a dark ale called Big Brown Beaver is rich and nutty. The London Porter, a traditional hand-pumped ale, runs like cream down your throat. Sadly, most Australians would consider it too warm, but they are the ones missing out.
Wig & Pen is always going to do well because the drink choices are exciting and are clearly made with heart. Unfortunately the meals, while not bad, are clearly there just to ensure that there is food available, rather than because they love it. Bringing in a chef that can get close to matching the excitement of the beers could take this place to the next level.
But until then, pour me another pint.