Name: Digress Restaurant & Lounge
Address: 11 Akuna Street. Canberra City, 2601
Ph: 02 6248 6183
Hours: Lunch, Monday – Friday: 12pm-2pm. Dinner, Monday – Saturday: 5:30pm-10pm.
For some reason, people throughout history have liked to combine two completely different things, smashing them together into one homogenous lump. In the days of myth in ancient Greece there was stories the half-man half-animal creatures like the Minotaur or Centaurs. More recently the world of film gave us the absurdity of mixed-genre films, such as Cowboys vs Aliens.
In the field of food, there is fusion cuisine.
Fusion is sometimes beautifully subtle and clever, taking just the best aspects of different cuisines and combining them to make something great. This is, in many ways, all that “mod-Aus” is, with French technique, pan-Asian ingredients, and a somewhat Italian sensibility.
Then there is the style sweeping the world at the moment, typified by dishes such as Korean-based tacos. This takes basic flavours of one nation, and putting them into just the form of another. Tacos and burgers are the most obvious example, where they are blank canvases to hold the other flavours.
Lastly, there is the type of fusion that takes flavours and ideas from two entirely disparate cuisines and forcing them together like pieces from opposite sides of the puzzle. If they don’t really fit, you just hit them until they do.
Digress Restaurant and Lounge belongs more in this last category with their intriguing combination of Italian and Indian.
As a concept, Digress made me extremely worried. In the spectrum of cuisines it is hard to find two more convergent styles. Italian food is all about freshness, taking no more than four or five great ingredients and letting them speak for themselves. Indian, on the other hand, is much more about complexity. Rather than only a few ingredients, you can often have dozens of spices creating layers of flavour. They are completely different styles.
Served in a somewhat soulless basement dining room, the food at Digress sits somewhere between the two, and is less of a travesty than it could have been, but still somewhat unneeded. For example, a simple naan bread comes stuffed with sundried tomatoes, and it’s nice enough, thanks mainly to the light, flaky nature of quite good bread. But the tomatoes don’t seem necessary, and the plain naan on the menu would probably be more enjoyable.
Some mozzarella and paneer fritters, served as some fried croquettes with a pot of jalapeno aioli, were a particularly strange concept. Two very different cheeses, combined together to be indistinguishable from each other, somehow end up being completely bland. The sauce, while not fitting into either of the core cuisines, was nicely hot but little more. This was very much a nothing dish, and I was just thankfully it wasn’t too oily.
The mains, with choices of pastas, pizzas and risottos, take the haphazard fusion even further. A dish of mango murg linguine was basically pasta and chicken pieces in way too much spiced mango cream sauce. It was a bizarre dish, with the sweet of the mango, the fat of the cream and the meat of the chicken making the whole thing quite overpowering, and a little out of balance. It isn’t that it was unpleasant as such, but it was incredibly rich, and a little confusing. I won’t be running back for seconds.
The saving grace was dessert, where eschewing fusion and instead going for a traditional Punjabi kulfi proved to be a great idea. Home-made ice cream with pistachio and cardamom made for beautiful sweet spiciness. Not to mention, it was served on a stick and eaten like a high class Paddle-Pop. A delight to eat, despite its somewhat phallic appearance.
Cocktails also had that inventive streak to them, with the Proud Punjabi being basically a mango lassi with coconut rum. It was decent, if a little silly, and not something to really get excited over. Though it was better than the wine list, where an Italian Pinot Grigio was cheap and tasted cheaper.
Service was fine. It was friendly, and usually efficient, although they need to hire a bartender. At the moment the wait staff disappear whenever anyone orders a cocktail.
It wasn’t expensive, and it wasn’t as bad as Indian-Italian food was in my head, but I doubt this is the next big thing.
Some things should just be kept separate.