Pretty much a dream run

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The energy in this place is palpable. Not surprising, perhaps, given the location so close to the Australian Institute of Sport and so close to the Olympics as we visit. Ellacure must be well used to the young and the fit.

And it's not only the customers, it's the staff also.

They're veritably pumped. High-energy, highly sociable, couldn't be more welcoming, accommodating us and our foibles like it's all just part of the party.

Since we last visited Ellacure, the terrace has had the winter treatment of plastic walls and roof and big heaters, adding a large, pleasant area to an already sparkling busy restaurant. But little else has changed, and we're okay with that because the Ellacure formula has always worked for us.

Pizza bread is always a good start, soft and crisp at the same time, fresh and warm from the oven. It's served with three dips ($9) - an okay olive and feta tapenade, a really nice pesto and a fine dip of roast garlic.

The menu is one with which you will be familiar - Italian cafe, Australian style. Short, which is good, just four or so entrees, four pastas and risottos, and four simple mains like veal parmigiana, steak on mash, fish and chips, or salmon with fennel and orange, plus specials.


We hit the salt and pepper calamari with garlic aioli ($17), which proves a good decision. Salty as anything, but they're supposed to be, little rounds of properly fresh calamari, piled with rocket and lots of aioli. Polenta bites ($8) are an appealing snack, little salty cubes of crumbed polenta that remind me of the calamari crumbs, a large bowl of them, with rosemary and a smoky chutney. Fun beer food.

The zucchini and haloumi fritters ($17) - now these might have sharpened up and subjected themselves to some athletic self-improvement since our last visit, since I remember having zucchini fritters in a stack, but then memory at that distance is faulty - are three round deep-fried balls with a smoky spice and pleasant eating on a salsa of capsicum, cucumber and tomato.

The lemon ricotta gnocchi ($24) is still on the menu, although tonight lemon has taken over. The texture of these gnocchi is good with a pleasing caramelisation presumably from being browned up in the pan, and the peas and asparagus, despite being rather desperately unseasonal in this part of the world, are good. Without such an aggressive application of lemon this would be the fine dish I remember it as.

But this close to the big day you'd be needing protein and carbs. So it's a maryland of duck ($27) from the specials, nicely handled, dark and shreddy the way duck should be, on red cabbage and hazelnuts which add crunch, and a duo of dark and white saucing which adds little.

The spaghetti with meatballs ($25) is a great family dish. So simple and yet how easy it is to fall short on a red sauce. Here, it's close to perfect, clinging stickily to the spaghetti, which tastes like it could well be home-made, a distinct taste of fennel in the sauce, and decent meatballs. This would be first on the order list next time.

What more could you ask for but a good plate of pasta in a warm and happy room, where the staff are whipping around the place back and forth to chat, keep in touch with your needs, and fill your glass.

The wine choice here is straightforward, a fairly short list, lots by the glass, and focused all around the lower-cost wines, with enough enjoyable drinking.

Okay, if you've got an issue with personal space, you might find the familiarity of service alarming, since you might find the staff touching you on the shoulder as they come and go. But hey, it means you've made the team. They even call you gang.

We're not Olympians, except in appetite, but we are running a bit of a race tonight - against time, with the only table free needing to be vacated by 7.20pm. But that's no problem, and there's sufficient noise that the chaos of our family hardly makes a dent, and we can scoff three desserts with indecent haste and mess and barely anyone seems to blink an eye.

There's a sticky date pudding ($14), more cake than pudding, but with miles of caramel sauce, plus ice cream. A ''chocolate fudge sundae'' ($14), which turns out to be the dessert you order if you're not training for anything other than taking over the entire couch singlehandedly, has a warm chocolate brownie at the bottom, with broken-up mint chocolate, and ice cream to boot. To hell with restraint. And a trio of sorbets ($12) is pretty coloured, fresh and appealing.

So, another successful session at Ellacure. Not fancy, but getting enough things right.

Ellacure restaurant

Address: Corner of Braybrooke and Battye Streets, Bruce

Phone: 6251 0990

Website: ellacure.com.au

Owner: Greg and Lee Hollands, Gus Armstrong

Chef: Michael Rees

Hours: Seven days, lunch from noon, dinner from 6pm, breakfast at weekends from 8am

Licensed: Yes, plus BYO, corkage $3.50 a person

Vegetarian: A couple of good options

To pay: All cards

Wheelchair access: Yes, including disabled toilets

Seats: 68 inside, 42 outside

Food: 2/4 stars

Wine list: 2/4 stars

Service: 4/4 Stars

Style: 3/4 stars

Value for money: 3/4 stars

Score 14/20

Summary: A favourite - energetic, youthful, a place where you're looked after well and fed heartily.

11 something went wrong. 12 not so great tonight. 13 fine for a cheap and cheerful, not so for a place that aspires to the top end. 14 good. 15 really good. 16 great, when can we move in. 17-20brilliant. The stars are a quick reference to the key highs or lows. They do not relate directly to the score out of 20.

Kirsten Lawson is Canberra Times Food and Wine editor.