Since it opened its doors in 2006, Pulp Kitchen has turned heads. Specialising in European, brasserie-style eating, it is a breath of fresh air on the Canberra scene, combining an air of the casual, while maintaining extremely good-quality food and service, rooted in the great culinary traditions of France and other European nations.
Everything is available in entree and main sizes (even the steaks), the service is vibrant and informed, but most important the food is exciting. Classics (beef medallions, bearnaise and shoe-string fries) are carried off with aplomb, and experimentation always comes with a purpose.
If you exercise restraint you can eat very, very well here for a relatively small price. Young, dressed-up couples are seen with a pair of entrees, and perhaps a side serving of Lyonnaise potatoes to share, grinning with glee at their sophistication.
Established by greatly respected chef Christian Hauberg in 2006, and taken over in May this year by Daniel Giordani, Nathan Brown and chef Keaton McDonnell, Pulp has evolved into one of Canberra's best-loved eateries.
One of the reasons we go to restaurants is for the experience, and the atmosphere at Pulp is great, like arriving at a good dinner party every time, with the sound of eating and drinking combining happily with the noise of cooking coming from the small open kitchen. The other is to eat things you cannot, or would not, make at home, and our first entree is a perfect example of that - white-fish veloute with sea-bream quenelle ($16/$25).
The veloute, like the best, creamiest fish soup you have ever tasted, is the foundation of the dish, with light-as-air quenelle (a feathery dumpling) popped on top, scattered with a tiny bit of tender chervil. This dish is a triumph of texture and flavour, with the silky smooth veloute sweet with complex fish flavour, cosying up to the spectacularly delicate sea-bream dumplings. This is a great dish that immediately makes you regret you didn't order the main size.
Bread arrives at the table fresh and warm from the oven, with good oil for dipping.
Wine advice is readily given and a glass of French perry ($8) is a delicious alternative to champagne to start. The wine list is impressive, with 18 options by the glass, and a very well-chosen range of interesting wines for a wide range of regions at home, and from Italy, France and Germany, at good prices. A good list of beers also takes drinkers on a trip around Australia and the great beer-making nations of Europe.
Jeir Creek riesling ($9/$35) from the Canberra district works beautifully with the white fish veloute.
Good fat little oysters are served with a decent gutsy granita for contrast. Granita with oysters has become almost common, but is seldom well done. This is the exception. The ice has enough depth - sweet and tangy lime flavours - to bounce off the saltiness of the bivalve, and amplify, not obliterate both.
Beef carpaccio ($18/$29, raw beef, very thinly sliced, has likewise become almost common, but is often average. It is great to be reminded what a wonderful dish this is when done properly.
The beef is beautifully thin, cool, but not unpleasantly cold. The tender and flavoursome beef, contrasts with a sparkling little salad of golden and red beetroot radish wafers, with delicate greens, simply dressed with quality lemon and oil.
The medallions of beef tenderloin, with mustard bearnaise and shoe-string fries ($21/$33) is one of the great dishes, executed with skill and attention to detail that you can taste with every bite. The beef is perfectly cooked and rested, giving it the wonderful, consistent texture that only well-treated beef has. The silky, thick bearnaise has real guts, with a decent amount of mustard, and the skinny fries are very good, hot, crisp, entirely free of oil, and outrageous with the bearnaise.
A salad of sweetbread and tongue ($16/$25) is a symphony of rich and delicate flavour and textures. The tongue and perfectly cooked little sweetbreads, nestle in a salad with delicate picked greens, wafers of the beetroot as before, with the lovely addition of small pieces of a hard Swiss cow's-milk cheese, appenzeller and grilled almonds. Listed this way it sounds a little chaotic, but the balance is perfect, all the elements working together to create a great dish.
Dessert is a glossy dark-chocolate mousse, perfectly contrasted with two tiny ricotta doughnuts, crusted with cinnamon sugar, and a scoop of smooth pear sorbet, providing a perfect foil to the richness of the mousse.
Pulp Kitchen is a restaurant with personality and confidence, and food that reminds you that, sometimes, restaurants really do do it better.
>> Catriona Jackson is director of communications and external liaison at the Australian National University and a food writer.
Address: Shop 1, Wakefield Gardens, Ainslie
Phone: 6257 4334
Owners: Daniel Giordani and Nathan Brown
Chef: Keaton McDonnell
Hours: Lunch, Wednesday-Friday noon-2pm; dinner, Tuesday-Saturday 6pm-10pm; brunch, Saturday and Sunday 9am-3pm
Licensed: Yes and BYO wine only, corkage $5 a person
Vegetarian: Yes, a small but very good selection, and great side dishes
To pay: Visa, American Express, Mastercard, Diner's Club and Eftpos
Wheelchair access: Yes to the restaurant but space between tables is tight; not to the toilets
Seats: 60 inside and 30 outside depending on the weather
Summary: A great European brasserie, with all the relaxed excellence and elegance that implies, as well as spectacular food.
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? 17-20 Brilliant. Stars are a quick reference to key highs or lows. They do not relate directly to the score out of 20.