Gosh, this is super-hyped dining, distressed, ripped, loud, beautiful in parts - those dark-green narrow tiles, the rows of big jars of house pickles, young staff in uniform khaki aprons greeting you like it's their own digs.
Terra is like the evolution of Eighty-Six which opened with a similar 'We're here! Cram on in!' vibe about six years ago. In both, it's not just about the party, but the food, quite fanatically so, and that's what we're liking about Terra tonight.
The menu is based around the rotisserie, on display behind the counter, with smoking and pickling adding interest to the meat. One of our most successful dishes is, unexpectedly, the house charcoal chicken with hot sauce - which you can order at the disconcertingly cheap price of $18 for a half chicken and $32 for the whole bird. It's incredibly good, so simple, succulent, big chunks of rotisserie cooked chicken that you can eat with your fingers. Alongside a jar of Korean white kimchi, and two big green pickled chillies that we're warned to go easy on. We nibble at the corner of one and immediately understand the warning. You'd only eat these with a few Terra cocktails under your belt and for boasting value. We like the rustic addition of the hot and crunchy kimchi; it's as though we're heading into the field with the flock and unwrapping lunch in a square of cheesecloth.
It is served on a kind of paper-lined tray with the other chunk of meat we order - eight-hour smoked pork sparerib ($26). The pork is astonishingly pleasing - two thick slices of belly with a layer of crisped skin, layers of fat and tender meat. It's extreme meat, but good, not over-smoked, nor over-treated, and served with a great peach chutney.
We're also pretty excited by the fried octopus with potato skin, pickled green tomatoes and aioli ($19). The potato skins are actually little cups holding aioli, delicious, with great tender octopus tentacles, a slice of what I'm calling octopus terrine, for want of a better description, sliced pickled green tomatoes - so much pickling! - and sorrel, which I hear our waiter inexplicably pronounce sorrelle. But that could be my hearing rather than his pronunciation.
It is, after all, quite noisy in this industrial chic set-up. The music is thumping, the floors are concrete, the walls are rough half-done plaster, the big windows are open, the seating is metal-legged stools, and the tables are swish wood. And then there are those green tiles. In all, it's pretty good looking, and it's clear a decent investment has been made in the place. Terra describes itself as being in No Name Lane; I guess that fits the schtick, but really it's not in the laneway; rather on the corner of Marcus Clarke Street. It's near the uni and while it definitely has a young vibe, I'm not sure uni students are doing this kind of swank dining. It's probably rather too pumping and energetic for the middle-aged moneyed version of Canberra, which leaves you thinking the target market is a younger besuited crowd.
Experimentation marks the schmixed up menu. Terra flat bread with avruga caviar and stracciatella ($10) is an intriguing snack, if a little unwieldly. The little bowl of shredded cheese is loose enough that it's a little awkward to eat with the roti-like breads and salty caviar, although each of the flavours is cool and the flowers are pretty.
Duck rillette croquette with Tasmanian cherry, hazelnut and foie gras ($18) is unexpected when it arrives for the presentation of the croquettes as crumbed and deepfried balls, like arancini. They're on a plate with a crunchy breakfast-like medley of crumbs - a hazelnut crumb, what might be dried and flaked foie gras (or not; not sure), and a great pile of cherries. I like the cherries but the crumb is too sweet and the treatment of the rillette detracts from the shredded duck meat rather than enhancing it. The dish is probably better taken back to basics. Rillettes, foie gras and cherries sound good to me as is.
Fried cauliflower vincotto, harissa, almonds and crispy shallots ($9) is recommended by staff and with good reason. It's fried to within an inch of its life, but we like it. Perhaps cauliflower is a vegetable with two sweet spots: undercooked crunchy and fried extremely, with nothing in between. The harissa is intense and sweet, with a crunch of nuts and a spice that might be fennel, all of it likeable.
Charred black cod with radish, leek and potato veloute is very rich, as you would expect from this fish. It's beautifully cooked with blackened skin and served with startling radish and a rich veloute. The dish is not large but incredibly filling.
We're less convinced about the charred gem lettuce, with white anchovy, salsa verde and speak ($10). There's an odd flavour here - whether from the salsa verde or the anchovy, we're not sure, but it's uneasy and not entirely pleasant.
There are just two desserts offered tonight. One is deep-fried cheesecake with banana custard, Jack Daniel's ice cream and smoked maple syrup. Like we're going to order that. I mean, come on guys, that's surely taking the muscled up cool more than a little too far.
So clearly, for us it's charred stonefruit with dark chocolate mousse and passionfruit sorbet ($13). And this is good. The chocolate is rugged, intense, not at all sweet. The passionfruit is intense and beautiful to look at. The nectarine is lovely and treated very well indeed. There's beurre noisette (brown butter) that has been exploded into a dry white powder in one of those techniques pioneered by the molecular gastronomers. An affectation, but why not.
The wine list is trendy, youthful and brief - just two "oranges", roses, two bubbles, six whites and seven reds; we like that. There's loads of fun here, and we're really liking the 2017 Garagiste Cotier Guwurtztraimer, a Mornington Peninsula wine listed here as orange for the skin contact in fermentation. Otherwise, you can go wild in whiskies and cocktails. And surprising that is not; in fact, those two words kind of sum up the experience that is Terra.
Address: No Name Lane, g2/40 Marcus Clarke St, Canberra
Owners: Anthony Iannelli and Sungyeol Son
Chef: Sungyeol Son
Breakfast and lunch: Monday to Friday, 7.30am-4pm. Saturday 10.30am-3pm. Closed Sunday.
Dinner: Thursday to Saturday, 5.30pm til late.
Vegetarian: The focus is on meat from the rotisserie, but some serious vegetarian small dishes
Noise: Quite loud
Wheelchair access: Yes