The Pedlar is the kind of establishment that every neighbourhood needs. Casual enough to rock up in your house pants with a table full of kids, smart enough to not feel out of place if you've come straight from work and just need a glass of riesling.
That's the secret to a local, Canberra needs more of them. Ainslie has Edgar's, O'Connor has the Duxton, Lyneham has Tilley's, Watson has the Knox, I'm sure your suburb, out of the confines of my narrow inner north world, has one too and I'd love to hear more about them.
We're here on a Tuesday, glad we booked, you'd expect to be able to just be a walk in on a weeknight but, no, the place is full. There are a few young families, tables of men in suits, couples young and old. The Rugby World Cup is on the television, Russia is playing Samoa, I'm a sucker for a place where I can take a sneaky peek at some sporting match now and then, call me a tragic. I know fellow reviewer Kirsten Lawson is rolling her eyes right now, but I'm doing my best to convince her that we need to review more places where people like to eat.
There's a lot to like about the Pedlar, see above. One complaint I have about that little precinct is that it's often hard to find a park. There must be a secret parking area somewhere.
The menu is not pretentious. There are the standards, schnitzel, fish and chips, burgers and steak. But there are a few surprising options too: Confit duck, a baked eggplant salad, a chicken and leek pot pie. It's a good mix that would offer something for all diners, the more adventurous and those who like to keep it simple.
We start with a couple of snacks, the five-spiced duck pancakes ($18 for three) and some sticky chilli caramel chicken wings ($16). The duck pancakes are a little treat, the spiced blood orange such a change from that cloying dark hoisin sauce they are often served with. It's tart and sweet at the same time, a great accompaniment to the tender, and generous, duck filling. I often wonder why little dishes like this come out in odd numbers for a table of two and we are civil enough determining who gets the extra one because there's enough chicken wings to feed a small army, or at least a hoard of hungry kids. They're juicy and tender, the skin is crispy and charred just enough, with a little kick the kids wouldn't even notice. Luckily, I have known my dinner companion a long time and we're not embarrassed eating these with our hands and sucking a lot of fingers (not each others, that would be weird). I'm coming back for these.
Indeed, I might come back and take advantage of the Pedlar's super Snacks with Nick deal, available after 5pm every afternoon, a bottle of O'Leary's Riesling or rose, and two snacks for just $50. This deal has summer evenings written all over it.
The Pedlar has a great drinks list. There's a rotating selection of draught beer, standard offerings in bottles and tins, including a couple from Bentspoke and Capital Brewing. The wine list included Australian and international wines, and a small selection of organic and biodynamic wines. Local wineries include O'Leary and Mallaluka and I'll be doing some more investigating about Whitton Farm, their sangiovese shiraz was a tasty drop.
It worked well with my main of madras curry ($22 for vegetarian, add an extra $5 for some lamb neck, which I did). A hearty dish full of sweet potato, cauliflower, eggplant, tomato and chickpeas, a small serve of rice, and a couple of crispy papadums. It was the kind of meal you wanted to curl up on the couch with (perhaps watch a rugby game, have another glass of that sangiovese), substantial and full of flavour.
My companion went with the chicken burger ($19) and it's always fun to see how these in between places fancy them up a bit. This one had a Japanese touch, the chicken cooked karaage style, crispy crumb, deep fried, but milky soft. Throw in a yuzu mayonnaise and some Japanese pickles and it was a step above the standard pub burger.
Dessert was too. A salted caramel brulee served with a white chocolate and macadamia cookie ($13). It came out on a wooden board dusted with icing sugar, a ramekin of brulee and a good-sized buttery crumbly biscuit. The brulee cracked well and the custard filling was salty and delicious. It all tasted even better when you dared scoop the brulee out with a shard of bikkie.
It's been a great night. Caught up with an old friend, Samoa won the rugby, we've had a very pleasant meal in pleasant surroundings. The Pedlar, and places like it, will never set the fine dining scene on fire but it's places such as these where most people head on a random Tuesday night.
The secret is to mix it up a little, tart up some old favourites, offer a couple of interesting drink choices, make people feel like they are welcome without over doing it. The Pedlar does all of that quite well.
Address: 65 Constitution Ave, Campbell
Hours: 7am-late, seven days.
Owner: Simon Hammond
Chef: Lachlan Doherty
Wheelchair access: Yes
Noise: There's a vibe, but no problem
Vegetarian: Some good options