It's such a Canberra first-world problem when a new venue opens up on the other side of the lake and it's the kind of place you wish had opened around the corner. You know you probably won't get there as much as you would like to on a regular basis, no dropping in on a Friday after work and the like. You'll have to look for reasons to go there, make a few phone calls to the girls to actually organise something. Damn it.
Queenies is such a place. From the moment you walk into the corner spot which has housed several establishments over the years, most recently Charlie's Corner, there's a super vibe. Indeed perhaps even before you walk inside. Despite the presence of construction fencing around the outside, you're instantly drawn to the beer garden, with its patch of artificial turf and fairy lights. It's late afternoon and there's a breeze, it's only Tuesday but there's a good crowd, both inside and out.
Inside, the place is a visual feast. There's a striking Art Deco-inspired bar made of brass and glass along the back wall, large globes hang over the service area, an enormous canvas painting of Liliokalani, queen of the belly dancers falls from a wall.
Furnishings are eclectic, a mix of new and old, velvet lounges and armchairs, bright aqua bar stools, a repurposed free-standing radio sits near the DJ's deck, chandeliers hang from the roof which is left bare, beams and wiring and pipes all exposed, and delightful repurposed train carriage seats with deep green seats. Ours even has a little original graffiti scratched into it.
It's kind of reminiscent of the revamped Old Canberra Inn, so it doesn't come as much of a surprise when I learn the owners are Nick Diver, Ben Johnston and Kalina Koloff from the OCI. Think of Queenies as the stylish quirky aunt in the family. The one you visit to get a good splash of gin, something simple but tasty to eat while you chat and gossip away on long sultry afternoons.
The menu at Queenies is also eclectic. You can get plates of cheese and charcuterie, at lunchtimes the sandwiches, dine-in or takeaway, have been going gangbusters, or if you're after a proper meal there's a good range of small plates to share, mains which also lend themselves to sharing, and a sweets menu which is worth a visit on its own.
There's a cocktail menu, we'll head back for a Witches vs Patriarchy (pre-prohibition rye, Belgrove Distillery ginger hammer, lemon, whites and fizz) or a Helen Reddy (1800 Blanco tequila, Del Maguey Vida Mezcal, Autonomy Davidson Plum Aperitivo, lemon). The wine list is a good mix of local and Australian wines, and a couple of international sparklings.
Tonight we decide to share a selection of share plates. I order a glass of the Bloodwood Big Men in Tights rose from Orange just because I like the name of it and we're ready to kick off the meal.
First out is the spiced broccoli with yam, macadamia and coconut ($14.50). What a surprising little dish. A large floret of broccoli which has been charred on the grill I'm guessing becomes the focal point of a sweet coconut curry. Slivers of macadamia add texture, off-setting the softness of the yam. Yam is not something I remember eating, it's kind of like, in my novice mind, a mix between sweet potato and those little finger eggplants, yielding but with a certain bite. There's not a great amount of sauce, which is good here. The broccoli is not drowned, its fresh flavour the star.
The banana leaf cold-smoked prawns with coconut slaw and finger lime ($22.50) are served wrapped in the banana leaves, prise them open to reveal four large prawns and refreshing slaw. The prawns are served with their heads on - my lovely daughter, my companion this evening, instructs me to decapitate them. A mother's job is never done. The cold smoking is subtle, but the prawns are, not tough, but dense, not unpleasant but not juicy as prawns can be.
It's hard to avoid fried chicken on a menu so we pick the Bangkok fried chicken ($16.50). Rather than being served as large chunks, it's finely sliced, like thin pork belly if you like, the crispy chunky edges a highlight rather than the main show. The chicken is tender and deliciously juicy without being greasy. There's a nice tang from a squeeze of lemon which has been caramelised on the grill. It's served with a couple of sauces. One is a chilli sauce with way too much of a kick, the other seems like a soy-based one, our waitress tells us it's a sweet sour sauce which doesn't clear anything up. Neither sauces were really necessary, the chicken was delightful on its own.
And of course we order the hand cut chips ($12), golden brown and well cooked, sprinkled with an Australian native togarashi. I was introduced to this Japanese spice mix by some Japanese friends and have a little jar of it in the pantry now. It adds a kick and some spice to almost anything. This one incorporates Australian flavours, as does much of the menu which is great. Lemon myrtle, Davidson plum, Dorrigo pepper, salt bush all make an appearance in different dishes, and more.
Like the desserts. First a sweet yuzu and fingerlime tart with Meredith marscapone ($12.50), it's a little like a lemon meringue pie with a scattering of crimson red fingerlimes across the top. It's refreshing and tart, the pastry is golden and crisp.
The chocolate and gubinge semifreddo with orange, white chocolate mousse and wattle seed meringue ($13.50) is the perfect ending. The semifreddo is dense, orangey like a decadent Jaffa, topped with a quenelle of rich white chocolate mousse that isn't cloying and a crispy shard of meringue for texture.
While we didn't even look at the large plates menu, think half a charcoal lemon myrtle chicken with Kurrajong braised green leaves, or a 800g short horn ribeye obviously meant for sharing.
We'll save those for another night because the setting was so lovely we might just have to cross the lake one more time.
Address: Corner of Kennedy and Giles Sts, Kingston
Hours: Sunday to Thursday, noon to 11pm; Friday to Saturday, noon to midnight.
Owners: Nick Driver, Ben Johnston and Kalina Koloff
Chef: Matt Standen
Vegetarian: Good options
Noise: No problem
Update: Queenies at Kingston has been forced to temporarily close from November 23 until December 1 to undergo some emergency roof repairs. Be patient, it's worth the wait!