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Review: Chifley’s Bar & Grill

Jessica Schumann

There’s something serendipitous about dining at an establishment surrounded by rich, political history only to spot former ABC presenter and political reporter Mike Willisee sitting just tables away. But there he was and here I was with Mr. B at the latest addition to Barton’s eating scene, Chifley’s Bar & Grill.

Not one to intrude, we quietly asked the sommelier, Catherine Sharland (of Sydney’s Rockpool) if she recognised his face and while she did, the name escaped her mind as did it ours. It wasn’t until much later once home with a belly full of a caviar, a 300g steak and dessert that we were able to piece together the identity of the distinguished veteran journalist. Nevertheless, it was a conversation that kept on throughout the course of our meals.

Understated and nothing like we expected, we’re seated in a corner nearest the kitchen and are somewhat underwhelmed by the décor despite Chifley’s anticipated opening and the much hyped 1920s throwback. While it aims to stand alone as a steakhouse and not another hotel restaurant, access to some of Australia’s finest cuts of meat is unfortunately through the reception of the historic Hotel Kurrajong, so you don’t get really get that restaurant-precinct feel.

As you enter through the wooden parlour doors panelled with frosted glass, the room moves away from the heaviness of the hotel and into a lofty space of soft golden tones contrasted with the depths of burgundy, banquet seating and dark hardwood tables, and a touch of art dèco. Taking its place on the rear wall next to the kitchen’s entrance is an open glass cabinet displaying the cuts of meat on offer and hanging on a pillar near the bar is a fetching tribute to the man himself—former Prime Minister Benjamin Chifley.

Chifley Interior

The 1920s interior embraces soft golden tones of an era gone by.

Despite the few occupied tables, it takes around 15 minutes before we’re asked for our drink order. Understandably it’s the restaurant’s second night open to the public, but it does surprise us. And where you would usually find yourself with one waiter for the evening, we later find we have three and they don’t seem to be communicating all too well.

Curious to see what dishes are put forward, we hand our tastebuds over to Executive Chef Michael Chatto (formerly Italian & Sons. and Artespresso) and begin with the Seared Harvey Bay Scallops with shaved iberico de bellota paletilla and Jerusalem artichoke crisps and Hand picked Spanner Crab to share

As we wait for our entrees to come out, we’re surprisingly each served the Beluga Caviar Bilini with crème fraiche and shaved candied lemon zest. Having never tried caviar before, I’m anything but hesitant and with three easy mouthfuls, it’s no sooner on my plate than it is gone. Either easily impressed or just blessed with an appreciation for the simple things, this dish is actually my favourite for the evening.


Beluga Caviar Belini with Crème fraiche and shaved candied lemon zest.

Cooked to perfection, the scallops are plump and explode with a subtle, sweet richness known only to produce fresh from the markets and complemented by the contrasting flavours of the shaved iberico de bellota paletilla, which is essentially salted ham (though I believe it’s all to do with the process in how it is made that gives it its name).

Seared Scallops with shaved iberico de bellota paletilla and Jerusalem artichoke crisps.

Seared Scallops with shaved iberico de bellota paletilla and Jerusalem artichoke crisps.

While Mr. B isn’t big on seafood, the Hand picked Spanner Crab disappears from sight rather quickly. Beautifully plated with shaved baby fennel and ruby grapefruit, Spanner Crab is a favourite with chefs. This dish is no different. Full of flavour and plenty of firm, sweet flesh it takes on the creaminess of a coleslaw that is complemented with the tartness of the ruby grapefruit, and washed down nicely with a glass of white wine. Our pick (and perhaps a favourite) the youthful bodied Clonakilla Viognier Nouveau.

Hand picked Spanner Crab with shaved baby fennel and ruby grapefruit.

Hand picked Spanner Crab with shaved baby fennel and ruby grapefruit.

The concept for Chifley’s to become a steakhouse was already set in place when Executive Chef Michael Chatto came on board five months ago. Destined to be grand, Michael says it was just a matter of adding the finer details.

“Chifley’s is based on a New York steakhouse, and while some have come and gone in Canberra no one has quite done it right,” he says. “Our list [of steaks] is extensive with more than 15 cuts using top meat from around the country, ranging from $33 to $165.”

So you can imagine that choosing one from the menu was a little bit of a challenge.

For mains, our fate was in the hands of the kitchen yet again. But it wasn’t long before Mr. B found himself with a handsome Sher Wagyu F1 500g Rib Eye cut and I, the 350g Scotch Fillet from the same full-blood Japanese Wagyu (crossed with Holstein cow) family. Both served on a bed of celeriac puree, we were also keen to taste one or two of the gorgeous side dishes too but were disappointed to discover that a miscommunication with the kitchen saw us with a meat-only main course.

Sher Waygu F1 (Ballan, Vic) 350g Scotch Fillet/ 300+ day ration fed 5+ ($42)

Sher Waygu F1 (Ballan, Vic) 350g Scotch Fillet/ 300+ day ration fed 5+ ($42)

While there’s no images to drool over, I suggest just using your imagination to conjure the thoughts of what your tastebuds can expect—baked fennel with parmesan citrus crumb, cucumber, mint and toasted buckwheat with chardonnay vinegar; and caramelised Spanish onion with pan gratatta to name a few.

On the plus side, it presented an opportunity to truly appreciate just what it is Chifley’s is aiming to achieve in the capital and that is a reputation for the best steak in town.

Sher Waygu F1 (Ballan, Vic) 500g Rib Eye/ 300+ day ration fed 5+ ($75)

Sher Waygu F1 (Ballan, Vic) 500g Rib Eye/ 300+ day ration fed 5+ ($75)

True to the claim, we practically died and went to heaven as we devoured the distinctive creamy flavour of the highly marbled, tender 300+ day ration fed 5+ cuts cooked perfectly to the Chef’s recommendation of medium rare. While I struggled to see it through to the end, Mr. B had no trouble at all.

Inside tip: Make sure you order a side dish.

Despite the overwhelming amount of meat on the plate, we of course found room for dessert (who doesn’t?) but we weren’t so willing to relinquish the decision making on this one. Mr. B indulged in the rich sweetness with the Valrhona Chocolate Pavé served with white coffee bean ice cream and espresso syrup. I thought this might taste a little bitter (like dark chocolate) with the espresso syrup and probably would have ordered this had I not just eaten a huge meal.

Valrhona Chocolate Pavé with white coffee bean ice cream and espresso syrup.

Valrhona Chocolate Pavé with white coffee bean ice cream and espresso syrup.

Instead I was in need of something to cleanse the palate and selected the clean and refreshing tastes of a Passionfruit Soufflé with passionfruit sorbet. Fluffy and probably THE best soufflé I’ve ever had, it was hard to part with even just the teeniest bite for Mr. B to try.

Chifleys_Passionfruit Souffle

Passionfruit Soufflé with passionfruit sorbet

If we’re to be honest and quite frankly I believe in doing just that, Mr. B and I absolutely enjoyed every bite of our meals throughout the evening but found ourselves very much underwhelmed and let down by the service particularly in such a high-class atmosphere.

Whether due to nerves of being such a new establishment, lack of communication between staff or a combination of factors there’s still a little fine tuning to be had. Simple things such as explaining a dish and its components, checking on drinks and even just checking in are the personal touches that takes a steak on a plate to a true dining experience.

Nevertheless, we’re looking forward to returning again soon and seeing what other yumminess we can discover on the menu.

The author dined compliments of Chifley’s Bar & Grill. 

The essentials

The place: Chifley’s Bar & Grill
Where: Hotel Kurrajong, 8 National Circuit Barton
When: Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner 7 days a week 6.30am-10pm
Phone: (02) 6234 4444
Email: [email protected]
Web: www.chifleysbarandgrill.com.au


Jessica Schumann

A 'rambling ranga' at heart, Jessica Schumann is a bubbly, creative social thinker who thrives on words, social media and an innate knack for sharing stories. When she finds the time to write, Jessica seeks out the beauty in change and the essence of human condition. Varied and diverse in nature, her writing delves into the enviable world of people, travel, food and culture. When you can't find her in a nook writing, just follow your nose and you’ll soon find Jessica indulging in her other passion – cooking – or curled up on the couch with a good book in hand. You can find her over at ramblingranga.com.au. More about the Author