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A.Baker – the first taste

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I have been waiting impatiently for A.Baker to open its doors since I heard of the venture some months ago. Not just because of the experienced hands at the helm (Adam Bantock, Bernd Brademann, Jarrod Deaton, Chris Dennis, Ruslan Salbiev, Michael Gray and the team from Molonglo Group). Nor the promise of elegant and honest regional cuisine, teasingly previewed by the team’s 10 Yards pop-up. And it was more than the location; the restaurant built where Flint once stood until it was razed by fire in 2011. It was the irresistible combination that had me beating a path to its door at 11:30am on its first day open.

New Acton has changed significantly in the last two years, and there’s still a lot of work underway, construction workers in hi vis vests peppering the landscape. From the stunning timber façade of the Nishi building, A.Baker is a short stroll across a sunny courtyard…in a city where al fresco eating spots are hard to come by, this will be a much sought after Friday drinks spot.

Inside, the space, is divided into three separate parts: the bakery, where an array of fresh breads, coffee, sandwiches and sweet treats are on offer; the restaurant, which boasts Bantock and Brademann’s regionally-focussed bistro style comfort food; and the underground speakeasy, a dimly lit bar that reminded me of 121BC in Surry Hills.

And while the photos show a moody monochrome fitout, in reality the restaurant space is airy and warm, the sleek lines of Don Cameron’s custom-designed furniture and industrial edge of the exposed pipes and fire-hewn wall softened by the light that streams through the floor to ceiling windows. It’s a welcoming interior, one that feels like its been around for years, rather than days.

From any angle, you can watch the chefs at work in their small open kitchen, crafting what our waiter described as “Modern European cuisine, predominantly French and Italian.” Wherever possible, ingredients have been sourced locally, with the menu proudly proclaiming the produce’s origins, like Yass Mushrooms, Dutton Park duck, and Goulburn River trout. Fans of the excellent-but-sadly-no-longer Dieci e Mezzo will feel at home here, with most of the main players coming from Fiona Wright’s defunct Ten and a Half Catering, bringing with them a style that’s been missed for nearly a year.

It’s a short menu – but far from simple – with breakfast served until 11:30am and the all-day options doing double duty for lunch and dinner. For me, this means the focus is on delivering a smaller range of meals really really well, and having the flexibility to change with availability and seasonality.

For breakfast, you can choose from light options like a simple house-baked fruit loaf with ricotta and honey or granola, puffed millet, rhubarb, raisins, yoghurt; or more filling fare like 63 degree eggs, Yass mushrooms, smoked ricotta and day old bread; or Smoked Goulburn River Trout, beetroots, dill and soft boiled egg.

Lunch plates continue the theme of simple, clean flavours using seasonal ingredients. Although I would have happily eaten anything on the menu, I was torn between the Dutton Park duck ravioli, confit gizzards, broad beans, lemon, burnt butter and the Marianvale Murray cod, black olive, brandade, broad bean & tomato confit. I’ll admit, the ‘gizzards’ gave me pause…there was no attempt to hide the fact that offal was part of the dish, rather it was celebrated. So, after consulting with our very knowledgeable and accommodating waiter, I decided to be slightly adventurous and go with the gizzards…and it was delicious. The pasta was (to borrow a My Kitchen Rules term) cooked to perfection, the ravioli plump with shredded duck, and the lemon and broad beans added a Spring freshness.

After some menu interpretation and mini culinary history lesson (who knew that pangratatto -a type of breadcrumbs – was invented by the Italians as a way of using up stale bread?), my companions decided on the Yass Mushrooms, 63 degree egg, pangratatto, Grandvewe pecorino, polenta; and Mandagery Creek venison ragu, freekah & barley risotto, saffron flowers, and both were a pleasure.

The menu also offers the option of Charcuterie and Oysters and some fine cheeses, and you can see the temptation of simply whiling an afternoon or evening away with some simple food and good wine.

Meals are available in two sizes: small ($16) and large ($28)…we ladies found the small plate the perfect portion size for lunch – satisfying but not overly filling – while the bloke among us opted for the large size. Served with the plates comes a slice each of freshly baked bread, served in a mini-flour bag…amazing. Crusty on the outside, chewy on the inside, it’s no wonder that bread features quite strongly throughout the menu. Chatting to Michael Gray (head of food and beverage for Molonglo Group), he revealed that the grain for one particular loaf is milled each morning at around 3am, shaped into bread and baked fresh and ready for the day ahead. You can’t get much fresher than that.

Downstairs, the ‘speakeasy’ bar is a dim and striking escape from the activity above ground, the feature piece a row of amazing old marine lights, found in Jodhpur. It’s place to relax after work, or to wait for your table with some olives and nuts (bucking the Canberra trend, A.Baker doesn’t take reservations, but Gray assures me that with a capacity of 120, once you arrive, you are guaranteed a table, even if it means you have to cool your heels for a while.) But with a voyeuristic one-way glass window into the commercial bakery, it’s a fun way to pass the time. And with a good list of Australian spirits like Tasmanian whiskies, a nice plump list of local wines and a reserve list that goes a bit further afield, you won’t go thirsty either.

So all in all, an impressive first day for A.Baker and one that promises great things for the increasingly exciting Canberra dining scene. And if you want even more excitement, then take a peek through glass double doors inside the restaurant, and you can see the work underway on rebuilding Parlour – set to open in early November. Once up and running, Braddon may well have a fight on its hands for hippest city hotspot.

the essentials

What: A.Baker
Where: 15 Edinburgh Avenue, New Acton
When: Opens at 7am, seven days til late.
Contact: 02 6287 6150
Web: www.abaker.com.au

Photographs by Scottie Cameron and Amanda Whitley. The author and her guests paid full price for their meal – this is not a paid review but reflects genuine experience.

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