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PUBLIC BAR MANUKA

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Back in my ‘youth’, Manuka was THE place to be and be seen. Just 10 years ago it was Canberra’s fine dining hub, boasting several SMH Good Food Guide faves, with The Ottoman, A Foreign Affair and Atlantic within half a block of each other. Then one moved to Barton and the others closed their doors.

More recently, The Julep Lounge brought a touch of class to the cocktail scene (alas, no longer); and Urban Pantry‘s arrival and Belluci’s swanky refurbishment injected some much-needed class.

Of course, the stalwarts – Abell’s Kopi Tiam and Timmy’s Kitchen, for example – have been offering quality nosh for years, but the rest of them? Unfortunately, there has been a seemingly endless rotating door of mediocre establishments which seldom see out their leases; and a distinct lack of truly inspired restaurants.

Thank goodness, then, for Public which opened its simply stunning doors in December. Already it is providing some much needed life to the Manuka strip, and bringing the 25-45 year old market back to the suburb.

A gastropub, modelled on Double Bay’s The Golden Sheaf and South Yarra’s The Botanical, it really is like nothing Canberra has seen before. There are some similarities in approach to its stablemate, Sub-Urban in Dickson, but the end result is much more Gin Garden than beer garden.

From the nod to the traditional Australian pub in the gilt-edged lettering on the doors to the suspended ceiling of hanging ferns – this is a beautiful place for beautiful people. And so it should be, with its rumoured $3 million fitout by SJB Interiors.

It’s both a bar and a restaurant, and has two different menus – Bar and Dining – to cater to those who (a) are keen for some decent light eats to accompany their drinks; and (b) more interested in putting food first. Both offer excellent choices.

Public is a class act. With some of Canberra’s most successful restauranteurs, bar-owners and branders behind it (Soc Kochinos to name just one) it sticks to the tried and true formula that has made Cream, and the aforementioned Urban Pantry, Belluci’s and Sub-Urban hits: cute staff (check); casual, hip uniforms (check); friendly and efficient service (check): fabulous fitout (check).  But, looks aside, does it deliver?

The answer (based on my extensive and selfless research…well, three visits) is a resounding ‘yes’!

Let’s get this out of the way first. Public isn’t a place for the faint-walleted…even the wine list is pretty steep.

A light beer costs $6.50 and you won’t get much change from $10 for even the cheapest wine by the glass. BUT. The wines are good…and, call me a snob, but I’d much prefer to pay a few dollars more for a really nice wine than the usual pretty ordinary tipple available by the glass.

And the food. We ate in the restaurant part of Public for my husband’s birthday and I could not fault it…and neither could my three dining companions. Which is pretty impressive for a venture in its infancy.

Our entrees set the bar high from the outset. The fresh, colourful Sashimi Plate ($25) – pictured at right; the Yellow Fin Tuna Tartare with toasted hazelnuts, eschallot and preserved lemon ($19); and the Charred Baby Octopus with roquette, cabernet vinegar and lemon pressed olive oil ($21) were all beautifully executed. I was particularly impressed with the raw dishes, and the restraint shown by the chef in letting the quality of the fresh seafood be the star.

Main was equally impressive. I don’t usually order chicken at a restaurant, because all too often it turns out to be the bland option…but that certainly wasn’t the case with the Barossa Valley Chicken with sage, prosciutto & summer vegetables ($32) – pictured at right. Not only was the chicken cooked to perfection, but the broth positively burst with flavour. Perfectly seasoned and absolutely moreish.

My lovely husband and the other bloke at our table opted for the Confit Duck with red radish, cavelo nero & cabernet reduction ($36). It was a big, ballsy dish (bordering on wintery) with bags of flavour; the duck beautifully tender.

And the last member of our quartet enjoyed the Yellow Fin Tuna Minute Steaks with eggplant, zucchini and sicilian fishermen dressing ($36), a tasty and filling seafood dish which recalled the ‘stacks’ that were so popular last decade.

At about this point in the proceedings, my bladder signalled it was time to check out the Ladies Room. For a while there, funky and complex designed bathrooms seemed to be the yardstick by which the newest ‘it’ restaurants and bars were determined.

So it was somewhat refreshing to find that Public sought inspiration from the past; recalling the “Public Bar” theme firstly on the bathroom doors, and continuing with the ‘vintage’ basins.

But back to the food. Remember that scene in Shrek where the film’s namesake gives Donkey a lesson on why ogres are like onions (they both have layers) and Donkey suggests cake would be a better thing to be…or perhaps a parfait.

“You know what ELSE everybody likes? Parfait! Have you ever met a person, you say, “Let’s get some parfait,” they say, “Hell no, I don’t like no parfait”? Parfaits are delicious!”

Well, it’s kind of an unwritten rule in our house that if there’s parfait on the menu, we must order it. (And say ‘PARFAIT!’ in a silly Eddie Murphy-as-Donkey voice, but that’s another story.)

ANYHOOOO. So it came to pass that two of us ordered the Peanut Butter and Chocolate Parfait with vanilla bean ice cream ($15) – pictured at right. Dear Lord. I died and went to Parfait Heaven. There’s something about the combination of peanut butter and chocolate that is irresistible. Like one giant Reece’s Peanut Butter Cup. But better. Much better.

It was so good that my usual dessert nirvana of Classic Creme Brulee with almond tuilles ($15) paled in comparison, although it was also a great rendition.

The verdict? Public is clearly here to stay. And hoo-bloody-ray to that, I say.

Public is at the corner of Flinders Way and Franklin Street in Manuka. It’s open for a late breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days.

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4 Responses to PUBLIC BAR MANUKA

Sonia Bowditch says: 27 January, 2012 at 12:13 pm

Sounds good.

We were at Belluci’s (Dickson) yesterday and the dessert I had was also a fantastic choco/peanut putter combo. Specifically, a chocolate and caramel tart with salted peanut butter gelati. Yummo.

Michelle Brotohusodo says: 28 January, 2012 at 7:21 pm

It sounds intriguing, and as you know I always love finding somewhere good to eat, but I have to say the description ‘this is a beautiful place for beautiful people’ puts me off a little. No matter how much effort I put in, when I go to ‘beautiful places for beautiful people’, I often feel like either a) I don’t fit in as I’m not a ‘beautiful person’ or b) I can’t be bothered putting in the effort required to make me feel like I can walk into one of these places without people looking at me askance. The Kennedy Room at Kingston and Tongue & Groove, while favourites with some of my friends, are two such places. However, if there is good food I can put my paranoia aside – and after seeing your pictures and reading your descriptions I probably will check this one out…after finding suitable attire and finding my make up bag 😉

Amanda Whitley says: 29 January, 2012 at 9:24 am

Hey Michelle, yeah, there is definitely a bit of that going on…but less so in the restaurant section. It has a very different feel; is quite intimate and tucked away and less of a ‘showpiece’.

Also, during the day, you see a lot of families there so there are definitely times when it’s not all about ‘being seen’!

It’s worth it for the food xx

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