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Welcome back Pulp Kitchen! You’ve been missed.
And now that we can have a good look at you, we see you have had some subtle work done. You look fresher and more beautiful than before. But you are still a familiar face. And that is reassuring when you are a favourite haunt—and maybe a lesson for us all.
Inner-northsiders (confession: that would be me) have been patiently awaiting the return of their local bistro, while Canberrans have been growing excited by what is to come.
It turns out that Gus had been lobbying for first dibs on the small corner foothold in the popular Ainslie shops for years. He has a sentimental attachment to the place, having fallen in love with his wife on neighbouring Cox Street. And while he loved the brash and crazy atmosphere of eightysix which helped place Canberra on the national culinary map, Gus was keen for something quieter – more genteel and considered.
This is what he has in the clean new look of Pulp Kitchen. Seating just 50, with an open kitchen defined by simple lines of gleaming stainless steel, a bustling staff set about perfecting a small and bespoke menu which Gus defines as “Australian Bistro”. The team draws mainly on the young blood of eightysix and local nose-to-tail movement Blood and Bone. Head chef Josh Lundy is just 22, while sous chef Justin Francis is 20. An affable floor staff is headed by Ross McQuinn (and he looks pretty millennial too.)
Gus says one of his aims in taking over Pulp Kitchen is to bring through a new generation of industry stars – and he says he is happy to stay in the background as a mentor.
There are six entrees and six mains supplemented by five small starters including baguette with aniseed butter, brook trout cavier, pikelets and cultured cream or Jamon Iberico with baguette and lemon.
Entrées include foie gras parfait with brioche and cumquat, French onion soup with vintage Comte and St Agur, apple, parsley and witlof (which is happily reminiscent of the divinely simple St Agur and witlof dish we’ve ordered many a time at eightysix).
We choose an interesting-sounding “small risotto with pippie juice and dashi” and a dish of “beetroot, orange, feta and tarragon”.
The beetroot is beautiful, pairing well with the other flavours and looking dramatic on the plate. But one stolen bite of my companion’s risotto and I have severe order envy.
While the mound of all-white risotto looks rather unassuming, the power of the pippie juice, dashi, onion and chilli is remarkable – imparting heat and excitement and a perfect amount of bite in each grain of rice. It is over all-too-soon, and we wholeheartedly suggest Gus serves it as a “large dish” too. He is justifiably proud of the risotto, admitting that he was experimenting one night with few ingredients and a bag of pippies that were nearing their used-by date. Sometimes these haphazard kitchen enterprises result in magic. Honestly, this is one of those dishes you just fall in love with.
The restaurant seems larger and more airy than before thanks in part to an all-white theme offset by elegant black bentwood chairs at each table. Open grey render on the end walls helps muffle the sound that in earlier incarnations of Pulp Kitchen made intimate conversation a little challenging. Padded white ceiling panels help mitigate echoes off the concrete floor. One wall lined with bottles helps warm the space while 13 beautiful glass pendant lights (hand-picked by Aaron Copeland of Capezio Copeland) provide a slightly industrial focal point (you can buy them from Fat Shack Vintage; you’re welcome).
Mains arrive in the form of the Saskia Beer roast chicken with kale and anchovy, while I choose the aubergine, black vinegar, tomato and sesame.
The chicken looks every bit as wholesome and home cooked as you would find in the French provincial kitchen of a retired Michelin-starred chef, while my aubergine is a little “tricked up” coming with a crispy bite from a very light batter and a beautiful hint of what is more lemony than vinegar to break up the heaviness.
We order a side of frites. Because. Chippies.
It’s been less than a week since Pulp reopened its doors and there has been a healthy interest from diners for both the lunch and dinner sittings (I know this from stalking the front window during my frequent trips to the Ainslie IGA to stock up on cheese). But tonight, in the interests of research, I will forgo my preference for a cheese platter in order to try one of the three desserts.
We choose the flourless chocolate cake and a lemon tart. The chocolate tart has complexity due to a hint of cinnamon and espresso and sits in a luscious puddle of chocolate sauce. But the lemon tart. Oh it is a sensation! Glossy and bright, pungent with citrus yet as light as a feather.
We are done. Excited, satisfied, but not feeling overwhelmed by serving sizes.
There is so much to look forward to in future visits and the best bit is that we can stumble home. What a fine time to live in the People’s Republic of Ainslie.
What: Pulp Kitchen has reopened under new management
Where: 1 Wakefield Gardens Ainslie
Open: From 5.30 for dinner 7 days, from 11.30 for lunch from Friday to Sunday.
Contact: 02 6257 4334