Meet Frances Summers, who has been steadily ticking off our HerCanberra foodie bucket list, or,…
In just one week’s time, the much-anticipated OTIS Dining Hall will open its doors to the public.
Last night I was fortunate enough to get a taste of some of the ideas for its menu in the revamped space that used to house Kingston’s Belgian Beer Cafe.
OTIS’ owner/Chef Damian Brabender said he was aiming for food that was nostalgic and comforting, but with a mature take. Examples of this were his versions of Neapolitan ice cream and the half chook with truffle pan gravy and chats. The nostalgia was also reflected in the music, which was very much to my taste as it was mostly 90s!
I asked Damian why he’d chosen the name OTIS, and he said it was purposely abstract and vague, so people could decide for themselves what they thought the OTIS connection was (my friend first thought of Otis Redding, I first thought of Milo and Otis. Clearly I’m the mature one). He said this was also how he wanted diners to experience OTIS, to make of it what they wanted—somewhere suitable for a date, for dinner with a group of friends, somewhere to enjoy a drink, somewhere to just eat, drink, and have a good conversation.
I was pleased to hear that OTIS would be taking bookings, and not just in the sitting times that appear to be the norm in most other places (e.g. 6pm and 8.30pm). Damian said he wanted people to be able to have a night out at OTIS and enjoy themselves for as long as they wanted. This statement was backed up by the fact that they purposely bought extremely comfortable chairs. My friend and I were at OTIS for about six hours and will vouch that the chairs are very comfy indeed!
While OTIS is starting off serving just dinner, the intent is that it will also be open for lunch later down the track, with a menu that will look quite different to dinner. Speaking of menus, the dishes are designed to share. You can order à la carte or go for the ‘Eat like OTIS’ option, where you let them choose for you and bring you lots of food!
My friend and I decided this sounded awesome, so we chose to eat like OTIS. Our first dish was a light entrée: avocado with lime, salt, coriander and spanner crab with corn chips. This was light and refreshing and a dish I thought would be great in summer.
Next was a serve of poutine featuring Dr Pepper braised beef and cheese curds. The beef was my favourite part of this, it was really tender and tasty. I later found out it was oxtail, which explained my penchant for it, as one of my all-time favourite foods is my mother’s oxtail soup. Damian explained that the chips that were used were just for that night, and in future they’d be making hand cut chips for the poutine.
A blooming French onion with shallots and pecorino was then presented to us. My friend and I made very short work of this, as it was really easy to eat and really moreish.
We were then given a serve of the Caesar lettuce cups with Pialligo bacon and poached chicken. I described this as Caesar salad san choy bow. Neither of us had had Caesar salad served like this before. I enjoyed the novelty of it and the freshness of the salad.
The cacio e pepe, spaghettini, cheese and pepper was next. This was a nice, comforting dish for those with less adventurous tastebuds.
I was curious about the next dish after seeing it on the menu, and I’m glad it was included in our meal: the garden pea risotto with poached egg and raclette cheese. It was easily the most unusual risotto my friend and I had ever had, and we both really liked it. It was really light for a risotto (the secret: no cream), and the flavours went together really well. This was one of our favourite dishes.
A serve of baked ocean trout with garlic, dill, and local bee pollen was next. The trout was cooked absolutely perfectly and matched beautifully with the accompaniments.
My friend had specifically requested the pork jowl with smoked mussels, burnt aubergine and nori. This was a dish I recognised from Damian’s time at Sage Dining Rooms, and it was just as good as I remembered it. My friend also really liked this dish.
Our last main was an OTIS pepper steak with silkwood brandy jus (which came in a little gravy boat). Like the trout, the steak was cooked perfectly, so it was lovely and tender. The jus was just wonderful and I probably poured more than half the contents of the gravy boat on my share of the steak.
It was then time for dessert. Our first choice was the magnum and lemon meringue love child with candied zest. Lemon isn’t often paired with chocolate, and I really liked the combination. My friend felt the lemon flavour could have been more tart, and Damian took this feedback on board.
Next was another dish similar to one I’d had when Damian was at Sage, and one he’d done at The Truffle Farm earlier this year, the chocolate rocher with hazelnut, truffle and malt. I loved it the first time I had it, and I still love it now. It was to die for. My friend also loved it, and was licking the remnants off her spoon to make sure she got every last bit.
Damian then surprised us with a serve of the Neapolitan ice cream: chocolate, strawberry and vanilla, with wafers. While it might sound simple, I knew the ice cream would be house-made and therefore pretty special. I was right. All three flavours were lovely and smooth, but the stand out was the strawberry, which was made with fresh fruit.
My friend said it transported her back to the time she went berry picking and was eating fresh strawberries on the farm. Even after we were both so full we could barely move and the ice cream started turning into soup as we slowed down, we (ok, I) continued to eat spoonfuls of it.
Damian said he and the team would be refining the menu over the coming week, taking some things off and maybe tweaking some others. That means when you go to OTIS, you might not get exactly what we had, but if our experience was anything to go by, whatever you order, you won’t be disappointed. I’m certainly looking forward to going back, and I’ve already booked in a dinner for later this year.
The place: OTIS Dining Hall
Where: 29 Jardine Street, Kingston
When: Open for dinner from Friday, 24 September 2016, and will open for lunch later this year.
Food: Nostalgic with a mature twist
Drink: Wine, beer, cocktails
Contact: Call 02 6260 6066, visit their website or Facebook page, or book through Dimmi.
Feature image by Martin Ollman.