Yes, Easter is just weeks away… and yes, the HerCanberra office is already well into…
Drumroll, please as we take great delight in revealing Canberra’s hotly anticipated new restaurant, eightysix south.
We can faithfully report that it is same, same, but different to its iconic Braddon big brother, eightysix north.
Located in Woden, next to the Alby, you’ll recognise immediately its trademark dark and industrial fit-out courtesy of the design team at Capezio Copeland.
The open kitchen pass, pared-back furniture and long banquette seat is also eerily similar (truly if you closed your eyes, spun around and opened them suddenly, there’s a fair chance you could mistake yourself for being on Lonsdale Street).
And of course, you’ll recognise the distinctive menu scrawled across the back wall in white chalk.
BUT! There are differences.
While eightysix north has built a truly national reputation cheekily experimenting with whatever fashionable food is doing the rounds (think sliders and bao) eightysix south is taking a slightly more classic direction with its food. To Italy.
Owner Gus Armstrong said the menu was more refined, and referenced what you might cook at home (if you were an extremely skilled chef). Less eclectic, more classic.
While eightysix north put Canberra on the map with dishes like its black chicken and caramel popcorn sundae (so lauded around the country that it landed its own cover of Gourmet Traveller Magazine) its southern cousin is serving classics.
Think Chicken Milanese with Pecorino Cream, Corn and Taleggio Tortellini with Chilli Butter, and Gnocchi with ‘Nduja Cream and Breadcrumbs.
Desserts are pared back to Lemon Tart, Tiramisu and Pannacotta.
But we all know Gus sets his sights high. So when you order Lemon Tart, it will be a perfectly refined shortcrust pastry baked before service each night holding a filling so fresh that it will never, ever see the fridge.
“It’s a simple lemon tart, but it is as perfect as we can make it—a cloud of air that floats straight into your soul,” Gus laughs.
He is surprisingly calm about the opening on Thursday night, saying he refuses to make one complaint about how difficult it has been establishing a second restaurant on the other side of town amid the shifting sands of lockdowns, supply issues and endless delays caused by the pandemic.
“I’m just not even going there, as we have all suffered during COVID.”
A couple of years in the planning, Gus has taken the leap across the bridge for a number of reasons—including first and foremost, the love of a challenge.
But he has also moved closer to Woden himself, was keen to be part of DOMA’s reimagining of the satellite centre, and wants to give opportunities to his talented staff.
“One of the reasons I have wanted to do this is because I was not happy seeing a lot of good people leave, and I want to see them flourish in the industry.”
These include his wunderkind manager and co-owner of eightysix south, Miguel Estanillo, who began managing eightysix north at just 20 years of age.
There’s also Gus’ head chef Mick Rees who, during the preparation stage was assisted by kitchen whiz Aidan Kidson, freshly returned from London.
Aidan helped now works his magic on those classic dishes through late-night cooking sessions with Gus.
Gus hopes the new restaurant carries on with the playfulness and irreverence that has marked eightysix north’s impact on the city, but does so with a slightly more grounded menu.
“The time and effort we have taken with each dish has been to really nail them, for instance, the potato focaccia has been a huge undertaking even though it sounds so simple.”
It has had input from some of the city’s top food creatives, including Peter Kang from Ramentic in order to create “air-fried crunchy potato magic,” according to Gus.
He has been managing expectations from diners since last year when eightysix’s social media was tweaked to read eightysix north.
“Yep that set the cat among the pigeons,” Gus admitted.
And this week, when the doors open, he can only hope that there is enough food to ensure that blackboard menu isn’t wiped clean of dishes before the night is out—as happened frequently in Braddon.
“We are ready for it. I hope.”
What: eightysix south
Where: 45 Furzer Street Woden
When: Opening Thursday 17 March, then open Wednesday to Saturday for lunch from midday, and Tuesday to Saturday for dinner from 6pm til late