Gluten-free eating seems to be the food fad de jour, but for Canberra coeliac Kate…
Wedged in a tiny sliver of the Nibu Building on Lonsdale Street in Braddon, White Chaco may be small on size, but it’s big on appeal.
I have a new favourite restaurant. It is tiny, and quite hard to find. And the two times I have been there in the last week it has been fully booked. Which means, dear reader, that once I disclose where and what it is, the chances of me grabbing a table in the future are going to decrease substantially.
And yet somehow, I feel a duty to share this little gem—White Chaco.
It opened last year but if you haven’t found it yet, don’t feel bad—it is wedged in a tiny sliver of the Nibu Building on Lonsdale Street in Braddon and describes itself as a #hiddenrestaurant. Indeed, you walk down the tiny alley beside the barbershop then hang a sharp right and there it is—slender, dark, and invariably full.
Asian fusion is what the menu is all about and, like the restaurant, the menu is small and perfectly formed.
There is room for just over 20 people and it does two sittings a night to accommodate the fans.
Clearly, word of its superior ramen dishes, and expertly-executed Japanese and Taiwanese entrees and mains, has spread.
The first visit we go just out of curiosity. We have poked our heads around the corner a few times as we have meandered down Lonsdale Street and seen it heaving with people. What is the fuss about, we wonder?
It only takes entrées to find out. First, we opt for one of the three versions of popcorn chicken (Smokey, Taiwanese or Chong Qing). It arrives, crispy—not greasy—and expertly spiced.
The eggplant and tofu on savoy Sichuan sauce is similarly clear in flavour and clean-tasting, despite spending time in the deep fryer (yum). We try the seared scallop sashimi which is divine. Perfect plump little scallops with a heavy sear and a hit of wasabi on the side.
For mains we go curries—an Angus beef with pickles and sultanas for the carnivore and the seared 58-degree salmon with pickles and edamame for me.
Both dishes come with rice and plenty of well-flavoured soupy sauce.
It is at this point that I realise these dishes are surpassing my palate’s expectations on every count. And it is not just a lucky order. Everything is delicious. And yet all dishes are priced well below other fine diners in the vicinity. My salmon curry—a meal in itself—is just $17.90.
The popcorn chicken was $10.90 and the eggplant and tofu (which I stuffed myself with before I could even take a photo) was $16.90. How can that even be?
We finish the meal with a delightful surprise—the Belco Rabbit, which consists of frozen honey and white chocolate mousse on a bed of chocolate soil and matcha grass. If you can eat one of these bunnies without taking a photo first you are a stronger person than I.
There is only one other desert—a green tea and sesame icecream.
I look around at the dark walls, hanging botanical paintings, and the black tiled kitchen—which seems to take out more space than the seating area which surely bodes well about how seriously they are taking their efforts. Everything is so artful, from the pottery dishes to the large wooden spoons and chopsticks.
I literally cannot wait to come back—which I do six days later.
This time we head straight into ramen territory—but not before knocking back some fried dumplings (sesame, spiced peanuts, fried leek and sweetened garlic soy) which certainly pack a punch. Another variation on the popcorn chicken arrives (in the interests of thorough research you understand) as does the salmon sashimi—and neither last long.
At last its time to get slurpy on generous pottery bowls of ramen. A smoked cashu pork belly for him and—wait for it—a TRUFFLE ramen for me.
Yep. Out it comes, truffle-infused veggie and shitake stock with tofu, onion, braised bamboo, nori and a lava egg. Praise the lord it’s everything I hoped it would be—salty, sweet, thick and heady with fungus. I may have noodles in my hair, but I really don’t care. If this isn’t Canberra’s best winter dish then I don’t know what is.
A final quick word goes to the wine list which is well-balanced and bespoke—it contains some carefully-selected reds and whites, seven different sakes, whiskeys, ciders, beers and some quirky cocktails.
Frankly I plan to try them all as I can’t get enough of this tiny yet wondrous place. I already know what I am going to order next and it has to do with a seared-cheese curry (can you even? No neither can I.).
I am just hoping that sharing my excitement isn’t going to crowd me out of future tables. But if it does, you’re welcome. That’s what friends are for.
What: White Chaco
Where: G10/27, Lonsdale Street Braddon. (Hang a sharp right in front of the barber shop in the Nibu Building!)
Hours: Thursday-Monday lunch 12-2pm and dinner 5.30-9pm, Wednesday 5.30-9pm and closed Tuesday