This story first appeared in Vacations & Travel magazine, autumn 2019, issue 110
Discover the capital’s new culinary staple.
At Monster Kitchen and Bar, which sits in the lobby of Ovolo Nishi Canberra, you’ll find curiosities at just about every turn. There’s a jumble of ornate lighting fixtures, mismatched art, pot plants, and colourful vintage furnishings making the restaurant feel like a seamless extension of the eclectic hotel in which it resides.
Monster is where Nishi guests eat breakfast (included in every stay), and it’s also where patrons – guests and locals alike – stop by for a modern Australian dining experience. With accolades including a Good Food Guide Chef’s Hat and one star in Gourmet Traveller’s Australian Restaurant Guide 2018, Monster has become a culinary staple of the Australian capital. During my visit, it’s completely full, with a number of eager diners awaiting a table at the impressive lobby bar.
Monster’s also been going through some changes since the boutique hotel, formerly Hotel-Hotel, was adopted by Hong Kong-based Ovolo Hotel Group. In August 2018, head chef Daniel Flatt was promoted to executive chef; and the group has appointed Ian Curley, a Melbourne-based chef and hospitality consultant, to take up the role of consulting culinary partner.
The refreshed, seasonal menu stays true to Ovolo’s ethos of showcasing the best of its surrounds, with Curley commenting that he and Flatt “know exactly where all our produce comes from, who the farmer is and how it’s reared. We are proud of what we serve and believe the produce is the real hero, not a celebrity chef.”
Similarly, the wine and beer list contains regional pours alongside varietals from France, Austria, Spain, South Africa and Germany. My dining partner and I sample a Radford Dale Chenin Blanc from Stellenbosch and a Ravensworth ‘The Grainery’ Viognier made in Canberra, but another highlight includes local biodynamic producer, Lark Hill.
After perusing the menu, which is made up of small- and medium-sized plates designed for sharing, we choose a beef tartare to start. It’s far from traditional, accompanied by miso-cured egg yolk, avocado, horseradish and black rice puffs. The textural variation is the stand-out of the dish, with the tender beef contrasting wonderfully against the crispy rice puff and smooth avocado. A smaller plate of fried chicken is glazed with sticky soy sauce and garnished with roasted sesame seeds, which is unfortunately only let down by the chicken being a little dry.
A juicy snapper with pickled zucchini, tomato confit and capers is cooked and presented beautifully; and is followed by twice-cooked duck breast with carrot and pickled cherries – the acidity in the cherries perfectly pairs with the flavourful fattiness of the duck. Overall, Curley and Flatt’s commitment to quality produce rings true – the ingredients are the star of the plate, providing flavour and textural variation that hits the spot.