It was a Saturday night, a cold wet raining night in July in Canberra. I shared dinner with a friend for her birthday.
OTIS Dining Hall is where the Little Brussels Belgian Beer Cafe used to be. Head chef, Damian Brabender was formerly of Sage Dining Rooms; another favourite Canberra restaurant. Damian is also associated with The Truffle Farm in Canberra.
On arrival, I was recognised by the maître d’ which is nice. Our waiter for the evening was Tom, who is a very friendly, helpful and knowledgable about the menu and the philosophy behind each dish. All the produce and main elements of each dish are sourced from Canberra or very close by in New South Wales.
We decided on the five-course chef’s menu.
- House-made tagliatelle with cracked pepper, black truffle and parmesan
- Windsor quail, artichoke, hazelnut and watercress
- Baby barramundi, shiitake mushroom, coriander and ginger
- OTIS pepper steak, silk-wood brandy jus, served with French fries
- Crème caramel, whisky and smoked sea salt
The entire meal was filled with really nice flavours and the portion size, in my opinion, was perfect. Not too big and not too small.
It’s truffle season in Canberra so the first dish was a creamy tagliatelle with truffle infused and two wafers of truffle on top. This was amazing, and if the steak didn’t exist this would have been my favourite dish. As far as a dish licking score is concerned (desserts should be excluded because all desserts should be disk licked), this was on top. If I wasn’t in a public space, I would have put that bowl to my face and licked every last bit of creamy truffle goodness from the dish.
The second dish was a local quail done three ways, with crispy crackling skin and a version of a KFC herbs and spices quail thigh. Apparently, Damian has a thing for KFC. Good to know since I also have a thing, well let’s call it a deep and abiding love for KFC thighs. This was one of those dishes where if there was more I could just keep going, fortunately, it was a perfect portion for the second dish. It had me wanting more.
The third dish was fish, one of my favourite tropical fighting fish is the barramundi. It has firm white flesh and this dish was barramundi but with really crispy skin. It had shiitake mushrooms and ginger. Okay, so I will say, this portion was a little small for my liking. The skin was perfect and the flesh firm. Mmm… I love firm flesh to eat, but you know, I’ve been Barra fishing in the Top End, and the most magnificent fish meal I’ve ever enjoyed was catching a Barra, killing it in ice, watching the guide fillet it perfectly, chuck the skin into the air for a hawk to swoop and take it mid-air, and then pan-fry that gorgeous firm white flesh in a well seasoned frying pan with butter and lemon. Nothing, and I mean nothing can beat that for an eating experience.
The fourth dish was a pepper-coated steak, cooked perfectly rare and rested well. It was served with a brandy jus and some chips (fries). Coupled with a perfectly weighted steak knife, eating a small but thick portion of juicy tender steak is amazing. I loved this dish. The pepper coating sang in my mouth, as I breathed in I could feel the fresh peppery sensation on my tongue. There’s something to be said about having a good quality steak knife when eating a perfectly cooked piece of steak. It’s like being an artist with the best quality equipment.
The fifth dish was dessert and it was a crème caramel with hints of whisky and sea salt in the caramel. Tom told us that the chef who made this, made this dish for her interview and she hasn’t been allowed to modify it ever. The gradient of flavour intensified as you got to the centre. It just kept getting better and better.
This was a superb meal. I just wish I could drink alcohol. Tom described the accompanying wines with great passion.
You can reserve a table online with Dimmi or just call and make a booking. If you live in Canberra or visiting, I highly recommend OTIS Dining Hall.
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