Pulp Kitchen at Ainslie

20 Jan

Ainslie’s Pulp Kitchen is cheerful, popular and recently made the Good Food Top 20 Canberra restaurants list – so, the perfect birthday dinner venue, right?

We arrive a little late to our friends’ (two birthdays, one table) birthday dinner at the Ainslie shops, scheduled for a 7.30pm start – a Canberra January is still bright at this time. We first pop into Ainslie Cellars around the corner to buy a celebratory sparkling, and it’s hard to tear me away from the huge array of Canberra wines available. I know I bang on about the great selection at otherwise humble Canberra Cellars (Luxton Street, Belco) but this is something else. I think it’s worthwhile to make a special trip out in the near future (they’re also on Twitter!).

My first impression of Pulp Kitchen is that it’s pleasant. And busy. When other Canberra restaurants are still closed on this second weekend in January, it’s packed – both inside and out. Even though it’s been a hot day, it’s cool inside and there’s plenty of water on the table, which is constantly being refilled – a godsend, and a nice touch.

Just like around the corner, the wine list at Pulp Kitchen is sensational. Most of my other restaurant reviews reflect on how little Canberra wine is listed on the menu, but there’s no need to lecture Pulp Kitchen. They know what they’re talking about, and they flaunt it. I think this is the best Canberra wine list I’ve seen in a Canberra restaurant.

Good work.

Good work.

More good work on the blackboard.

More good work on the blackboard.

There are two huge blackboards at each end of the restaurant, so you can see the specials from whichever way you’re facing – together with the floor to ceiling windows looking outside, it also removes the need for decor! I find it a bit curious that the blackboard specials are exactly the same as what’s in the menu. If they’re in the menu (indeed, listed as ‘blackboard specials’!), does that mean they’re permanent, not specials? I would understand if those sitting outside got the blackboard specials on the menu, given they can’t see the specials inside, but why do those inside get the specials repeated three times? Hm.

That said, what tempts me is from the blackboard specials menu, so perhaps there’s something subliminal here. I’m less sure about the oven baked camenbert (sic) (misspelt on the menu, on the blackboard, and online), but there are some great options available, and I love that almost every dish comes as either an entree or a main – giving you the option to mix and match and try a few different things. This removes any unnecessary order envy – ie, when someone orders something you wish you’d ordered.

It is a long, long, long wait to order. Really long. Granted, the final guest takes a little time to arrive, but it’s still a long time – close to 45 minutes later. Some of us order entrees and mains, and some only mains. Those of us (yes, okay, me) who order two entrees but no main are advised that one can come out with the entrees, and one with the mains, which sounds perfect, and I love that this can be seemingly easily accommodated. In the meantime, another staffer notices our valiant attempts to fix our wobbly table and attends to it quickly. The wait at this point doesn’t seem too bad, but we probably all eat a little too much bread to compensate.

Entrees come out at 8.45pm. My order of beef carpaccio with lemon and olive oil dressing has simply delicious beef, but I feel the parsley overwhelms it. While it’s a nice light start, I’m not sure I’d get it again.

Parsley with beef carpaccio

Parsley with beef carpaccio

For all my raving about the option to have entrees and try a few different things, I soon realise this might also be Pulp’s undoing. It’s another long, long wait for the mains to be served. Our entrees only take a few minutes to eat, and I would expect that the mains would have been ready to be served fairly soon after, particularly given we arrived at 7.30pm and it’s now past 9, and some of the guests haven’t eaten yet.

A lone piece of bread sits sullenly in the middle of the table, even after the entrees are cleared away. One guest asks if she can have it to stave off the hunger, but finds she can’t cut through it because it’s now rock hard.

Sad face bread

Sad face bread

We manage to drink a bottle of wine between courses, which again might just be Pulp Kitchen’s clever way of getting you to spend more.

9.38pm. The mains arrive. Hooray! Opinions across the table about the food are mixed. The tagliatelle with king prawns in a brandy, chilli and garlic sauce is a touch bland. An entree size has about 3-4 prawns. The birthday girl loves the spatchcock two ways, but even though she hadn’t had an entree, and had specifically asked for it to be a main, it comes out as an entree. (And it’s charged on the bill as an entree.)

2013-01-12 21.38.46

The sides are pretty delicious. I could eat a bowlful of the Lyonnaise potatoes, and the salt on the steamed green beans brings out the flavours.

Boyfriend has also skipped the entree and his beetroot tarte tartin with goat curd arrives as a main, but – and our minds might be affected by the wine we’ve consumed between courses – appears to be the same size as the tarte tatin entree a friend had had an hour earlier. (It’s charged on the bill as a main.)

Beetoort tarte tatin

Beetroot tarte tatin. Parsley makes a reappearance.

We give the waiting times a third opportunity with dessert. They take our orders fairly soon after the main, to their credit, but the desserts don’t arrive until 10.30pm (the restaurant closes at 10). The dessert is probably the best part of the meal for me, and everyone at the table seems to enjoy what they’re eating. The birthday girl orders creme brulee, while we can’t go past the dark chocolate mousse with sorbert and ricotta doughnut. The dishes are small, but divine.

Chocolate mousse

Chocolate mousse

Creme brulee

Creme brulee

A quarter of an hour after dessert is finished, yet no one’s asked us if we’d like anything else (to give us an opportunity to ask for the bill).ย  So we ask – twice – while most of the staff seems to be standing behind us near the counter wiping up glasses. The bill’s delayed significantly because our fairly complicated table orders are all written onto a bill by hand. I haven’t seen that anywhere in a long time, especially at a restaurant – is it usual? The bill arrives at our weary table about 11.10pm. The restaurant is almost empty, so I can only presume that the table service throughout the restaurant has otherwise been okay.

I leave Pulp with mixed feelings – not least because of the many surprised reactions I received on Twitter when I said our experience was long (just under 4 hours!) and average. It’s clearly a favourite among many Canberrans, and there are mitigating factors on our night – we were a big table (10ish), a bit complicated with our ordering (but I’m not sure that justifies a two hour wait for some to receive their first meal), and they were very busy. If I knew on my next visit that they would be as proactive with their menu and food service as they were with their water refilling, then I’d go back. But I’m just not confident.

Date: 7.30pm-11.30pm, Saturday 12 January 2013

Attendees: T1 and friends

Cost: Varied! Entrees about $18, mains about $27 and desserts about $14. Wine list reasonable (and great selection).

Worthwhile factor: Not worthwhile

Want more? Try their lunch and dinner menu online (complete with ‘blackboard specials’!)

Pulp Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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5 Responses to “Pulp Kitchen at Ainslie”

  1. Gary Lum January 21, 2013 at 5:42 am #

    I really appreciate the way you right your reviews T1. I really don’t like waiting more than about 20 minutes between entrรฉe and main course, that said I don’t being rushed and forced to leave early ๐Ÿ™‚

    • inthetaratory January 21, 2013 at 9:09 am #

      Thanks Gary! Agreed – it is one thing to wait, and another to be pushed out! Timing is a funny thing tho – you only notice is when it is bad!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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