Eightysix (86)

20 Nov

Eightysix (86) in Braddon needs no introduction. We arrive to our 6.30pm sitting (told during the booking that we have to give up the table by 8.15pm) and I expect to be overwhelmed with maximum pretentiousness, enjoy good food, and have a frantic, rushed experience.

It’s a lot smaller than I expect. We’re offered any of the as yet un-seated small tables in the middle of the restaurant, or to sit at the counter. Of course we choose the counter.

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Our drinks menu is a stapled few sheets of paper which clearly states it’s Wednesday 20 November on its front page. What drives Eighty-six is freshness, with food so seasonal that the food menu appears only on a blackboard. There’s a real push to create an impression that everything in this restaurant is ephemeral and likely to change (hence the name: to eighty-six something is to strike it off the menu), and I guess – while weird – printing a drinks menu and including today’s date is another touch to cement this impression, whether it’s true in reality or not.

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Indeed, menu choices people have raved to me about aren’t on the blackboard today, so we’re guided by our very hip waiter. This is my first experience with pretentiousness and I’ve prepared my non-plussed face. I’m pleasantly surprised. It’s pretentious, but not painful: our waiter is genuinely quick-witted and his quips are teasing without being offensive. In asking for our water choices he presents options of either sparkling or ‘Canberra vintage’ tap water. He’s pleasant and there are no snide remarks; he’s a pleasure to deal with.

Everyone who comes to Eighty-six is asked if they’ve been to Eighty-six before, because there’s a big explanation which comes with how to order food – ironically finished with a statement about how simple it all is. The foods range in prices from $4 for an oyster (no minimum or maximum order – big plus), less than $20 for a salad and up to $64 for a big shoulder of lamb. The dishes are designed to be shared (to avoid food envy) and if you’re still hungry after ordering a few things, you can order more.

I can’t see the price of the scallops (and really should have just stood up and gone and had a look), but we order six (three each). I get two of the McAsh Clyde River oysters.

McAsh oysters

McAsh oysters ($4 each)

Our waiter explains that McAsh is a sustainable oyster farm and other facts, and we’re given a similar explanation when they’re presented to us (by the front of house); it’s the first of a few moments which point to a little disconnection. The oysters themselves are of great texture and punchy flavour, but the muscle isn’t cut from the shell.

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My Scarlett Johansson cocktail (raspberries, aperol, lime and soda – $16) arrives soon after the oysters. It’s pretty with a lot of colour, but all I can taste is soda. It’s difficult to enjoy, and I regret my choice.

Scallops

Scallops

The scallops are a hugely popular choice; we watch batches and batches being cooked throughout the evening. Our plate arrives with black pudding crumble, cauliflower puree and fennel. We’ve recently had to die for, melt in your mouth scallops (with black pudding crumble…) at The Artisan in Narrabundah, as well as at the Belgian Beer Cafe. These scallops are just – just – slightly overcooked. (Masterchef and My Kitchen Rules has taught me this is very easy to do.) The texture is altered just enough for the cauliflower puree to carry the dish. The black pudding crumble doesn’t add much on this experience. This dish was $42 ($7 per scallop; see, I really should have looked at that price), and for that I’d expect each scallop to be absolutely perfect.

Wine rack above the bathroom door; it might be a gimick but the ladder is used throughout the night

Wine rack above the bathroom door; it might be a gimick but the ladder is used throughout the night

I rather like this light'shade'

I rather like this light’shade’

Sitting at the counter is as fun as everyone says. We quickly learn who has what role, and time passes quickly as we try to pick what dishes are being created.

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Finishing touches on the ghetto beef

Finishing touches on the ghetto beef

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What’s next?

Ghetto beef with salsa verde and parmesan

Ghetto beef with salsa verde and parmesan

The ghetto beef is a beautiful cut of meat and it’s cooked beautifully. The flavours all work here, the texture’s great. It’s a pleasure to eat, and worth the $38 for the dish.

Weirdly, the pink isn't all the way through the meat

Weirdly, the pink isn’t all the way through the meat

The writing's on the wall

The writing’s on the wall

Sitting in front of a kitchen means we get to watch everything closely. I particularly liked the following display, where:

Plating up the charcoal chicken

Plating up the buttermilk slaw for the charcoal chicken

Tasting the slaw

Tasting the slaw

Plating up gets scrapped because the jalapeno brine used in the slaw is way too spicy

Plating up gets scrapped because the jalapeno brine used in the slaw is way too spicy

The charcoal chicken is boiled in bags (with its bbq marinade) and then placed under a very hot grill/barbecue

The charcoal chicken is boiled in bags (with its bbq marinade) and then placed under a very hot grill/barbecue

Charcoal chicken with buttermilk slaw ($36)

Charcoal chicken with buttermilk slaw ($36)

The boiling of the chicken in a bag means it’s beautifully moist, and the crisping of the arbecue marinade makes for a great combo. I don’t dig in to the slaw because there’s enough flavour in every bite of the chicken, but Boyfriend demolishes it. I always think barbecue sauce is quite sugary, and there is something really quite sweet in the flavour of the marinade. I’m so full, but it’s such a shame not to finish this dish.

We rest for a little, and, full as we are, there’s still room for dessert. We intend to share one, but can’t decide, so order one each. Boyfriend gets the Black Forest terrine (previously named ‘Dark chocolate terrine with cherries’, I think!), and I almost get the popcorn sundae, but our waiter’s description of the passionfruit eton mess leaves me convinced it’s the refreshing dessert I’m looking for.

Black Forest terrine

Black Forest terrine ($14)

Passionfruit eton mess ($14)

Passionfruit eton mess ($14)

Boyfriend gets a flat white with his dessert, and I ask after their dessert wines; the front of house wants me to try an auslese riesling which he claims will go perfectly with the passionfruit dessert. (Note: on receiving the bill later the auslese is not included in our charges. I am unsure if this is because he genuinely wanted me to try something that I hadn’t otherwise ordered, or for another reason.) The front of house delivers Boyfriend’s flat white informing us that it’s the barista’s first night; when I respond with a, “Oh wow, really?” he laughs and says, “No, of course not.” It’s a petty example and I feel a bit silly for even writing about it, but that’s the sort of joking – harmless but absolutely pointless, and the result of which makes me feel a bit foolish and gullible – that would get on my nerves if I’d been exposed to it all night.

If my passionfruit eton mess looks like a passionfruit pavlova in a pretty glass… that’s because it is. The layers aren’t quite right: the lemon curd and passionfruit tartness is pooled at the bottom and I have to dig for it in earlier mouthfuls. There’s a stack of cream and sugary meringue. By all means it’s delicious, but the inconsistent layering and the surprise pool of tartness at the end, rather than all the way through, means it actually isn’t quite as good a match for the auslese as intended.

We leave in just under two hours; on our way out, we pass our waiter casually leaning against a pot plant out the front, casually but earnestly and confidently informing other diners about the menu options.

Date: 6.30-8.25pm, Wednesday 20 October 2013

Cost: $211.50 ($11 beer + $14 white wine + $14 red wine + $16 cocktail + $42 scallops + $8 oysters + $38 beef + $14 eton mess + $36 chicken + $14 terrine + $4.50 coffee)

Where: Corner Elouera and Lonsdale Street, Braddon (in the Mode 3 building)

Food creativity: 6 out of 10

Ability to take photos without a flash: 1 out of 10 (it’s rather dark)

Canberra region wines on wine list: There are six red wines of 23 (with most of those six offered by the glass), and three white wines of about 20 (only one offered by the glass). Drinks are very expensive, starting at a $4 tinnie of XXXX (Gold, I presume), but generally from $10 for a beer and about $12-13 for a glass of wine; cocktails are $16

Waitstaff pretentiousness: Medium, with potential to be high. Our waiter confidently navigates the very fine line between being friendly and being too friendly. We feel like he’s trustworthy and attentive; he add value to the experience. When he clears our plates and I grimace at the mess I’ve made off my plate, he states, “You had fun, didn’t you?” The front of house means well and is entirely pleasant and generous, but his superfluous comments range from the above joke, to repeating something we’ve already been told.

Worthwhile factor: Borderline highly worthwhile; the cocktail, scallops and eton mess bring it down for me. The experience isn’t rushed or frantic, and the food is good.

Want more? Their website gives you nothing except for contact details, but Google is your friend…

Eightysix on Urbanspoon

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5 Responses to “Eightysix (86)”

  1. Whispering Gums November 21, 2013 at 1:43 am #

    Sounds like fun. I must say sitting at the counter would not normally be my first option but I can see that here it would be good fun. (When at Biota we sat at a table but not far from the serving counter. We loved watching it all happening, though we weren’t close enough to hear anything). Eton Mess. One of my favourite desserts. I’m not sure that it should be layered cos it’s a mess, but I think the different components should be mixed throughout. (But perhaps that’s what you meant).

    I can see we need to try this place.

  2. Heike Herrling November 21, 2013 at 7:28 am #

    Man, being a waiter nowadays must be soooo much harder than in my day. Now you’re expected to be the entertainment, a stylish fashion model and a competent server. I’ve noticed this around Canberra – Mocan and Green Grout, Parlour, Silo and now Jamie’s seem to follow this same pattern. I hope they are all earning more than I did!

  3. Liz November 21, 2013 at 10:11 am #

    Thanks for the review….been wanting to try this place out when I next visit Canberra but it sounds a bit overrated (and not as good as what I could get in Sydney)….And $42 for the scallop dish is a bit rich

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Beer degustation at The Tradies with Chuck Hahn | In The Taratory - December 8, 2013

    […] Eightysix (86) (inthetaratory.wordpress.com) […]

  2. Brunch at Eightysix | In The Taratory - November 16, 2014

    […] Good Food Month, Eightysix – usually only open for lunch and dinner (my first experience here) – launched a Sunday brunch menu which they’ve decided to keep up […]

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