On Red, Red Hill

8 Sep

Mid-year, Living Social advertises that they’ve got a degustation deal at On Red. For $99, Boyfriend and I can enjoy a five course meal which is normally valued at $94 per person. I snatch it up because it seems almost too good to be true. It almost is: On Red is booked out for most of its weekends and we finally find a mid-week dinner when both the restaurant and we are free, just before the voucher expires.

On Red’s at the top of Red Hill – not just the suburb, but the hill. I always thought On Red was known for its good service, food and its views. The views are certainly on point, and when we name ourselves on arrival, our waiter already knows we’ve got a voucher – a good sign.

On Red is circular with almost all the tables next to the wraparound windows. In the ‘middle’ of the floor is a small bar, the entrance and view into the kitchen, and the very large wine cabinet. Our wine menu lists an impressive collection of Canberra gems but we opt for matching wines with our dinner which appears to be okay value at $40 each (on top of the $99 we’ve already paid).

It’s a long time since I’ve had substandard bread in a Canberra restaurant – much of the bread in Canberra is actually worth raving about – and at first I’m convinced there’s something wrong with me. The tasteless, cold pistachio and cumin butter does little to mask the texture of the cold, dense, rock-like rolls of bread. I’m so surprised that I keep eating it, hoping it will get better.

Our first course is a tomato soup with crostini and a generous helping of truffled pecorino. Adding the pecorino in early means it’s absorbed the soup beautifully and adds to the dish, but the crostini’s been added at the same time and it’s soggy. This is a lovely soup, but for a fine dining restaurant to serve soup I’d expect something a little more exciting.

The seared scallops with corn, cauliflower and prosciutto is solid – the scallops are cooked well and the supporting flavours provide a palatable textural balance.

Our third dish is pork belly, accompanied with cider. This is a degustation, so the wine accompaniments are small to match the smaller dishes, and we knew when we ordered the matching wines that we’d be getting cider with this dish. And, of course cider is a natural pork accompaniment. But there’s something crude in watching one $4.10 bottle of Monteith’s cider be poured between our two ice-stacked glasses.

The pork belly is sat upon a smear of salted caramel sauce with pear and chilli jam. As bemused by the pour as I am, the cider is a welcome accompaniment: the salted caramel is more salt than caramel, and this reasonably fatty and moist belly is overwhelmed by the salt in the crackling.

The black angus sirloin is a perfect pink, the carrots just cooked with a good crunch and there’s a smooth Paris mash but it’s let down by homestyle presentation.

Throughout this evening, our waitstaff – pleasant and friendly as they are – drop our dishes to the table with descriptors as detailed as “Two of the sirloins” and “Here you go, guys”. In another environment, or even if the meals were standout, I’d welcome a casual approach. But part of a good dining experience is learning about what you’re eating and how it’s been prepared, and this has been replaced with the rushed over-familiar.

It’s most evident in the presentation of the last dish following uneven wine pours: banana doughnuts. That’s the entire description on the menu which sits in front of us and they arrive with just that description offered: “Two banana doughnuts”. There’s a lot more than just banana doughnuts in this dish.

Earlier, we’d heard the table next to us enquire about in which part of the dish the banana was and they were told two parts. I don’t taste banana at all and the doughnuts remind me of the bread we began the night with.

I remain entirely bemused by the whole experience. At first I thought they’d put together a special menu for those who presented Living Social vouchers which didn’t have the same care as the usual dishes – and I thought that really undermined the purpose of having a Living Social promotion. But all of these dishes appear on the menu and are available to be chosen as the $94 five course degustation (without wines).

The chefs clearly are talented and the food arrived regularly, but the talent wasn’t consistently applied. The waitstaff were friendly and helpful (when asked), but their approach lacked the attention I expected. What the restaurant is, on a whole, seemed confused.

And yet, it seems I’m alone in this review – which explains why I’m so bemused! Food Porn Journal reviewed the exact same meal and scored it very well just a month ago, and TripAdvisor is filled with a whole range of positive reviews of this restaurant (which had set my expectations so high).

I can’t explain it except with what applies to all my posts: every review is simply one person’s experience at a point in time. But this wasn’t the experience I was expecting.

Date: Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Where: Atop Red Hill, Red Hill – up the stairs in the one major building on site

Cost: $99 (dinner for two) + $80 (two half-serves of matching wines)

Value for money: Difficult to say with a Living Social voucher

Worthwhile factor: Barely worthwhile

Want more? The menu and opening hours are available here.


5 Responses to “On Red, Red Hill”

  1. Jenerally Eating September 8, 2015 at 8:11 pm #

    You’re not alone! I went a couple weeks ago for the LivingSocial experience and was also surprised at some of the dishes. We had better luck with the bread, which was served warm, but the pork belly was stunning disappointing. The crackling was nearly inedible with salt, and I do like salt. It’s the first time I’ve not finished pork belly. I also wished for more description of the dessert, since I really don’t like coconut, though I did taste and enjoy the banana in the doughnuts. Aside from the cider, which I agree was a strange presentation, I did enjoy the wine pairings, especially the Collector Shiraz. My favourite dish would have been the scallops, as I thought the corn mix and cauliflower puree was fantastic, except that I didn’t feel the scallops were particularly fresh. If they had been, it would have been a perfect dish.

    Oops, sorry for going on so long! I knew I should have blogged about this one myself, and instead, I’ve ended up posting a blog comment.

    • inthetaratory September 13, 2015 at 8:36 pm #

      Epic comment or not (and I love epic comments!), I’m so glad I’m not the only one. I was really surprised. You’re right about the wine pairings – they were quite good (and they should be, given their extensive list!). Very odd experience. Thanks for sharing yours!

  2. Tarz September 17, 2015 at 9:17 am #

    We had a similar experience at the Mother’s Day degustation.

  3. whisperinggums September 17, 2015 at 3:31 pm #

    What a shame Tara. I’ve been here a few times and mostly enjoyed it, with the occasional miss. However, it’s been over a year since we were there last. I wonder if there’s a change in the kitchen, or just not a very good menu. The service though should have been better. Uneven wine pours are not on. Was the difference gender based? I have seen men being given a bigger pour than women, though with the markings on glasses these days this doesn’t happen much.


  1. Muse, Kingston* | In The Taratory - September 17, 2015

    […] This humble little blog recently celebrated four years – four years of eating, drinking, reviewing and peeling back the layers of Canberra bit by bit. While still being hosted entirely by WordPress after all this time (yes, yes, there are moves afoot to discard wordpress from my URL!), I’ve also seen a lot in this time and the only thing that’s surprised me recently is that this city still tolerates bemusing degustations. […]

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