Ha Ha Bar, Belconnen – revisited*

23 Mar

* I visited Ha Ha Bar as a guest.

Belconnen Town Centre’s Emu Bank is something special – or it has the potential to be. Facing (what I think is) the best lake in Canberra, with the Arts Centre at one end and one of the world’s best skate parks at the other, Emu Bank could be a promenade in Canberra’s north.

But it’s not quite there yet. While the restaurant quality is mixed from the average to the very good and caters from takeaway to pub to formal dine-in, it’s been missing a high-quality restaurant to anchor the area and attract similar ventures.

Ha Ha Bar is one of those venues that’s always been very good. I’ve always enjoyed the food (in addition to plenty of brunches and dinners there, you can read my first review in 2011 here, and 2013 here) even if the service left a little to be desired, but it hasn’t been what you’d necessarily call a fine dining experience.

I genuinely think that’s about to change.

Like Monster but thankfully without needing a dictionary to decipher what’s on the menu (if you’ve been to Monster you know what I’m talking about), Ha Ha has brought in small and large share plates at very reasonable prices that taste just superb.

Something that hasn't changed is the very generous wine servings

Something that hasn’t changed is the very generous wine servings

As we order we’re told there are no rules. The “smaller plates” ($13-22) are introduced on the menu with “to share or not to share?” and the larger plates ($24, 28, 32 and 38) have no such introduction, but we’re quickly advised there are no rules. The mix-‘n-matching works – a person on their own could easily have a very filling meal with one large dish or a small and large dish to themselves, and groups could have a range of small dishes or a mixture of both – and if there’s any doubt about how many to order, front of house manager Simon is there to guide you (as he did us!).

We opt for three small dishes and a big one, with no dessert. Our first dish is the beautifully presented cured salmon ($18).

Cured salmon with potato balls, fennel and citrus salad

Cured salmon with potato balls, fennel and citrus salad

This is a sublime dish, with the starch of the potato calming the piquant salmon and citrus. The texture of the salmon is light and delicious and as good as I’ve had anywhere. The plate’s scraped clean.

Likewise, the spiced haloumi ($17) is served with thick crescents of bocconcini. The haloumi is beautifully crusted and rich, offset with the tomato puree and spices. If anything, there’s almost too much bocconcini – the haloumi is what we fight over.

Spiced haloumi

Spiced haloumi

Our large dish is the mixed mushroom risotto ($24). And it’s large. The risotto is filled right to the edge of the lipped dish (to the point that with every scoop we spill some) and there’s no lie about mix of mushrooms, and no shave of parmesan has been spared. It’s a creamy, flavoursome delight. We show some restraint by only adding a bit of this dish to each of our smaller plates at a time, but this dish is quickly devoured, too.

015 small

Our final “small” plate is the roast pumpkin ($17) but it’s not small by any means. It arrives after our risotto and I think is intended almost as a side dish with our risotto. It’s a large chunk of sweet pumpkin falling off the skin and met with cashews, apple and blue cheese. It takes us a minute to spot the blue cheese but we soon discover big chunks throughout the dish – flavour isn’t spared here. If anything, the salad with the pumpkin is a bit superfluous but that’s only because we’ve already enjoyed a salad with our first small dish – on its own it makes a lot of sense.

019 small

In its tranquil surroundings in Belconnen’s heart, Ha Ha Bar isn’t just onto a good thing – it might be the start of a real revitalisation along Lake Ginninderra’s foreshore. Wait and see.

Date: Thursday, 17 March 2016

Where? 102 Emu Bank, Belconnen. There’s plenty of parking along Emu Bank. If you walk into the Lighthouse you’ve gone too far.

Cost: I attended as a guest. The price of dishes described above reflects the menu of the night.

Want more? Ha Ha Bar’s website is here.


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