Saturday, 18 October 2008

C is for Civic, with Lemongrass

Civic - it's what we call the city centre, and we usually forget that out-of-towners don't understand it. There's a lot there, even if you don't count Braddon or Acton. I've mentioned several over the year that I've been blogging: I have a review index, with nine Civic restaurant reviews so far. Ten when I add this one. (Maybe more if I check for ones that I forgot to link?)

Some of my favourites are currently missing from the list. I especially like the Wig & Pen microbrewery, Hippo bar, Flavour of India, Iori Japanese, and Kingsley's Steak - no, that's not the chicken fast food joint! I also like the fine dining at Anise and Courgette, and the casual Cafe Essen. I'd like Milk and Honey, and Cream better if they were less noisy.

I don't find Civic food shopping particularly notable. It's useful, though. You can reliably get most of what you want, what with all the offerings of the new Canberra Centre. Choose from Aldi or Supabarn for your supermarket needs. There's a decent deli, a good fish shop and a good butcher (the Meat Guru). Dobinson's does good sourdough bread, and there's a couple of other bakeries, too. I used to like the fruit & veg place before they moved, but the quality seems to have dropped. And don't forget Oxfam upstairs, for your ethical coffee, tea, and chocolate supplies.

Outside the Canberra Centre there are still a few odd corners to buy food: there's a nice Korean grocery downstairs near the bus interchange, and an IGA and the wonderful Croissant d'Or French patisserie on East Row. Another IGA is over on Marcus Clark St, near the Wig & Pen, catering to the university trade, and there's a wine & fancy foods outlet on University Avenue that I keep meaning to check out. Following round Marcus Clark St, there's some new places with the new developments, but I think they count as Acton rather than Civic.

Bars and restaurants are scattered all over Civic. I would be stupid to try to list them all. Garema Place has the town square feeling to it, with lots of outdoor cafes and ratbag pigeons and decrepit panhandling magpies. It's gradually been going more Asian than European in menu. Much to my sadness, my favourite Valentino's closed and was replaced by a noodle bar. The South American place turned into a Vietnamese restaurant. But Milk & Honey, Essen and My Cafe are keeping up the cafe culture, and Gus' is being renovated.

West Row has some of the classier restaurants. The edge of the Canberra Centre has some sound mid-range places including Wagamama and Koko Black. Sammy's Kitchen moved here, in case you missed it. And for the bottom end of the budget, there's plenty of cheapies.

Read on for the Lemongrass review - and feel free to add your own suggestions or favourites in the comments. I have delayed posting this because it felt incomplete, but I now think that I have no option. With a topic this big, I'm bound to overlook something good.

Yesterday three of us had a quick pre-theatre dinner at Lemongrass Thai, on London Circuit. The two word summary is "superior Thai", and I think that a lot of people know this. On Friday night it was completely packed out by 6.30pm. We only got a booking at short notice because we promised to be out by 7.30pm when our play started.

It's reasonably priced. For three dishes with rice, 3 beers and a tea, we came in under $70. And the food was, well, superior. The green chicken curry was nicely spiced; chili-hot enough to notice but not too strong. Plenty of eggplant and bamboo shoots, and well flavoured meat. It was not at all greasy, despite their use of thigh meat - this is a common failing of cheap Thai & Vietnamese places; I do wish Lemongrass' chef could share their technique!

The pad thai was a good one, though not outstanding. And the beef salad was delicious. The char grilled beef slices were lean, flavoursome and tender. It had the proper sweet-sour-salt dressing that comes from fish sauce, palm sugar and lime. It didn't have many herbs - I was expecting mint and coriander, but it came with mesclun lettuce. This is more like the one I make at home than a proper authentic version. But they do have a second beef salad on the menu, with the rice powder rub, so perhaps that's the more authentic kind? Anyway, we enjoyed our food very much, and the servings were generous, without being huge. I would have liked to try the special lotus nut dessert, but I was too full.

The service was quite quick, as you'd expect from such a busy place. We had a little trouble communicating with our waitress, as her English wasn't the best, but a bit of pointing at the menu helped. I didn't read the wine list, but it is licensed and does BYO. And there were a couple of good beers on the list.

Despite the roaring trade, the sound is muted to a low enough level that we could hear each other. The decor is simple smart casual, with Thai accents in the ornaments and shapes. All in all, it's well worth a visit. It'd be a regular of mine if only we could get our acts together to book in advance - the evening 7.30ish timeslots tend to fill up the day before.

1 comment:

Mads said...

I actually prefer Zen Yai over Lemongrass - the food is just as good, but the portions are a bit bigger, and the prices a bit lower. And you don't usually have to book days in advance!

Other favourite places in Civic include Oriental Kitchen for quick Asian (they're crispy skin plum chicken is great), and Asian Noodle House for the famous laksa.

A minor correction: Oxfam isn't upstairs in the Canberra Centre, it's now opposite Aldi on the bottom level of the 'new' section.