Parisian-inspired bistro Onzieme is a relative newcomer to the Canberra food scene, but within less than two years of opening, the Kingston restaurant has become a cult favourite.
It even snatched a surprise win at the prestigious Gourmet Traveller Restaurant Awards in Sydney last month. Since then, chef and owner Louis Couttoupes says “every weeknight is like a Friday”.
Previously a public servant, Louis started Onzieme after he went travelling with his partner and ended up “getting stuck in Paris”, as he described it.
“We just ended up extending our stay every time our Airbnb ended,” he laughs.
What drew them to Paris was the food scene, specifically the concept of ‘bistronomy’, which seeks to bring fine dining to a casual, relaxed neighbourhood setting.
“It relied on this constantly fluid creativity that I found really inspiring … I just loved watching them write menus and come up with dishes on the spot,” he says.
Louis wanted to bring this back to Canberra, and that’s how Onzieme’s seasonal menu was born. It changes every day, depending on what their suppliers bring them and what the chefs feel like using on the day.
Despite the name, Onzieme is definitely not a French restaurant. Its influences come from around the world, but Louis says the inspiration comes from the adventurousness of the Parisian palate.
“The French are very adventurous when it comes to offal and different types of animals,” he says.
“If you serve those weird bits and pieces Australians aren’t used to, French people will eat them, no problem.”
However, he says the French dining scene is still fairly Western European-focused, and the best thing about cooking in Australia is we are exposed to a range of different cuisines and tastes, which makes it easier to “push a few boundaries”.
The menu mainly comprises small plates designed for sharing, but there are also some larger dishes that you could easily keep to yourself if you’re feeling selfish.
For the indecisive, Onzieme offers an $85 pp ‘feed me’ option designed to showcase the best of the current menu.
You can, however, specify any dishes you would really like to have, or any that you would not like.
We picked the mutton kibbeh nayeh (Lebanese tartare) with yogurt flatbread and lamb shoulder with smoked mash and gremolata as our must-haves and let the team do the rest.
Within a few minutes of making our order, our first course arrived: big slabs of bread from UNDER bakery accompanied by salty herb butter and a comforting cup of French onion soup. I was so keen to start this that I forgot to take a photo (sorry).
The second course was quickly brought over once we had finished. The Onzieme staff were so diligent in making sure we always had food on the table that it felt like we were the only people there.
We had mushroom skewers with tare (a Japanese sauce with sweetened, thickened soy sauce). I’m not usually the biggest fan of mushrooms, but these were pretty special.
Next was one of the dishes we had picked, the mutton tartare. This was definitely a good choice. The texture of the tartare was amazing and went so well with the salty flatbread.
Just before we were done with that, we were presented with four duck and sesame dolmades with avgolemono (a Greek sauce made with egg yolk and lemon juice mixed with broth), which were just as delicious. Of the dishes they surprised us with, this was probably my favourite.
The next three dishes were served together: the lamb shoulder, accompanied by sweet potato with coconut labneh and peanut chipotle, and green beans in buttermilk with a garnish of almonds.
The lamb shoulder was definitely the highlight of our night. It was cooked perfectly and was so tender.
We were told that the ‘feed me’ menu is a lot of food and can be quite filling, but we easily polished everything off with room for dessert. The set menu included one dessert to share, and we went for the white chocolate and miso tart with cornflake crust. This was just what we needed to end the night.
If it hadn’t been a weekday night, the perfect way to end the evening would have been to head downstairs to Onzieme’s underground wine bar, 11e Cave. It’s located in an old bank vault under the building and is inspired by small French cellar bars.
Louis told me that now the restaurant is gaining publicity, the next thing he wants to focus on is the basement bar, which he says deserves a reputation in its own right for its cocktails.
Onzieme is located on the corner of Eyre and Kennedy Street, Kingston. It’s open Tuesday to Saturday from 6 pm. Visit the website for bookings and more information.