There are few seafood restaurants in Canberra, which is surprising given our close proximity to New South Wales’ south coast that is the catching ground for arguably some of the best seafood in the world. C Seafood and Oyster Bar fills a niche in the market, offering innovative, fresh and quality seafood.
‘C’ here in the name is a reference to ‘sea’ in seafood. The restaurant was formerly known as C Dine, but it has changed recently to C Seafood and Oyster Bar to avoid confusion. “We had people turning up wanting to know about our steak selection,” said our waitress Georgina.
And really, this restaurant is all about seafood. I inhaled that salty smell of fresh fish as soon as I walked into the open plan restaurant, and the display of seafood on ice is prominent and catching. If you don’t like seafood, there is no need to feel like Marg Simpson from the Simpsons who was forced to eat a mint while Homer gorged himself on seafood. The menu does have a few non-seafood options such as slow-cooked wagyu (and part-owner Shann Howman said they can cook a vegetarian risotto on request). But seafood is front and centre.
I was curious to dine here because the reviews had been mixed. I am not sure why that was the case: we enjoyed our meal and restaurant was full with happy people eating lots of seafood, including several families and a large 50th birthday. With a lovely framed view of Mt Ainslie over the waters, and plenty of outdoors seating, this is a great venue for a special celebratory lunch. The food, with matching gins and local wines, was of much better quality than I had expected.
We sampled the Signature Chef’s Choice menu ($65 for seven courses – that’s right, seven courses). This is a little steep but good value when compared with, say, a degustation menu. What I liked about the selection of dishes was how it showcased a range of seafood (and one beef dish), drawing on different cultural interpretations. This was not a stock-standard all you can eat prawn buffet or fried fisherman’s basket deal (although I noticed heavy plates of fry ups heading to other tables and they smelt very good).
First up was a trio of fresh Shoalhaven oysters, albacore tuna tataki with an avocado sauce, and a pretty pink soft coral trout ceviche served with pork crackling for texture. The oysters were just right; even better with a glass of Botanic Australis Gin and tonic (with orange). (On the subject of gin, the restaurant has a selection of over 20.) The oysters had a real wow factor. I would have liked more of these oysters; I will have to return on Friday night as I notice they have a $1 each ‘buck a shuck’ special. The tuna was cut from a whole fish, half of which was still in the display case. Our waitress told us that all fish are filleted in the restaurant. The ceviche was a real winner for me, and paired well with the salty crispiness of the pork crackling.
Salted cold croquettes with chargrilled lemon aioli were super cute and reminded me of mini plum puddings. I liked these, but unlike the oysters, was not wowed although they were comforting and moorish. I enjoyed the crisp calamari with black pepper sauce, which drew on bold Asian flavours yet did not mask the freshness and integrity of the seafood.
Even bolder was the dish of pippis cooked in XO sauce. Pippis are one of those dishes that are easy to get wrong; cook too long and they go tough. We enjoyed this with a local wine, a McKellar Ridge 2015 Riesling Canberra District. We were surprised (in a good way) to find that C Seafood and Oyster Bar has a good selection of local wines and a knowledgeable sommelier passionate about local wines (and Australian gins).
Cooked tender rather than tough was a dish of chargrilled octopus with garam marsala potatos (set on an abstract ink plate). The octopus was brined for 12 hours before cooking, which was the secret to ensuring that did not toughen.
The seafood menu was broken by a dish of 24-36 hour slow cooked wagyu beef cheek served with a red wine jus and gremolata. This was a fine, rich dish suited to a cold winter’s night. I enjoyed it but found it a bit of an odd interruption to the seafood theme and was not exactly sure where the Chef’s Selection was going with this.
Back to seafood and the finale – gold band snapper with homemade sambal oelek. Our waitress said the fish used varies depending on the catch available. While the spicy sauce did not overpower the subtle fish flavour, I found it slightly too strong for me. This is one for chilli lovers. We enjoyed the snapper with a Mount Majura Vineyard Molli 2015, which complemented this last course nicely.
By now I was well and truly full, and we paused thinking the meal was finished. But there was a surprise to come – dessert.
I loved this retro jaffa chocolate mousse dessert, best eaten after you crack the top open. Oh, I had so much fun doing this. It definitely brought out the inner child in me. Before eating it, I thought this dish would be overly sweet, but the jaffa top hid a sherbert that was light and paired nicely with the rich mousse texture. I would definitely order this again.
We were already full from eating The Jaffa when we ventured onto the hazelnut pot de creme. I initially dismissed this as an ordinary creme brulee; I wasn’t hungry anymore and I was tempted to not even try this one. But I soon discovered there is nothing ordinary about this. The torched Italian meringue top covers a rich hazelnut ice-cream, with chocolate mousse on the bottom (with the added texture of amaretto biscuits). Warning: this is not diet food. Wear loose fitting clothes, seriously indulge and go to the gym later. It is worth it.
We enjoyed our desserts with a small glass of Dessert Noble Pinot Gris 2015.
What: C Seafood and Oyster Bar
Where: Kingston Foreshore
Christmas opening: Closed Christmas Day, Boxing Day, and 27 December. Open for dinner on New Year’s Eve (bookings essential), then shut from 1 January reopening 10 January.