21 May 2024

Compa stands out as an indulgent destination worth splurging on

| Lucy Ridge
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A hand swipes bread through a dip on a plate.

‘Fare la Scarpetta’ is the Italian equivalent of licking the plate, and you’ll want to do that here. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Matt Moran opened his first Canberra venue Compa with sister sandwich shop &Sando earlier this year. After they’d settled in, we went to check it out.

The high-ceilinged space has been tastefully designed to allow for plenty of natural light while maintaining privacy from the busy Bunda Street foot traffic. The staff is courteous, knowledgeable and friendly, and we set to work deciding what to eat and drink.

The drinks menu begins with an impressive selection of house cocktails and a few non-alcoholic options. I sip on the perfectly bittersweet Compa Smoked Negroni while my colleague (and trusty photographer) Michelle has Zenzero’s Twist, which contains Australian Agave, Amaro Montenegro and citrusy foam dusted with fragrant lemon myrtle.

Green olives in small metal dish.

Compa Sicilian Olives. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

The menu is broadly Italian, focusing on grilled steaks and a substantial selection of side dishes. We start with delicious Sicilian olives, and the cannellini bean Scarpetta topped with nduja (soft salami) from the Moran Family Farm.

In Italian, the phrase fare la scarpetta describes the act of mopping the plate with bread to get every last drop of sauce, which is exactly what you’ll want to do here. Our server suggests we order the stone-baked bread with rosemary and sea salt for an extra $12, which is soft, salty and perfect for dipping, although it feels a little cheeky not to serve the bread along with the plate, considering it’s a key part of the dish.

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For our main meal, we share the 500-gram pasture-fed Riverina Sirloin on the bone, accompanied by Moran’s Cacio e Pepe Mac n Cheese and stone-roasted portobello mushrooms with Taleggio and thyme.

slice of rare beef being taken from a plate of steak with tongs.

Rare sirloin on the bone, Compa. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

To accompany the mains, I choose a glass of bold red Rubrato Aglianico, which has strong tannic notes and a deep, savoury finish. Michelle has the slightly lighter Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, which has a pepper finish and red cherry nose. Both wines pair beautifully with the meal, and I particularly enjoy how the rich steak softens the tannins of the aglianico. The wine list is extensive and features an exciting range of Italian varietals as well as some favourite local wines.

The steak is nicely cooked – rare, as requested – and we are offered a choice of mustards and horseradish. We chose the peppercorn sauce, which is pretty mild, and the zingy horseradish is a welcome accompaniment. The portobello mushrooms are very tasty, and the taleggio cheese is a classic pairing. The cacio e pepe mac n cheese is nice but not exceptional, and a touch over-salted on the pangrattato (toasted breadcrumb) crust. It feels more like a dig at nostalgia rather than an exciting recreation of a favourite dish, but overall, the combination is comforting and hearty.

Mushrooms in small stoneware dish.

Stone-baked mushrooms with Taleggio and thyme at Compa. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Other tables around us are sharing the impressive 1.2kg Bistecca alla Fiorentina (Florentine T-bone steak) and a grilled prawn entree, which smells very appetising. When our beautiful pieces of sliced steak are all gone, I can’t help but pick up the bone to get those last few bits of delicious meat.

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When the dessert menu is handed to us, we are feeling quite full, so I’m pleased to see a fresh lemon sorbetto with basil oil. We also indulge in an Italian fortified dessert wine. When we ask for a description, the bartender decides it’s best if we just have a taste. It has a syrupy mouthfeel, but the raisin-like flavours are deep, moreish, and not too sweet.

The sorbet is outstanding. It’s zingy, fresh, and perfectly sour, with the peppery green basil oil adding a totally different element to the dish. It’s served in a hollowed-out, frozen lemon, which is very cute, and it’s so refreshing that I finish the whole thing without any difficulty.

A whole lemon on a silver plate filled with white sorbet, topped with green oil.

Lemon sorbetto with basil oil Compa. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

The prices at Compa are fairly hefty, but the experience was worth splurging on. From the beautifully designed room and outstanding service to the delightful menu, it’s a great place to linger with excellent company.

Compa is located at 184 Bunda Street, Canberra Centre. They are open for lunch from 12 noon to 2:30 pm and for dinner from 5:30 pm to 10 pm seven days a week. Follow Compa on Instagram or visit their website.

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The Scarpetta really doesn’t come with bread? What do they expect you to do? Use your fingers?

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