Joe’s Bar at East Hotel has only been open for a few weeks, but it’s already established itself as a cosy venue with a big Italian heart – and very good food.
Brother and sister team Dan and Dion Bisa own Joe’s Bar, as well as East Hotel where the bar is located. They say Joe’s Bar is a nod to their Italian heritage and their father, Joe.
If my first visit to the bar is any indication, Joe is a very likeable man.
Italian-born chef Francesco Balestrieri has designed a sharing menu that captures the freshness, generosity and heartiness of Italian cuisine. The kitchen toasts its own grains, makes its own pickles and even fat-washes bourbon with pancetta for its cocktails. The fresh produce is sourced from within 100km of Canberra, too.
There’s a 10-metre long solid marble bar (what luxury!), an open kitchen and a good mix of high and low seating and intimate corners. The ambience was nice too – there was no loud music and we didn’t have to shout to hear one another.
When we arrived, we found a quiet spot on one of the low couches and snacked on house-spiced popcorn while we browsed the cocktail menu.
I was keen to try the Bitter Pig (pancetta-washed bourbon, orange bitters, maple syrup and orange juice served with crispy pancetta, $16). Then I saw the Sloe Lying Fruit (sloe gin, blood cherry liquor, lime, simple syrup and maraschino cherry, $19) and all bets were off. Cherry-flavoured cocktails get me every time.
My partner, James, ordered the Absinth Minded (absinth, rum, fernet branco, mint, bitters, coconut cream and pineapple juice, $18). Do not order this cocktail if you are the designated driver. Even if you’re a seasoned drinker, it packs a serious punch.
The antipasto platter came out next. Ticks all round for the large serving size and good quality salami, prosciutto, mortadella and crusty Italian bread. The surprise was the pile of pickled carrots and fennel with baby corn puree – it doesn’t sound particularly appetising, I know, but the puree was finger-licking good. At $20, it’s very reasonably priced too.
We could have stopped eating there, but of course we didn’t. Instead, we tried the grappa and basil-cured Tasmanian ocean trout with watercress and whipped goats’ cheese ($14). I’m not a massive trout fan, but James is still talking about how good it was days after our visit.
And then there were the arancini balls, perfectly crisp, stuffed with melted mozzarella and served with capsicum aioli ($14). These were followed by a bowl of fried, stuffed green olives (I missed the price for these). Again, the olives were fried well too – crispy and golden brown.
Now, this was the showstopper of the evening. Yes, it’s lasagna. But it’s at least three times more delicious than the lasagna I make at home. There are slow braised pork ribs, handmade pasta sheets, nutmeg and pecorino cheese. It’s fortunate Joe’s Bar doesn’t do takeaway, as I would eat this for dinner every single weeknight and regret nothing.
Dessert was mini cannoli filled with whisky-spiced ricotta and candied pistachio ($14) and a dark valrhona chocolate tart with fresh raspberries and sea salt ($14). Can’t make up your mind? Get one of everything. It’s all delicious.
Next time we visit for more than just drinks, we’ll try and find a proper table to sit at, as eating with a knife and fork at the couches and small coffee tables was a little awkward. The service was friendly and fast, and even though the place was reasonably full we didn’t feel rushed.
We only meant to stop by Joe’s for a drink or two, but we accidentally stayed for several hours – and I think that’s exactly what the owners want you to do.
Joe’s Bar is at East Hotel, 69 Canberra Avenue Kingston.
Amy dined as a guest of Joe’s Bar.