Five minutes with Keaton McDonnell, Ondine European Brasserie

Michelle Rowe 29 June 2021 6
Daniel Giordani and Keaton McDonnell

Ondine co-owners Daniel Giordani (left) and Keaton McDonnell. Photo: Ash St George.

Who is Keaton McDonnell? I’m the chef and co-owner of Ondine European Brasserie in Deakin.

Best recent dining experience: My wife and I had a brilliant experience at Pilot. Head chef Mal Hanslow’s food is thoughtful and interesting, and the service provided by Dash Rumble, Ross Quinn and the team was faultless.

Most embarrassing pantry item: We’ve got more condiments than any two people could ever need (six varieties of mayonnaise is normal, right?)

Pilot restaurant

Pilot restaurant in Ainslie is known for its exquisitely composed dishes. Photo: Pilot.

Must-buy ingredient: A great-quality butter, not only for making everything better but for the perfection that is good, warm bread smothered in butter and a sprinkle of quality sea salt. Also, ssamjang (Korean spicy dipping sauce). Admittedly I rarely use it as it should be used, but it makes anything delicious when throwing together dinner at work or home.

Next big thing: I’d love to see more regional-specific Middle Eastern food. While working with co-owner and chef Serif Kaya at Ottoman in Barton, I had a glimpse of the regional breakdown of Turkish food, and it got me excited about the culinary differences across the country. Daana in Curtin (which we also love) has long featured a different Indian regional cuisine at weekends. Big shout out to them for giving people that experience.

Favourite place for breakfast in the ACT: Teddy Pickers in Campbell. Great food, great coffee and a great team. Mark Raets’s chilli scramble whenever it features on the menu, or anything sweet that Matt Rollings has whipped together for the weekend special is hard to go past.

Teddy Pickers breakfast

The French toast at Teddy Pickers is so popular it has never been taken off the menu. Photo: Supplied.

My Canberra food secret: El Salvadorian pupusa’s (corn tortillas) from the Southside Farmers Market. My wife introduced them to me when the Gorman House Markets were happening, and blessedly, we rediscovered them again recently. They’re made of masa (corn) dough encasing beans and cheese, topped with an amazing chilli sauce. Definitely worth getting out of bed for on a Sunday.

Also, a solo day-off lunch generally finds me at Vietnam House in Woden. It took me a long time to find a bowl of pho that came close to Miss Van’s, and Vietnam House definitely is up there (order extra oxtail).

Biggest culinary influence: My father, Tom McDonnell. He taught a lot of Canberra chefs as a culinary teacher at CIT through the years. School holidays spent sitting in on his classes are a fond memory.

Favourite cookbook: Picking one is like picking a favourite child. I have a lot of cookbooks (300-plus). Season to Taste by Liam Tomlin was the first real cookbook I bought myself, and it still gets pulled down for inspiration. Eleven Madison Park by Daniel Humm and Will Guidara is definitely the most read. It’s technique-driven but has timeless combinations.

Who I admire on the Canberra food and wine scene: Ben and Andy Willis from Aubergine in Griffith. Running a venue of the standard of Aubergine is no easy feat, but to do it for 13 years is nothing short of awe-inspiring, all while creating a brilliant work environment for their staff.

Ben Willis

Aubergine owner and chef Ben Willis at work in the kitchen.

What’s on the menu this week: We’ve been playing around with a new apple dessert that seems to be going well. It’s apples cooked like an apple pie filling, heavy on brown butter and warm spices, and flourless apple cake. There’s also a caramelised nut praline custard topped off with a crumble made from almond tuille and some roasted white chocolate. It might make the menu or it might continue to be staff snacks.

Where I’m going next: I really want to make it back to The Boat House on the lake in Barton. It’s been way too long. Owner James Souter and executive chef John Leverink produce an amazing product that rarely gets the recognition it deserves.

Death row meal: I’d start with XO pippies and ice-cold beers, then a Sunday roast chicken with the family. Lots of gravy on crispy roast potatoes, good bread soaked in the pan juices and as many roast vegetables as Dad can make. Finally, there’d be an unhealthy amount of cheese. I’d list my preferences, but we’d be here a lot longer than five minutes.

Boat House

The Boat House’s elegant dining room. Photo: Supplied.

My COVID-19 response: We were a week away from opening Ondine when the COVID restrictions started to come into play, so it wasn’t the greatest of starts for us. We put down our paintbrushes and quickly designed a takeaway menu and website to keep everything together. In a way, it almost helped us as we could service the local suburbs with a good takeaway product and introduce a lot of customers to our food – people we may not have reached otherwise.

Ondine Restaurant, Deakin

Ondine’s European-style menu is a crowd-pleaser. Photo: Ash St George.

My really simple recipe tip: We have the fridge very well stocked with cheese for situations when people drop by unexpectedly. But if something more filling is needed, it will be a quick pasta. Cook up enough pasta for four. Finely chop five cloves of garlic and one medium fresh or dried chilli, sweat in olive oil on medium-low heat just until the garlic starts to go golden. Add one tin of good-quality anchovies (Ortiz or Olasagasti are both amazing) and stir until they begin to break down. Add freshly ground pepper and whatever herbs you have that suit, then add the pasta and a small amount of the cooking water. Finish with a good amount of butter and mix everything together. Balance it with a bit of salt and a squeeze of lemon juice, then serve.

Ondine European Brasserie is at 7 Duff Place in Deakin. It’s open for dinner from 6:00 pm to late from Tuesday to Saturday, and lunch from midday to 2:00 pm on Friday and Saturday. Takeaway is also available.


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