Who is Matthew Bentley: I am the executive chef for the Ovolo Nishi Hotel in the NewActon Precinct. I have been there for just over a year now and oversee the food offerings for Monster Kitchen and Bar.
Best recent dining experience: Recently I went to Lolo and Lola and loved it. It’s innovative, flavoursome and has a good variety on the menu – it’s such a great Southeast Asian BBQ spot. My partner is from the Philippines, and we both agree it’s probably the best Filipino restaurant in Australia!
Favourite cuisine: I don’t really have one, in particular, it all depends on the mood and setting. I do lean more towards Southeast Asian cuisines as I love the spice, sweet, salty and sourness all at once. In saying that, I have enjoyed eating incredibly spicy Pad Kra Pao (holy basil stir-fry) in the stinking hot and humid streets of Bangkok, equally to eating Catalan cuisine in air-conditioned Michelin-starred restaurants in Barcelona.
Most embarrassing pantry item: I think I’d probably say Spam Turkey. I have a consistent supply of those tins in the pantry and find myself cooking them up with egg and rice when I get home after dinner service more often than I probably should.
What ingredient can I not live without: Definitely chilli. I love the spice and slight sweetness it gives and couldn’t imagine not eating spicy food for the rest of my life.
Next big thing in the Canberra food scene: Plant-based and vegetarian food is slowly but surely creeping up. If you look back 15 years ago, your only vegetarian option in a restaurant might have been a Mushroom Risotto.
With the way the planet is going, but also the increasingly multicultural societies we find ourselves living in, vegetarian food is now better than ever. I can only imagine what it will be like in say another 10 years from now. Have you tried some of those plant-based burgers? They’re almost better than the real thing.
Favourite place for lunch in the ACT: Terra Canberra. I will pop in often for the brisket, slaw and miso chat potatoes. What a perfect lunch!
My go-to coffee spot in Canberra: Mocan & Green Grout on Marcus Clarke Street. It’s just across from where I live too.
A must-try on our menu: The Butternut Squash Katsu with Black Rice & Katsu Curry Sauce. It ticks all the boxes for a complete meal and has a bit of theatre with the sauce being poured table-side.
Biggest culinary influence: There’s been many I’ve had over the years, but to name one – Filip Gemzell, a Swedish chef I worked for while with in London and then Norway. He is an incredibly technical chef and taught me to never compromise on your food no matter what.
Favourite cookbook: I’d probably say Thai Food by David Thompson. Reading this book was like learning to cook all over again. It opened a whole new world of cooking for me that I never knew existed. It’s so different from how I was taught to cook in the traditional French manner.
Who I admire in the Canberra food and wine scene: Mark and Maureen from Clear Range Truffles. I recently went out to their truffle farm, just an hour’s drive south of Canberra and the work, knowledge and patience that goes into farming truffles is quite incredible. I have nothing but admiration for it.
What’s on the menu this week: This week we have our Miso Oyster & Shitake Mushrooms dish. This consists of 63 degree egg, smoked salsa verde, mushroom ketchup and sourdough crackers.
Where am I travelling too next: I’m hoping to go to the UK and Spain as family time is long overdue. I’m especially looking forward to visiting my mother in Spain where she has decided to retire.
Death row meal: My partner’s chicken adobo, with a hefty amount of steamed rice and a can of Coke – it’s the best!
My least favourite food: I’d have to say okra. I find it slimy and bitter, and as of yet, have not tried a dish that I have liked with it.
COVID-19 response: I think we just need to move on. I am not one to look back, I’m too busy pushing forward and working on what’s next!
My three recipe tips:
1. Don’t compromise on ingredients, you get what you pay for – quality is key.
2. Cook with less meat and fish, and more with vegetables – it’s more sustainable, economical and with practice, you will be able to maximise their incredible flavours.
3. Work with what’s in season. It goes without saying, however, you’ll be surprised how many of us have lost touch with the seasons, even chefs. Seeing an heirloom tomato burrata dish on a menu in Winter still makes me cringe.
Monster Kitchen and Bar is open for breakfast Monday to Friday from 7 am to 10:30 am, and dinner from Thursday to Sunday, from 6 pm to 10:30 pm. The bar is open Monday to Sunday from 2 pm to 10:30 pm. It is located at 25 Edinburgh Avenue, Canberra.