12 October 2022

Hot In the City: bigger and better with award-winning Wilma

| Lucy Ridge
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four different plates with food

The Balmain Bug on crispy noodles was a menu highlight! Photo: Zachary Griffith.

Wilma has been on my radar since it opened in the space formerly occupied by Kokomo’s.

Wilma opened less than a year ago but has already made its mark on Canberra’s hospitality scene. HARVAC (the group behind Akiba, Loquita and Sage Dining) was delighted to have Wilma listed in Gourmet Traveller’s ‘Top 82 restaurants in Australia for 2023’. They were listed alongside fellow newcomer Onzieme in Kingston, Corella Bar in Braddon, established Canberra favourite Bar Rochford and Pilot, which took out the top spot for ACT for the second year running.

“To make this exceptional list of restaurants less than a year after opening is truly humbling,” said HARVAC Group Executive Chef Brendan Hill.

“Our bold concept has been received with open arms, and we look forward to continuing to represent the culinary scene in this great city.”

So on the back of such auspicious recognition, I figured it was high time I tried it out for myself.

three people posing for photo

The team at Wilma is stoked with their inclusion in Gourmet Traveller’s list. Photo Zachary Griffith.

My friend and I weighed the pros and cons of dining a la carte but eventually decided on the Baller Banquet to taste the maximum number of dishes without making any choices. My friend is a pescatarian who doesn’t eat eggplant and there were no issues in catering for her dietary requirements. Like partner restaurant Akiba, several options for any dietary requirements have been worked seamlessly into the menu. Self-described as ‘progressive BBQ’, the menu has a mix of Asian-inspired dishes featuring Australian ingredients.

Sipping on a glass of prosecco, we start with Kingfish Sashimi from the raw bar section of the menu. The dressing is incredible, mixing exactly the right amount of gingery zing and nutty sesame. Each slice of fish is topped with a sliver of strawberry, which feels like it shouldn’t work, but it certainly does! It’s a good sign of what’s to come.

Sashimi garnished with strawberry slices and oysters

Strawberries and sashimi? Colour me impressed! Photo: Zachary Griffith.

The snack plates come out quickly: classic Peking duck pancakes served in a cute mini steamer, mushroom spring rolls with textbook crrrUNCH, and some tasty bun-style tiger prawn toast with the fluffiest filling.

The dry fry squid is a revelation to us: how on earth do they get it so crispy without making it oily or soggy? Probably magic, we decide, and devour the lot. Citrusy fresh papaya and snake bean salad are the perfect accompaniment, although the sweet and subtle spanner crab is a little lost in the bold flavours.

READ MORE Gourmet Traveller names Pilot best ACT restaurant for second year in a row

Our favourite dish of the night is the Balmain bug with crispy egg noodles. Balmain bug is a rare treat on Canberra menus and the delicious crustacean is given the star treatment here with Vietnamese mint, lime and bean sprouts finishing the dish perfectly.

At this point in the meal, we have definitely eaten enough food but there is more to come so we loosen our belts in preparation.

I tackle a beef short rib which practically falls off the bone when I look at it. Like much of the menu, the hot smoked meat has been cooked over coals using native Australian timbers. The smokey flavour permeates the meat and black bean marinade which is rich without being overwhelming.

The traditional side dish of Asian greens and hoi sin sauce is elevated to star status here with perfect char, a hint of chilli and crispy garlic. The fried rice also gets a glow-up with the addition of truffles! It’s not too heavy or oily and the truffles add a beautiful aromatic appeal. Along with the Balmain bug, these are the dishes we can’t bear to leave unfinished and we keep returning for one more mouthful.

Chef with flaming wok

Wok on! Fire is an important component of the menu at Wilma, which blends traditional cooking techniques with modern flavours. Photo: Zachary Griffith.

I hadn’t fully appreciated the sheer size of Wilma until I visited. The restaurant space is already big, with upstairs bar The Pearl and the outdoor seating area adding extra space for more customers. Restaurants this size aren’t that common in Canberra, especially not in the fine dining scene. The other Canberra establishments recognised by Gourmet Traveller are fairly small: the dining room at Pilot only seats a few handfuls of tables. This only makes our experience at Wilma even more impressive. It’s one thing to serve a small but excellent menu to a limited number of guests and quite another to maintain that high level of quality and service on a larger scale.

Clever use of circular booths and pendant lights maintain a sense of intimacy for diners despite the large room, although some have opted for the hustle and bustle of sitting at the bar directly next to the kitchen for a glimpse of the magic.

Wilma’s inclusion in Gourmet Traveller’s list is well deserved, so if you haven’t been yet: GO!

Wilma is located at 1 Genge St, Canberra. Check the website for opening hours.

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