I feel like I’ve stumbled into an episode of the 1960s cartoon The Flintstones, but without the jaunty little off-the-shoulder loincloth dress Wilma used to rock.
There’s a slab of steak heading my way and it’s so huge I swear it must have come from a brontosaurus. Minutes earlier, this prime cut was on display in a glass-fronted cabinet featuring a daunting selection of meat.
The top shelf houses a row of tomahawk steaks that weigh between 1.5 kg and 2.5 kg apiece.
Below them are racks of dry-aged rib-eye smothered in rendered wagyu fat and butter. Every two months, the butter mix is infused with a different flavour – today it’s smoked charcoal; previously, truffle or honey and thyme imparted their own subtle fragrances.
You can’t miss the fact that meat is the main attraction at this flagship restaurant in the city’s new Constitution Place food and retail precinct (it’s in the name, after all).
Canberra’s Meat & Wine Co in Civic is the 10th to open in Australia. The venue offers a seasonal menu with flavours of owner and founder Bradley Michael’s South African heritage, including delicious Boerewors, traditional South African beef sausages pepped up with coriander and cumin, and a smattering of South African wines on the drinks list.
We visit during the restaurant’s soft opening and the low-lit dining room, flanked by curved banquettes and an open kitchen, with an overhead ‘pelmet’ featuring layers of what appear to be tiny squares of leather, is buzzing.
The menu is divided into sections, including entrees, skewered, slow-cooked ribs, favourites, steak, sides and salads, along with a children’s list. The plate of slow-cooked ribs delivered to the table next to us is more than tempting, but we’ve heard about the brand’s newly introduced technique of combining classic dry-aging methods with the butter infusion, and it would be rude not to check out the results.
After a starter of scallop crudo with chilli, crème fraiche, lemon oil, pancetta crumb and soft herbs (OK, but needing more of a citrus kick) and a serve of Boerewors (love it), our wagyu rib-eye is cut from one of the pieces in the cabinet and cooked medium. The weight and marble score requires a little longer on the grill than our usual medium-rare preference, suggests our waiter.
Sides of chips, onion rings and broccolini round things out (we’ll come back for the truffle mac and cheese next time).
The steak – at nearly 900 grams – is more than enough for the two of us to share and is a triumph. The additional cooking time has ensured the breed’s famous intra-muscular fat is perfectly rendered and the meat butter-soft and full of flavour. It’s incredibly rich, beautifully cooked and feels like a real treat.
And it should be. Going the dry-age route is not cheap.
Priced by weight ($16 per 100 grams when we visit), it’s possible to rack up a fairly hefty tab … but given the potential to share, I’d thoroughly recommend splashing out for the ultimate experience. It’s probably the best steak we’ve eaten, and I’m counting the traditional Bistecca alla Fiorentina we ordered in Tuscany, and an Argentinian barbecued steak enjoyed in Buenos Aires among the contenders.
Those who don’t like surprises when it comes to the bill will be comforted by the selection of grass-fed Angus, Shorthorn and Australian Wagyu cuts ranging from 200 grams to 500 grams (with marble score and fixed prices listed on the menu). Each comes grilled to your liking with chips or salad.
On the desserts list, classics such as sticky date pudding and baked cheesecake sit alongside a strawberry crème brulee and a boozy banoffee pie.
Bradley Michael may have only just opened his designer steakhouse, but he has big plans for the nation’s capital, bolstered by the enthusiastic response it’s received.
“Having seen how busy the restaurant has been, it’s evident that Canberra has a vibrant dining scene that appreciates good food and a quality dining experience,” he says. He intends to introduce other brands that sit within his Seagrass Boutique Hospitality Group portfolio, such as Italian Street Kitchen, the Middle-Eastern-style Alma’s Mezze & Charcoal and Ribs & Burgers, to the city next.
Yabba dabba doo!
The Meat & Wine Co at Constitution Place on Constitution Avenue, Canberra, is open from 12:00 pm to 10:00 pm Wednesday to Sunday.