Few examples of how rapidly fortunes can change in the hospitality business are as vivid as Pialligo Estate, the vineyard and restaurant complex at the end of a road lined with garden centres and smallholdings in Canberra’s rural Pialligo.
Two years ago, the Estate’s staff were raking through the embers of the award-winning Farmhouse Restaurant, burned to the ground after a kitchen fire. But fast forward to the end of 2019, and the Estate’s future couldn’t be brighter than where it’s going.
Last week’s opening of Market Grill, a 48-seat luxe dining spot reminiscent of a Spanish tapas bar but with a distinct seafood bent, is the latest in a string of launches at the Kallaroo Road site. Pialligo Estate seems determined to bring new food and wine experiences to the Canberra region.
Market Grill joins the eight-week-old Pialligo Fields gin bar adjacent to the main restaurant; kids’ paddock-to-plate children’s centre, The Possum Patch, which opened in neighbouring Beltana Road earlier this year; and Outstanding in the Field, their events arm offering functions amidst the beauty of the Estate’s vines, orchard and market gardens, in October.
A new gourmet takeaway outlet, Pialligo Urban, popped up in Braddon’s buzzing Lonsdale Street in June, bringing the Estate to your home or office. And this week Pialligo Estate is proudly notching up yet another opening with The Farm Shop Café, centrepiece of The Plot, an expansive new market complex just down the road, on Beltana Road.
For former Perth restaurateur Scott Taylor, who joined Pialligo Estate as general manager six months ago, it’s been a whirlwind. But he says the desire to “realise the significant potential of 55-plus acres of assets” was too good an opportunity to let pass.
He aims to shift the perception of Pialligo Estate as a high-end, expensive night out, to a multi-faceted food and drink experience offering something for everyone.
“People used to just come here for their family gathering or for a big corporate event, but nobody ever said ‘what a lovely day it would be to have a beer at Pialligo’, and they should – the views are amazing!” he says.
Pialligo Fields, with its bar snacks menu and indoor/outdoor seating has delivered that casual vibe; and the simple but beautiful, produce-driven menu over at the new café will, too.
Market Grill, meanwhile, with its rustic blackboard menu and catch of the day on ice in front of the open kitchen (today it’s snapper, oysters, mussels and pipis), has at its heart a commitment to applying a light touch to the very best ingredients.
“As a landlocked city, sourcing seafood in Canberra can be so difficult. You often don’t have any idea of provenance, freshness can be in doubt,” says Scott.
To guarantee the quality of everything that ends up on the plate, they have forged strong relationships with a handful of fishermen and farmers to directly supply the Grill.
A roll-call of suppliers and producers greets diners as they arrive at the new restaurant. Framed photos of Spencer Gulf fisherman Dan Fisk clutching an impressive kingfish; Mark Allsop from Appellation Oysters on the NSW south coast and Pialligo Estate’s own master smoker Alex Petryk, market gardener Pete Anderson and sommelier Freddie Raimbaud line the wall.
“We’re not going through wholesalers, we want to showcase what this region has to offer – let high-quality produce sourced sustainably and locally shine through. It’s our responsibility as a restaurant to tell these people’s stories,” Scott says. Chargrilled snapper with burnt lemon; baby squid stuffed with chorizo and farsi, topped with a spicy chimichurri paste; and a signature dish of chateaubriand are some of the blackboard menu highlights (from $26 a plate). Desserts run the gamut of tiramisu and crème brulee to fruit crumble.
Diners who choose to sit at the eight-seat bar with a bird’s eye view into the open kitchen action must take the bespoke “Feed Me” menu which, at $85 a head, includes the chef’s choice of highlights from the daily menu, plus an oyster tasting masterclass.
“The menu changes every day,” says Scott. “What we get off the trawlers is what’s on the menu that day. When we run out, we run out.”
And though Market Grill has a seafood focus, carnivores won’t be disappointed. A new meat dry-ageing room and prep kitchen was recently built on site.
Scott is confident the latest additions to the Estate will be well-received by Canberra’s food and wine lovers.
“I love how educated Canberrans are about food. Most people here have travelled. You can’t fool anyone [when it comes to a good food experience], you have to be at the top of your game,” he says.
Market Grill is open Wednesday to Saturday, 12:00 pm to late and Sunday 12:00 pm to 3:00 pm.