It’s no easy feat to open up a restaurant, especially in Canberra. With what seems like more eateries than residents, Canberrans expect nothing less than the best from the newcomers. XO did not disappoint. Residing in the leafy suburb of Narrabundah, XO pays tribute to the South-East Asian cuisine that two of the four owners grew up with.
The light bright interior surrounds their solid marble tables complete with custom made chopsticks, bespoke spoons, Riedel stemware, and bonsai tree – the mass produced rice bowls and their accompanying plates stood out in contrast. This miniscule criticism was soon forgotten as the menu arrived. It was immediately obvious that it wouldn’t be easy to decide what to order. The menu offers starters ($8-$16), small plates ($14-$16), large plates ($28-$32), sides ($6-$12) and dessert ($5-$14). Of course before we got thinking about food, cocktails were ordered. I opted for a ‘The Weekend’ – Gin, ginger liqueur and chilli sugar syrup, while my friend went for a ‘Japerol Spritz’ – a traditional Aperol Spritz with an addition of a 50/50 blend Sake.
For food, the two of us decided on two starters, two small plates, one main, and each of the three desserts. First up (obviously) were the starters, Shantung Bao ($8 eac), and the Steamed Dumplings ($16). The Shantung Bao features twice cooked pork belly, with cucumber, pickled daikon, and ginger – easily my favourite of the night. A burger style bun is used rather than the wrap around ones we’re used to seeing. It was soft and fluffy, providing the perfect texture to complement the generous serving of tender pork belly. The dumplings are filled with minced prawn and pork and served with spicy soy vinaigrette. Being an avid dumpling lover, I was somewhat underwhelmed. While the filling was tender and flavoursome, I found the wrapping too firm for my liking, perhaps because I tend to prefer boiled dumplings over steamed or fried ones. Also for $16 I would expect more than four dumplings, even if it’s a starter.
From the small plates we chose the Shallow Fried Tofu ($14), and the Hiramasa Kingfish ($16). The tofu comes as 6 small discs served with seasoned soy and candied ginger. The portion was more generous this time and came with plenty of sauce, however it’s only fried slightly so don’t expect it to come golden brown. The kingfish is cured in beetroot and lemon grass giving it a beautiful purple glow. Lying in a splash of citrus-based ponzu sauce, it was a light and refreshing, perfect to clear the palette before the large plate came out.
The large plate was definitely the hardest to choose. Although there are only six options, they all sounded exceptionally scrummy. After great deliberation we selected the Beef Rendang with a side of rice. Slow cooked Black Angus chuck reduced in coconut milk and spices was simply too tempting to pass up, and I’m glad we didn’t. The rendang was full of flavour and fell apart on the plate, another favourite of the night. To accompany the rendang I chose a Canberra region Pinot Noir from Eden Road.
Since we couldn’t decide which of the three desserts to finish off our night with, we went for all three. At $5, the chrysanthemum soft serve is probably the best value dessert you’ll find in Canberra. Not too much to write about this one – it’s literally a soft serve in a cone, but the chrysanthemum flavour was pretty interesting (in a good way of course). The other two larger desserts were the Black Rice Pudding ($14) and the Pandan Pannacotta ($12). You only have to look at the photos below to know that they were amazing.
It’s still very early days at XO and if they continue providing this high quality food, along with some of the most attentive and informative service I’ve experienced, they will become a local favourite in no time. I’m already looking forward to going back and trying the options I missed out on.
Where: XO, 16 Iluka Street, Narrabundah ACT 2604
When: 6pm-11pm Monday-Saturday, and 12pm-3pm Tuesday-Saturday
Bookings: 02 6295 XOXO