As a food writer, I’m lucky enough to eat for a living. When I’m out and about trying the best of what Canberra chefs have to offer, I notice trends starting to occur.
Food – like clothes, art and music – goes through phases of fashion. Remember when balsamic vinegar drizzles were everywhere in the early 2000s? Or the aspic craze of the 50s? While that might be a food trend we’d rather forget, there’s plenty of trendy cuisine to be excited about in the capital.
What’s old is new again, and scotch eggs are at the forefront of the retro-fusion trend. If you’re not familiar with this old-school pub snack, all you need to know is that it’s a boiled egg, wrapped in sausage meat, rolled in breadcrumbs and deep fried. The origin story of the scotch egg is murky at best, so there’s no real consensus on how old the dish is or if it can even be attributed to Scotland.
But in recent months, I’ve noted them with some surprises on a couple of menus.
Fyshwick restaurant Canteen, from the team behind Ramen Daddy, serves up a Dan Dan-inspired Scotch egg with mayonnaise and pickled fennel. The mince is spiked with Szechuan chilli and wrapped around a perfectly jammy soy egg. Intra LNSD – the second location of the popular Campbell cafe – is also dishing up a scotch egg with lamb mince and chilli oil.
It’s becoming more common to see restaurants and cafes selling a retail version of their house-made condiments. The classic ‘COVID pivot’ resulted in many venues creating products for customers to enjoy at home, and while countless sourdough starters died lonely deaths in the back of the fridges across town, it seems like this particular pandemic trend has stuck around.
Civic Vietnamese restaurant Miss Van’s sells their addictively fragrant chilli oil by the jar, and Dada in Woden has bottled up the sauce from their outrageously good Korean-style spicy fried chicken. Barrio has teamed up with local hot sauce specialist Unscripted Fermentation to create a whole range of wacky and wonderful hot sauces featuring unexpected ingredients like strawberries, bread and coffee. Sandoochie sells bottles of Shakewell Hot Sauce and, if you’re lucky, they also do occasional releases of their own Sandoochie Condiment, a delicious blend of chilli, garlic and ginger (it goes down a treat on a bacon and egg roll).
Another classic that seems to be everywhere at the moment is Steak Tartare. I’ve been served some variation of “our take on a tartare” so often I’ve recently begun to wonder if the cost of living crisis is limiting the use of gas stoves in commercial kitchens! Fortunately, I’m a big fan of this raw meat dish, and it’s always interesting to see how a chef will approach the necessary balance of fat and acid while reinterpreting the ingredients.
At Dada in Woden, it’s served with cucumber and black vinegar, and at Civic nightlife venue and cocktail bar Luna, they top it with a 63-degree egg and sweet potato crisps. Wine Room in Braddon has a Balinese twist with prawn crackers and betel leaves used as the accompanying vessel instead of traditional croutons. And just this week, I was treated to a tartare with rice crackers, preserved lemon and chilli at the opening of Mrs Wang at Tiger Lane.
An ongoing trend is the presence of low or no-alcohol drinks options on the menu at pubs, bars and restaurants. It seems like every time I visit a bottle-o, I see a new alcohol-free beer on the shelves. While Canberra start-up Heaps Normal got the ball rolling, other local brewers are getting in on the action.
Altina drinks continue to be popular, and it’s common for bars to have a decent selection of mocktails that are more than just a glass of fizzy sugar water. Try the Designated Magic Carpet at Luna, the Virgin Negroni at Braddon wine bar Rizla, or the signature Such and Such Shandy.
What other food trends have you noticed around town recently? Let us know in the comments!