Hop, skip and into Playground

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WITH a hop, skip and a jump we landed in Canberra’s newest colourful playground, complete with circles of grass, chalkboards, grape, lemon and cherry-coloured stools, and a cute white picket fence out front. Sound idyllic? 

It sure is, and all the more so since this playground offers tasty tapas and wicked martinis.

Nestled among a growing number of groovy Civic places to drink and dine in Garema Place, Playground Martini and Tapas Bar is a fun place to be. But let’s not forget… this is a food review.

Head chef Joel Miller, who has gained exceptional experience in Sydney’s Aria and Canberra’s Courgette, has designed a tapas menu that is almost too delicious to share (although, as big people, we knew we had to). It is divided into “sea”, “farm”, “garden” and “playtime sides” – all dishes beautifully presented and generous serves. We dived into the sea and visited the farm.

The superb and tender pig’s cheek schnitzel, nicely salty on the outside, made close friends with tiny rounds of sweet caramelised apple and creamy braised fennel ($15). We clapped with joy over the braised lamb shoulder, wrapped in smoky eggplant ($15) and screamed with delight over the hearty, full-flavoured paella, a generous serve loaded with mixed seafood, chicken and chorizo ($24). We pouted slightly over the paella’s crunch factor, though – more crunch on the bottom, please.

On our next visit we’ll choose the chilli pig skin crackling ($10), smoked ham hock croquette ($12) and chicken lollipops ($15). Lots of vegetarian and gluten-free options are on the menu, too. And because kids will be kids, Playground offers dessert (all $12), including a churros with chocolate and caramel. All desserts are designed to make you abide by the slogan imprinted on some of the bench seating fabric – “I feel good”.

The bar is stocked with an extravaganza of spirits and pretty liqueurs. The wine list features some top international labels with dozens by the half carafe (nice touch) and by the glass (although none under $11 that I could see – wine prices in Canberra are creeping up, for sure). Craft beers and ciders are available, as is tapas’ great mate Sangria ($25 a jug).

Playground is open seven days from 12.30pm, not because the owners want patrons to stagger back to work after a few martinis, but because it wants to have Canberrans loving the tapas. Perhaps the name should be reversed from “martini and tapas bar” to “tapas and martini bar”.

As sensible adults, we didn’t indulge in martinis because it was lunch. However, we hear Playground makes a mean dirty martini. We’ll road test it soon, but will refrain from playing hopscotch afterwards.

Playground, Garema Place, Civic. Call 6262 717. Open seven days from 12.30pm.

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Wendy Johnson
Wendy Johnson: Food reviewer for Canberra CityNews magazine since 2004, covering stories for true foodies to digest.

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