I’VE always loved Bookplate, the restaurant at the esteemed National Library of Australia. It’s such a beautiful setting with the marble foyer surrounded by the famous Leonard French stained glass windows and an outdoor dining area that can accommodate 60 and offers fabulous views of the lake and hills of Canberra.
With a new owner, Bookplate now offers a proper full menu, not just blackboard options (although rotating specials are still available). In essence, Tracy Keeley has developed more of a “restaurant feel” to the place and has enhanced the dining space inside with books and decorative items relating to authorship and penmanship.
Four of us dined at Bookplate for lunch and thought the summer “modern Australian” menu was great. Big tick.
The small plates, on our visit, featured a chilled vichyssoise ($11.50), Tasmanian salmon gravlax with salmon, fennel and grapefruit salad with sweet mustard sauce ($17.50), and rustic pork rillettes ($15.50). Lovely, light dishes for hot weather. We shared the rillettes and found the flavours fabulous, but the rillettes a bit dry.
Salads are super interesting and generous enough to satisfy as mains. They included roasted carrot, freekeh (made from green wheat and roasted), date and almond ($16.50), and mango, coconut, peanut and red rice ($18.50).
Six large plates were on offer and we concentrated on these until we realised that Bookplate had run out of four of them even though lunch was still in full swing.
One of our party ordered the Dal Bhat – yellow lentil dal with rice, warm roti, yoghurt and mango chutney ($21). It was sensational and the winner dish of the day by far. It was an excellent combination of interesting flavours and an excellent presentation on the plate. The second main ordered didn’t satisfy quite so well. The beer battered barramundi with steakhouse fries and tartar sauce for $24 was, well, ordinary.
I switched gears when told Bookplate was out of piri piri chicken and the soup du jour. Having seen the mango salad served to a table next to us, I ordered it. Although slightly dry, the flavours were super and the fresh mango packed a punch.
What I love about Bookplate’s new food approach is that the kitchen has shunned the approach of many national institutions here (and, indeed, around the world), which is to offer mediocre fare. There is concerted effort to be innovative and so Bookplate is well worth trying.
But I’ve said it often before, and will likely say so many times more; restaurants are like people, they have good days and bad days. On our visit, Bookplate must have been having a good day since they were out of most food. Or does that make it a bad day?
Bookplate, National Library of Australia, Parkes Place. Open seven days.
Photos by Holly Treadaway