Dining / Manuka gets a secret garden

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TUCKED away in the heart of Manuka Village is a secret garden that is a very special spot indeed.

Wendy Johnson
Wendy Johnson.

When I first heard Secret Garden was opening I crossed my fingers and toes that it wouldn’t just take over the existing space configuration, with its tired-looking colour scheme and old-fashioned seating. The space has been home to many eateries over the years, including Paysan Bakery (many moons ago), Francisco’s Mexican and Peppermint Cafe.

The Secret Garden was smart enough to know that a transformation was badly needed and now the area is modern, more spacious and more inviting with its perky yellow chairs, communal and individual wooden tables and greenery that thrives happily in the light-filled atrium.

Highly experienced hospitality veteran, Jack Zhong, co-owns Secret Garden (and the well-established and amazing Wild Duck at the Foreshore). With Bill Wu, Jack has also transformed the food offering and so off to lunch we went.

The menu truly has something for everyone, for breakfast, lunch and coffees in between. The Asian influence is evident and welcomed and daily specials keep the tastebuds dancing.

Poke bowls seem to be all the rage these days. I adore them (at least a good one) and Secret Garden’s salmon variety didn’t disappoint ($22 and gluten free). Sitting pretty on the rice cake was smashed avo, tomato, eschallots and baby capers. On top of that was a generous serve of cured salmon with a bit of crispy salmon skin delicately balanced and adding lovely crunch. What a wonderful combo of textures and flavours. And the dish was also a feast for the eyes.

My friend ordered the fish and chips, inspired by the promise of smoky kale batter ($22). The three pieces of fish were served with a fresh garden salad, preserved lemon and creamy tartare sauce made in house. The batter was light and the fish beautifully moist.

The buddha bowl at Secret Garden sounds intriguing and is packed with purple cabbage, parsnip, sweet potato, fennel, chick peas, avo, spinach, pearl barley, quinoa and a soft-boiled egg ($19). Big tick for being healthy.

During our visit, lunch specials included a rice congee ($16), pork boa ($18) and a pork katsu burger ($18). If you prefer, you can have a good old steak burger and chips or a chicken bacon deluxe roll with chips (both $22).

Coffee is by Campo and you can pick up a loyalty card. With your coffee or tea, why not indulge in one of the yummy looking, house-made pastries or sweets (available all day).

Secret Garden, Manuka Village, 33 Bougainville Street. BYO. Open seven days, breakfast and lunch (10 per cent surcharge on Sunday and 15 per cent on public holidays).

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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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