Dining / High hopes above the trees

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“Mushroom landscape”… the dish celebrated all things mushroom and included a small bowl of soup, packed with flavour, mushroom sponge and custard. Photo by Wendy Johnson

THE architecture is grand and the views, through gigantic windows, stunning. Our group settled in at The Conservatory Restaurant, perched on high at the award-winning 250-hectare Arboretum, home to 44,000 trees from across Australia and around the world.

Wendy Johnson
Wendy Johnson.

The inspiration for our visit was to indulge in the seasonal  menu (two courses for $39 and $49 per person).

The Conservatory serves contemporary Australian cuisine showcasing fine local produce.

When the dish labelled “mushroom landscape” arrived we were wowed by the plating. The dish celebrated all things mushroom and included a small bowl of soup, packed with flavour, mushroom sponge and custard. Other dishes looked just as gorgeous, including the tender crispy salt and native berry calamari, which we happily dunked into tartare sauce. The native berry was a lovely twist.

Chef Janet Jeffs, in charge of Ginger Catering which handles the food scene at the Arboretum, has long been a passionate advocate for what she calls a “good, clean and fair food economy”. It’s why her cooking is based on fresh seasonal ingredients sustainably produced and it’s lovely to see Janet applaud local food heroes by crediting them on the menu.

The blue tartlet… with caramelised apple, pecan and herb salad was divine. Photo by Wendy Johnson

But back to the entrees. While the blue tartlet with caramelised apple, pecan and herb salad was divine, the Japanese pumpkin to me was bitterly disappointing. It was dry and left on the plate (staff didn’t ask why when clearing).

The two of us who ordered the coconut braised massaman curry duck legs for mains returned our dishes, with frowns on our faces because we were keen on the promised combo of flavours.

But my serve of duck was dry and smothered with so much sauce it was overwhelming. This time the staff were on top of the problem and didn’t hesitate to offer other options.

We both ordered the salmon, agreeing it was a much better outcome and loving that the fish was cooked medium rare. The yuzu mayo, wild and brown rice, and charred kale rounded out the dish beautifully. It’s not a big deal, but one of us had to remove a branded sticker from the lemon.

Pappardelle… with a scrumptious mushroom and thyme bourguignon. Photo by Wendy Johnson

One memorable dish was the pappardelle, with a scrumptious mushroom and thyme bourguignon. Our own comment was that the amount of freshly shaved parmesan on top was overly generous leading to food wastage.

The sides we shared were dynamite, including the fun parmesan chips with rosemary salt ($10).

Janet not only appreciates local and regional ingredients, she appreciates local wines. The wine list features gorgeous drops from Murrumbateman, Tumbarumba, Gundaroo, Bungendore and more (bottles start at $45 and glasses $10.50).

The service was slow even though the restaurant wasn’t entirely full while we dined. Still that made for more time to soak in the spectacular view.

The Conservatory Restaurant, National Arboretum. Lunch every day noon-2pm; breakfast, weekends 8am-11am. Call 6130 0173. 

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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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