Sharing lunch with an old friend

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Urban Pantry gnocchi… house-made ricotta dumplings with gorgonzola, forest mushrooms, baby kale and broad beans. Photo: Wendy Johnson

“The Urban Pantry menu has great variety and focuses on local produce and flavours that are anything but wimpy, writes dining reviewer WENDY JOHNSON.

SOMETIMES it’s great to return to an old friend for lunch. While it’s intriguing to trial the gazillion new places that continue to pop up in every part of town, there are (dare I say) “oldie goldies” holding their own and they deserve our patronage, too. 

Wendy Johnson
Wendy Johnson.

That takes me to the inner-south, on the iconic Manuka Lawns, where Urban Pantry has a prime corner position. It’s been there for a long time serving breakfast, lunch and hanging open from about 4pm to 5.30pm depending on the day. Dinner is no longer served (sad face). I hadn’t been for yonks.

It was a weekend. Lunch. Packed (but that’s a good sign, right?). We lucked in with a table in the outdoor area (enclosed in plastic with heaters for winter). Our party of two ended up beside a large and loud party (fair enough for them, it was the weekend) but they were a bit boisterous. “No problem,” said the person who seated us. In a flash, we were whisked away to a quieter spot.

The menu has great variety and focuses on local produce and flavours that are anything but wimpy.

Over the years, I’ve had gnocchi a few times at Urban Pantry and the dish has never failed me. This visit didn’t either. House-made ricotta dumplings (not at all heavy or stodgy), with gorgonzola that packed a punch, forest mushrooms, baby kale and broad beans ($27). Life doesn’t get much better (my dining friend had food envy). The dish, even though the place was pumping, arrived piping hot. Worth every bite. 

Urban Pantry’s spaghetti vongole… Cloudy Bay clams, spanner crab, garlic, chilli, basil, asparagus and prosecco. Photo: Wendy Johnson

My friend is a big vongole fan and couldn’t steer away from that item on the menu ($32). It was just as yum. Cloudy Bay clams (with their briny juices making the dish sing), spanner crab, garlic (just the right amount), chilli, basil, asparagus and prosecco. What a winning combination. The only issue was the kick of the chilli. More was ordered but we weren’t convinced more was included. 

Other lunch mains that caught the attention of our tastebuds included a Hunter Valley lamb skewer (sumac spiced rump, $23) and a Tasmanian salmon niçoise with an olive tapenade ($24). Burgers, fish and chips and a club sandwich are also available (hovering around the $24 mark). Specials on our visit included a delish-sounding duck ragu ($32) and a chicken pie ($26). 

The wine list at Urban Pantry is pretty decent and those wanting non-alcoholic drinks can enjoy smoothies, frappes, milkshakes, thickshakes, other cold drinks and a full range of great coffees and teas. BTW, a menu for the “little ones” is available (all $14) and includes a healthy quinoa-crumbed, free-range chicken.

Urban Pantry, 5 Bougainville Street, Manuka. Open seven days for breakfast, lunch and afternoons. 10% surcharge Sundays and public holidays. No bill splitting and surcharges for Visa and Mastercard 1.1 per cent and Amex 2.6 per cent.

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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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