Two hats and Chatham House rules, okay?

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Star of the night… Tasmanian ocean trout with crispy skin, salty Yarra Valley caviar, sorrel and a delicate horseradish cream. Photo: Wendy Johnson

IT was my first time to the National Press Club after its makeover, officially opened in December 2018. There’s a great deal to like about the new décor, reconfigured spaces and the removal of the noisy pokie machines.

Wendy Johnson
Wendy Johnson.

Six of us gathered for dinner at the fine-dining Chatham House restaurant having heard that the restaurant was awarded two hats in Gault et Millau Australian Restaurant Guide. Congrats to chef Daren Tetley and his team. Daren has been with the Press Club for seven plus years and has worked in the kitchens of global brands such as the Hyatt and Peninsula Hong Kong.

Chatham House (aptly named after Chatham House Rules) offers a “five elements” degustation, featuring dishes designed around air, water, fire, earth and ether.

The air is scrumptious soy and seed sourdough, which we all devoured. Water is a choice of oysters or ocean trout. Fire a choice of duck breast or scallops; earth, lamb rack or pork cutlet and ether an amazing selection of cheeses (incredibly generous serve). It’s $68 per person or $98 with wine matching.

The star dish of the night was the Tasmanian ocean trout with crispy skin, salty Yarra Valley caviar (pop, pop, pop in the mouth), sorrel and a delicate horseradish cream. It melted in the mouth and offered up an exquisite combo of flavours. We were only disappointed with the lack of consistency with the trout skin, which was very black (burnt) on one piece of fish.

Sweet, large, juicy scallops with the deep-flavoured black pudding, creamy cauliflower puree and saffron vinegarette. Photo: Wendy Johnson

Both fire dishes were feasts for the eyes. The classic combination of the sweet, large, juicy scallops with the deep-flavoured black pudding met with nods of approval. We loved the creamy cauliflower puree and saffron vinaigrette. The free-range duck was wonderfully pink, with crunch to the skin and a great partner with the truffle caramel fondant.

The earth dishes were tasty but not perfection on the plate. The rare breed Byron Bay Kurobuta Berkshire pork cutlet – a quality piece of protein – wasn’t juicy and slightly pink. It was definitely overdone in our books. The Breakout River Cowra lamb – also a quality piece of protein – was slightly tough. We loved the Cumberland sauce.

We were taken aback at how generous the cheese plates were and appreciated every bite. Cheeses have been sourced from Adelaide Hills, England, France and the US, and featured a Kris Lloyd Artisan Jester (goat’s milk and cow cream) and a Shropshire Blue that was amazing.

The carefully curated wine list features intriguing labels with wines exceptionally priced. Special wine cabinet wines are available.

It was service with a smile at Chatham House, but we found the restaurant cold – both temperature and in personality. Although the fit out was lovely, the place badly needs soft background music.

Chatham House Restaurant, National Press Club, Barton. Open Monday to Friday, noon-2pm and 6.30pm-9pm. You must be a member of the club or signed in by one (social memberships available).

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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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