If there is any place in Canberra to act as the proverbial dangling carrot of a monotonous working week it would have to be Tongue & Groove. These guys transcend the seemingly unavoidable vanilla sameness of many other social places around the city. Their points of difference and therefore pinnacles of desire encompass intuitive zeitgeist concepts abounding menu execution, Paul Kelly designed space to make even the most blasé of eyebrows raise and the drive to constantly refine the involved experience for every patron to step willingly through those alluring glass doors. Entering to contemporary chilled tunes on a Monday night, the atmosphere is a perfect haven.
Tongue & Groove’s renowned constant evolution of customer experience has just stepped up an impressive notch with the introduction of gastro-mixology cocktails and brand new tapas listings to make every sense tingle. This is a first for the Nation’s Capital and on par with some of the world’s finest and most revered cocktail bars and restaurants. Reinventing classics is not an activity I would usually condone (they are classics for a reason), but I’d take the transcending alchemic spin on the iconic Amaretto Sour from T&G over an original manifestation any day of the week. We were privileged enough to try the Amaretto Sour, (jellified amaretto sour, layered cherry brandy, frozen Maraschino cherry cube), Cherry Bramble (emulsified citrus gin, layered cherry brandy, framboise soaked berries, cracked pepper) and the deceptively innocent Pample Poire – a sweetly floral laced potion of St Germaine elderflower, Poire William, ruby red grapefruit, topped with a citrusy sour apple and lime sherbet. Each one of these painstakingly practiced to perfection drinks encourage interaction to the extent where consumption would be impossible with a mere slurp through a straw. All provide oodles of intriguing fun and thrilling experience which deserve prominent inclusion to one’s bucket list.
Continuing the apparent and recurring theme of mind blowing perfection of the cocktails, we were presented with a selection of tapas dishes for entrée. Including handmade steamed pork buns, 62⁰ C egg, charcoal celeriac, lamb shoulder croquettes and, soft shell crab taco – we were impressed to no end by attention to detail, taste and execution.
The steamed pork buns had a clear Chinese heritage, arriving soft, supple and full of tender pork with hoisin sauce, pickled slices of cucumber and delightful balances of flavour and texture. The 62˚C egg with sautéed mushrooms, garlic croutons, parmesan custard and watercress moves closer to the realm of scientific experiment. Based on a French principle of temperature precision, the little egg (presented in its own jar) is an honest testament to the theory a steady 62˚C is indeed the optimum temperature for poaching eggs. The accompanying parmesan custard was a surprising delight and I’ve been recommending it to just about everyone I know since. The charcoal celeriac, chevre, and Jerusalem artichoke with confit onion could be described as a salad of sorts – much more refined than the stock standard garden varietal, however. The bitter bite of celeriac and warm heat of pepper was smoothed and rounded to mouthfuls of unexpected indulgence, by the softly sweet chevre (goats) cheese and meltingly tender confit onion. The slow cooked lamb shoulder and potato croquettes with roast garlic aioli were the quickest of all the tapas dishes to disappear, with the golden crisp-crumbed spheres encircling super soft centres clearly irresistible to every set of taste buds. Soft shell crab tacos were a really high note to end the tapas on, with the tempura crustaceans retaining their pale sweetness and, blanketed by soft taco shell, beads of juicy sweet corn, crisp slithers of red onion, creamy indulgence of avocado and abundance of refreshing coriander, I suggest hogging this one all to yourself.
Mains here are seriously substantial without being heavily laden with sluggish regret. I don’t usually suffer a carnivorous reflex, but the medium rare rib eye steak with spinach, pomme puree, caramelised French shallots and citrus laced garlic butter would be a sight to make even the most dedicated of vegetarians turn. Weeping ruby juices of pure ecstasy, the greedily thick slab of meat tasted even better than it looked (a challenge, as presentation of all dishes is paramount), with the vegetable components promoting the tender cut to the status of my favourite steak in the city. Always a popular favourite, the wood fired margarita pizza was a joy to both retina and taste bud. A crisp authentic base was topped with real tomato napoletana, generous slices of quality, stringy buffalo mozzarella and scattered with fresh leaves of brilliant green basil. Needless to say no time was wasted digging in.
Previously known for their famous Pizookie(TM), we delved into their new repertoire of desserts and were rewarded with vanilla panna cotta topped with a rhubarb and beetroot granita (I know what you’re thinking but don’t judge until you’ve tried it!) and crown of spindly strawberry Persian fairy floss. I was surprised to no end by the rhubarb and beetroot combination, but in nitty gritty theory it does work perfectly. Warmly rich earthy flavours sail through a sea of icy and refreshing granita before sinking through the layers of velvety, vanilla bliss. And the Persian floss? Well that’s just fun. Our other dessert was a quaint jar of yoghurt and white chocolate ganache smattered with fresh berries, rose water jellies and pistachio crumble topping. The savoury nuttiness of ground pistachio was unmistakable, as was the cultured tang of thick, pillowy yoghurt. The sweetness cultivated from both berries and white chocolate balanced the adorable serving out to a light and enjoyable end to proceedings.
I think I’ve said enough. Tongue & Groove have once again raised the bar to almost impossible heights. If you’re looking to receive world class food, drinks, atmosphere and service – forget jetting to Chicago or London – because amazing things are happening right here in Canberra.