As a kid I couldn’t wait to be all grown up. I would wear whatever ludicrous and seasonally inappropriate garments to take my fancy, eat slabs of fruit and nut chocolate for dinner, stay up late, be free of homework, drive to Paris, have total control of the TV remote and own my own house, organised exactly how I want it. Now I am grown up (well, technically), the TV content is cactus, dresses worn in the harsh Canberra winter give me frostbite, I stay up late ploughing through life admin wishing I could just go to bed and my house is a complete mess. What I wouldn’t give to sit in a sand pit with juice box in one hand, Barbie in the other playing carelessly to my hearts content without the men in white suits coming to take me away.
Thankfully, my deprived inner child can now be indulged (psycho analysis free) to her hearts content in the sophistication and jubilant brilliance of Playground Martini and Tapas bar along Garema place in Civic. The cute white palings of a storybook picket fence greet you playfully in the street, guiding the way to such a quirkily inspired fit-out it begs the question as to why no-one has procured this concept before. A perfectly balanced mix of suave and exciting, the interior space alludes to the immaturity and long-buried youthful wonderment within every grown up in the city. Scrupulously hung lighting installations allude to a sense of meticulous rigidity, whereas the fluorescent colour pops from plastic stools, novel intrigue of synthetic grass floor mats and the transformation of floorboards to ceiling, stealing around vertical walls all the while sprouting magical vines of creeping Ivy along exposed bare bricks, create an enchanting Enid Blyton-esque atmosphere.
Even the Martini selection is laced with youthful frivolity. The Pomegranate martini complete with lemon twist has it’s culinary twin in the form Jube lollies. Similarities include the hyperactive purple hue, sugar dusted rim and sweetly moreish taste, but cease I daresay at the alcoholic content. The Peach Monkey bar runs parallel, arriving impaled with a comically engorged strawberry, the stimulating sunset hue both smelling and tasting reminiscently of Cottee’s cordial – the staple fluid solution of all school-aged kiddies. Needless to say, it would be far too easy to make a substantial dent in the remainder of the Martini list, consequences of which would inevitably end as an epic and unco-ordinated hopscotch tournament (yes, they have hopscotch here) right in front of the bar.
Food selections at Playground are all about sharing, which is especially difficult because of the exemplary quality, range, presentation and flavour of all the Tapas plates listed. Why on earth would I want to share the braised lamb shoulder wrapped in smoked eggplant, or part with one of my juicy beef sliders? They were just too good! Regardless, I gave it my best shot and was infinitely more popular with my dining companions for the effort.
Our tapas selection included garlic prawns with avocado salsa, pig cheek schnitzels with caramelised apple and fennel, braised lamb shoulder cocooned in soft smoked eggplant and, beef sliders – those bouncing baby burgers still taking the cocktail world by storm. The garlic prawns were charred to perfection and tasted just like a Christmas family barbeque, the accompanying tangy aioli aiding my perception of a time warp back to the summer beaches of the south coast. The braised lamb shoulder really was hard to share, with soft tendrils of succulent slow cooked shoulder so delicious I almost needed a moment alone with the plate. The beef sliders are a must have for any fun table with the tangy mustard, moreish chutney and thick baby beef patties sure to please any company you may be keeping. Last but certainly not least – the pig cheek schnitzels. I usually stay clear of stereotypically boring fennel, but braised and caramelised with apple and paired with these large, golden crumbed cakes of mouth-watering pork – it was impossible to pass up and inevitable the plate was wiped clean.
Anyone else who sees a jumping castle and just has to have a go, or comes across a ball pit and can’t resist the urge to dive in will love this place. Likening the experience to classic literature, imagine getting to the top of Enid Blyton’s magic far-away tree with faithful companions Moon-face and Silky, to discover with unsurpassed joy the fictional land at the top is a martini bar carnival. The best thing about Playground, however, is it’s a permanent fixture – so head down for some long over-due fun. Go on, I double-dog-dare you.