Duxton does “Pub” very well. From the endless streams of natural light bathing the contemporary and auspiciously unpretentious space to a menu re-defining the experience of pub food – it offers both a refreshing point of difference and welcoming atmosphere of familiarity which I’ve shamelessly fallen head over heels in love with.
I really enjoy the concept of pubs. The idea of going down to the local with friends or loved ones numerous times a week for fast lazy lunches, easy wind-down dinners, catch-up drinks, relaxing atmosphere, good food at a good price, great local music, a cold beer, some decent wine, a good laugh, plenty of comfortable seating and maybe some sport on a big screen sounds fantastic. In reality, I strive to avoid pubs in Canberra. All I tend to do is stick to the floor as I stand around holding an unfavourable beer, squinting through dim light ready to pounce on the next available arthritis inducing seat. Sure food is cheap, but sometimes I feel like eating something other than varying manifestations of chicken schnitty.
Cue Duxton at O’Connor shops. Combining clean, sharp lines of chic industrial with the friendly and playful elements of rustic provincial, it has a comfortable and appealing fit-out encompassing out-door dining, relaxed lounges and that good-old pub feeling. Both the food and drinks menus deviate sharply from (but still include) “Dude food” – with the inclusion of inspiring pizzas, fresh and genuinely interesting salad combinations, clean pasta dishes and a highly considered drinks list which thankfully transcends the uninspiring VB, stock-standard shiraz and acrid chardonnay.
For lunch we enjoyed a selection from the weekly specials board and one amazing pizza. Spiced lamb skewers with BBQ House made flatbread tzatziki, Coopers beer battered fish with house made tartar, pumpkin, rocket, fetta and toasted pine nuts on a thin and crispy pizza base and Prawn and Chilli Linguine with rocket and lemon don’t sound like items traditionally found in pubs. However, the price would indicate otherwise – with each dish coming in just under or over the $20 mark, so in contextual comparison, very affordable.
The 2010 Ant Moore Pinot Gris from Marlborough was the perfect time filler after ordering. Emanating a salivatingly sweet aroma it was remarkably refreshing and light, offering a creamy finish which just lingered pleasantly of subtle stone fruits and pear. It matched the meals well, as none of the flavours present had an overpowering spotlight.
The lamb skewers came presented on a bed of thick, flavoursome tzatziki and house made flat bread which carried the appealing parallel tracks of a char-grilling treatment. The lamb itself was beautiful. Pooling rich juices into the pale folds of the tzatziki, the lightly spiced cubes of carnivorous heaven still had that tenderly pale pink centre, an important detail so often overlooked by other restaurants. An accompanying beetroot relish and lightly dressed salad tied everything together perfectly for a really delicious experience.
Fish and chips are of course a well known pub staple – but not many examples memorable for taste or texture come to mind. This fish had received a glamorous coating of Cooper’s beer batter, and had actually been cooked properly. By that I mean the fish was pale and tender, whilst the batter was golden and splinteringly crisp – not soggy and sodden resting in puddles of seeping oil. The chips were addictively crisp and the house made tartare was creamy, zesty and punchy. A fresh confetti of torn parsley added an extra element to both flavour and visual appeal.
The pizza was refreshing. I understand “refreshing” may be an unusual adjective to describe pizza, but the house made base was light, crisp and flavoursome, the tomato base wasn’t over salted, cheese was kept to a minimalist necessity and the topping of cubed pumpkin, crumbled feta, toasted pine nuts and spritely rocket just hit all the right notes and offered a perfect balance of flavour and texture.
The prawn and chilli linguine was the biggest surprise for me. Perfectly cooked pasta slicked ever-so-lightly in exemplary quality oil, twirled elegantly with fronds of rocket and tender prawns, then anointed with finely grated lemon zest, the tiniest amount of sharp parmesan and vibrant specs of fiery chilli – it was better than most pasta dishes I’ve eaten in proud Italian restaurants. It’s definitely my new favourite “going out” meal and I’d happily make the pilgrimage back to O’Connor for it.
The icing on the cake? They can even make a coffee rivalling the standard of most high rolling city cafès.
I’m really excited for the future of Duxton. With a seasonal menu offering both amazing life-style friendly options and all the deep fried classics, beverage selections to please even the fussiest of tastes, friendly staff, clean design, and a logo so adorable I have a business card stuck to my fridge – why would you be going anywhere else. There really is something here for everyone and the atmosphere is everything you want your local pub to be and so much more.
See you there!