The words elegance, calm, fine cuisine and nostalgic jazz rarely fall favourably into the same sentence as a hotel restaurant – But One Restaurant & Bar at Novotel on Northbourne Avenue classily defies stereotype with unpretentious ease.

It’s peak hour outside and while I can see the army of suits running up and down the street, the dim red glow of constantly applied brake lights and double parking chaos in front of the Jolimont below – I feel totally at ease, my eardrums assailed by nothing more than the muted murmurings of quite conversation and a crooner with a saxophone plucked straight from 1957.

The layout is fabulous. Before you even reach the contemporary dining space, a beautifully welcoming bar area greets patrons with open arms. A suave fusion of plush reds, white marble, fluid silver and deep chocolate browns make your heart melt into sitting down for at least one pre dinner drink. With $9 cocktails from 5pm-7pm every day and an extensive wisely varied wine list, it becomes even easier to stay put for two.

Eventually we meandered through to the dining space and took some very comfortable upholstered seats by the window. Our host for the evening, Elle, guided us through the small but highly refined menu and detailed consisting ingredients and finishes. It was an unusual experience to forgo thumbing the pages of a written menu but one we welcomed with open arms. I can never decide what I want off a menu and spend more time agonising over choice than enjoying the atmosphere of dining out – so the simple choice of Trio of dips with toasted Garlic Bread or Morton bay bug for entre, pumpkin risotto, pan fried snapper or crumbed rack of lamb for mains and flourless chocolate torte or a 3 in 1 tasting plate for desert, made the night exponentially more relaxing and enjoyable.

Trio of dips is usually nothing to write home about, but in this instance the toasted wedges of garlic bread were of a wonderful quality with a thick dark crust. The hummus actually tasted of chickpeas as opposed to the oily manifestations so often frequenting dip platters, the avocado had a lovely creamy texture with soft piquing tang and the eggplant had me scraping it across the bread with knife as though it were peanut butter and the time 7 am.

Sautéed Moreton Bay Bug with prawns came plated in a neat little rank of red, green and coral uniforms. The scent is absolutely salivating, spiking the immediate atmosphere with aromas of crushed tomatoes, chives and quality seafood. The sauce carries a softly emanating heat – warmly spiced to gently announce a hint of chilli but nowhere enough to be uncomfortable.

After a short intermission to enjoy a recommended glass of 2010 McLaren Vale Shiraz, our mains arrived right on queue. I’m not going to lie – as delicious and sinfully addictive as I find risotto, it usually looks as though the chef has upturned a tin of creamed rice on a serving plate. The Butternut pumpkin Risotto here, however, was a welcome exception. Not only was the sweet creamy texture of the stock infused grains just right, the wafer thin crisps of golden parmesan lace and tendrils of fried sage made the whole thing look undeniably appealing as well as adding an interesting point of textural contrast

The pan seared snapper with white bean cassoulet and winter baby vegetables were a wonderful example of how snapper should be treated. A crisp skin still displaying brilliant coral flashes of the condemned fish’s former life perched atop creamy, flaking white flesh really hit home, and the baby winter vegetables provided a clean, honest accompaniment which were… well, just so cute!

The 3 point rack of lamb crusted in Dijon mustard and thyme served with potato rosti was (if I had to pick one) my favourite of the mains. The lamb was prepared to textbook perfection, with a bare scraped bone and just-rare centre, softly blushing with a pink tenderness and gently weeping luscious juices down the precision carved face. The crumb was moreish and the sauce coating the base of the plate was thick, sticky, dark and wonderfully coagulate. Plate licking stuff.

Desserts were definitely an enjoyable affair, with the 3 in 1 tasting plate and aptly named chocolate nemesis provided for end of evening enjoyment. The tasting plate contained a perfectly circular disc of smooth tangy lemon tart, refreshing lemon lime sorbet and velvety rich crème brulee, displaying that satisfying crackled roof of golden burnt sugar. The chocolate nemesis is a French style flourless chocolate cake which can only be described as dark, dense, rich and fudgy. Topped with a house made vanilla cream displaying dark speckles of vanilla seeds clearly visible in the fluffy white duvet of porcelain tinted cream, it was a prime example of chocolate heaven.

Conveniently located in the middle of the city with friendly, knowledgeable and attentive staff, One restaurant and Bar at Novotel was a really enjoyable experience and provides the perfect levels of ambience to just kick back and forget trauma of the working day. The cocktail list is fun, wine list extensive and menu a perfectly executed selection for all tastes. Hang the expense – you may as well book a room. That way you can enjoy the seamless hospitality without need to exit the building into Canberra’s cold, wintery grasp. Happy break-ation!

Photography by Chris Whitfield

For your chance to win a $50 voucher for One Restaurant & Bar, visit Novotel Canberra’s Facebook page Click Here