When I first arrived in Canberra with a fresh B.A. stamped behind my name (oh yeah!), I did what any graduate with an arts degree would do: apply for waitressing jobs. One of the first places I applied was a brand new restaurant in Canberra Centre; it was so new the only information I had to go on was a billboard advertising an email and the name Wood & Coal. I didn’t get the job, but I still intended to have a meal there when they opened their doors.
I decided to dine at Wood & Coal two months after their opening, and I was excited by the prospect of an “eclectic and bold” spit-roast dinner. (I hadn’t had good spit-roast since a family vacation to Mexico in 2008!) The restaurant’s external appearance communicates a typical trendy tapas bar, indistinct from the likes of the other tapas places along the same row. The interior of the restaurant is quaint; I appreciated the European atmosphere and the gorgeous partitioned area within the mall.
Since Wood & Coal “encourages [their] patrons to share… in a communal dining experience,” I invited my boyfriend and a couple of friends to join me. The hostess was very welcoming as she led us to our appointed table and introduced our equally cheerful waitress. My first negative impression arose when I opened the wine menu; I expect a decent mark up when ordering wine out, but I should never experience a 50 – 60 percent price increase! The cocktail list was more appropriately priced, so we ordered two – an Old Fashioned and a Medusa’s Bite.
When we asked the waitress about the meal sizes, she was very attentive and answered our queries with a good knowledge of the menu. I was told that the “Small Plates” were an entrée- (or appetizer) sized portion and that the “Large Plates” and “Meats” were shareable, main-sized portions. We decided to partake in three of the Large Plates: the short ribs, the ricotta gnudi, and the twice-cooked lamb.
After ordering the meals, and a brief trip to the washroom (an obscure concept of unisex toilets with two gender-marked stalls), our cocktails arrived. Neither drink, while creative in theme, was wholly appealing in taste or appearance. The addition of star anise marred the Old Fashioned’s subtle bitter nature, whereas the flavours of the Medusa’s Bite muddled into a blend of watery cider and tasteless grenadine.
Although we waited a long time for our main course, the conversation between friends and the attentiveness of the bussers to our hydration needs allowed the time to pass smoothly and without much notice. When the food arrived, we were ravenous and prepared to dive into the marvellously plated dishes. Unfortunately, the beauty of the plating is where the enjoyment of our meal ended.
The short ribs and lamb, while remarkably tender from their period on the spit, were underwhelming. Both meats were served to us lukewarm and demanded seasoning. The sides served with the lamb and ribs did not fare much better. The potato gratin lacked any sense of the word “gratin.” The crunchy cheese crust was absent and the potatoes were undercooked and cold. Fortunately, the blackened kale came to the short ribs’ rescue. The leafy green’s bitterness was transformed into a crisp, tangy addition to the otherwise unsatisfactory plate. The same cannot be said for the grilled eggplant accompanying the lamb, which possessed an uninviting texture and rendered the dish forgettable.
The word used most often to describe gnudi is “pillowy.” These delicate morsels of rich cheese and paper-thin dough should be light in texture and melt in your mouth. The ricotta gnudi at Wood & Coal do not meet these standards. These chewy spheres of dough were unappetizing and once again the vegetables surpassed the main in flavour. The baby beets and the golden beet purée were spot on. In the end the three “Large Plates,” despite being told otherwise, weren’t enough to share among the four of us.
Thankfully, we were wise enough (and hungry enough) when we placed our order to also request a bowl of the signature chips. The chips were fantastic! The potatoes were cooked well – fluffy inside with a crispy coating – and the addition of the salty feta and hint of oregano from the oil were both welcome. It’s sad that the bowl of chips couldn’t salvage the meal.
Overall, Wood & Coal’s choice of tagline (Homer, Illiad 521–24) could not be more incorrect: we did not feast equally and our hearts were left unsatisfied.