In case you didn’t already know, I run the Canberra Dinner Club – @CBR_DinnerClub // http://cbrdinnerclub.wordpress.com. It’s a group for Canberrans to get together and eat dinner, and on Saturday night we held a dinner at The Cupping Room. I had booked a table for 10 but due to many different reasons (one of which was my fault entirely – oops!) it ended up just being myself and one other. A club of two for that night! I had rung the restaurant back a few times during the week to lower the numbers – but I tried to call on the day, to reduce the number from six to two, and one of us (probably me) was having phone issues so the table stayed booked for 6.
The Cupping Room is located on London Circuit, across the road from the Uni Pub, and is externally decorated with wood panels and a big mural – it’s hard to miss. B and I both parked next to the Police Station (in front of the ACT law court) and wandered across the street, a warm glow and welcoming music coming from The Cupping Room. We entered and were greeted by a staff member – when I mentioned that there were no longer six of us, he gave us a range of tables of two to choose from and we chose one by the window. There weren’t very many people in there, a few couples and one slightly larger group. We took our seats and were handed menus, it was explained to us that they did Central/South American share plates – and that for the two of us, two small and one large plate would be perfect, with a side if we wanted. I always find it handy when they guide you regarding the amount of food, because I usually just want to order everything.
The quietness gave us some time to speak with the gentleman who seated us, which was great (I suspect he was one of the owners, but I never caught his name – let’s call him The Dude and the lovely lady who looked after us can be The Dudette). We asked The Dude whether they had wifi, as my dining companion was after a place to do her work and eat and such a place was proving hard to find in Canberra. The Dude told us that they did not do wifi because, during the day, they are so busy and have such a high turnover that they don’t want people sitting around for hours taking up tables when they could have sat and fed four groups in that time – makes business sense, but feels a little mean.
The Cupping room is set up with a dining area in front of a long service space that is divided in to three sections – a kitchen, a cupping station, and something that looks like a bar-come-home-kitchen. The décor is fresh and clean, with dimmed lighting (daaaamn it) and a laid back feel.
The Dudette approached us to take our drink orders, B ordered a red wine and I ordered what is essentially a gin tasting plate – four different types of gin with tonic and garnishes. I love me some gin!
Apparently the owners love their gin too, as The Dudette informs me that run a Canberra Couples Gin Club – this is both awesome and really stupid because I am single and I love gin can I join your club please?
I don’t remember the names of any of the gins, because I was too excited to write them down, and because the Cupping Room doesn’t have their menu online (daaaaamn it) – I just remember that I liked them all, with special mention to the lime one from New Zealand and the one with Pink Grapefruit garnish. The Dudette told me which order to drink them in and it worked perfectly.
The Dude came back to take our food orders. We decided to order some fries as a side, and what came out surprised us both… A huge bowl of delicious crispy fries sprinkled with herbs and served with an aioli and a spicy sauce.
Holy crap these were good. Perfectly cooked, crunchy and a little bit soggy – just ridiculously tasty. Perfectly perfect perfection. We were both expecting something small, but this could easily be a side for six people instead of two. Of course, as a result of their awesomeness and the size, I ate waaaay too many fries. It’s amazing how good simple potato sticks can be when they’re done right.
A short time after our fries arrived, we received the first of the “small plates” we had orders – Tostadas!
The tostadas were four small crispy tortillas that had been fried in oil, topped with chicken, cheese, tomato, cucumber, coriander and a lime aioli. A pet hate of mine is places that serve three servings for entrees to groups of two or four, so props to The Cupping Room for doing their maths and serving four pieces for two people. The tostadas were crunchy and well prepared. The aioli was tasty (especially when dipped in by the amazing fries) but I didn’t really get the bang! of flavour that I was expecting from this dish. I think it needed more spice – the dish doesn’t have to be hot, but a little chilli and maybe some extra seasonings would have amped this dish up a little. It looks beautiful, but it didn’t really leave me with any taste impressions.
While we were munching away on our tostadas, the setas arrived – literally the only thing I wrote down that night: ‘thyme and garlic braised mushrooms with coriander cashew pesto and candied pecans’.
This dish was awesome. The mushrooms were perfectly cooked and had a lovely flavour to them, and the candied pecans were a revelation! The Dude told us that they were kind of an accident: apparently the chef had them in the kitchen one day, for another dish, and decided to just throw them in and by gosh it works. It’s such a strange, random flavour to have with herby mushrooms – and I think it’s actually this alienation that makes it so interesting and exciting. This was easily my favourite dish of the night. This and the amazing Fries. Fries.
For the main we ordered the Asado, which google tells meis a technique for cooking cuts of meat (usually beef) as well as sausages
and offal on a barbecue and is a traditional dish of Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Paraguay and generally goes hand in hand with chimichurri, a spicy, garlicky parsley sauce. This particular Asado was indeed served with chimichurri.
When I was in Argentina last year (name drop!) I ate quiet a lot of chimichurri and developed an everlasting love for it, and although I did like The Cupping Room’s chimichurri and thought it was tasty, it just wasn’t the same. But the likelihood of me finding it the same over here is practically impossible – when in Argentina, as the saying goes or something. Either way I found this chimichurri to be a tad bit heavy on the vinegar and not heavy enough on the chilli, it also didn’t have the same oiliness that I have come to expect. It was nice for what it was, but I was a little disappointed. Saying all that, I still enjoyed eating this dish, there was lots of it and I thought the meat was cooked well (although a little chewy in some parts).
Half way through the Asado I had to use the bathroom, which I was informed was across the hall and up the stairs – and then all of a sudden I was in a 1980’s office block and using toilets that looks extremely well loved. It was odd and it didn’t really fit the experience of the rest of The Cupping Room. Super weird …
After we’d finished our main The Dudette told us about their desserts which were, to be honest, a little lacklustre. There was a trio of gelato, a brownie, something else that I couldn’t be bothered to remember and a salted caramel popcorn sundae. “Salted caramel popcorn sundae?” I hear you ask. “Like 86?” Yes, exactly like 86.
I’ve been to 86 before and was not all that impressed with the food, and less so with the staff, but one thing that really stood out for me was their salted caramel popcorn sundae – it is probably one of the best desserts I’ve ever had because it combines a good majority of my favourite things in a bowl. Here is a photo I took of the 86 one (off my Instagram account: @canberra_foodie).
The Cupping Rooms version is vanilla ice cream with salted caramel sauce and toffee covered popcorn (probably the stuff you can get from Costco that I may, or may not have, eaten and entire tub of before). It’s sweet and hits the spot to finish off, and it would probably have been amazing if I didn’t have the 86 version in my head the whole time I was eating it. The 86 version has a cone in it, the ice cream is popcorn flavoured and it has shards of peanut brittle and it’s just flipping the best – it was featured in gourmet traveller. It’s famous! I don’t understand why The Cupping Room have tried to copy such a famous dessert that pretty much everyone knows and recognises as 86’s.
The Cupping Room seriously need to look at their dessert menu – it’s too plain. If I ever return to The Cupping Room for dinner, I won’t be sticking around for dessert unless they seriously change up the menu. Perhaps they can stick with the Central/South American theme and serve things like Alfajores, flan or churros? OMG tres leche cake – make tres leche cake!!! Yuuuuum.
To be honest, the whole Central/South American theme is lost on me anyway – it seems to be the cool new thing, sharing plates and related food are popping up all over town. The Cupping Room, Elk & Pea and Temporada all seem to have similar items on their menus and I’m not sure Canberra is big enough for such repetitive dining.
The Cupping Room have only just started doing dinners, so I do believe they’re still in the “trying things out” stage and I look forward to them expanding on their menu and developing the existing items to perfection – and I have no doubt they can achieve this. They’re keen to make an impression and they seem to be passionate about their food (maybe not as passionate as they are about their coffee though).
The staff at The Cupping Room are all quite lovely, special mention to The Dude who was super friendly and happy to answer our questions. I watched them seat and serve coffee to a rather large group that wandered in towards the end of our visit, and then did it with such efficiency that it blew my mind – I guess those morning rushes pay off in that department.
So, in short, my dinner at The Cupping Room was good, I enjoyed it – the food was nice and well prepared, it just didn’t wow me like I had expected. Thankfully I also had amazing fries, good company and delicious gin to make it a good night out in general.