Wood & Coal is a new restaurant that took over Babars spot in the Canberra Centre that opened in the middle of the Family & Community Day and the Labour Day long weekend. I remember because when Babar closed they pretty much put up the sign for Wood & Coal straight away and since I walk past it pretty much every time I finish work, it just kind of burned a hole in my brain and I ended up wanting it. Real bad. Didn’t help that after the sign went up it took freaking ages to open, so the hype really did build up for me. Over the Labour Day long weekend, I was in Brisbane for work and saw online that Canberrans were trying out Wood & Coal! So after getting back to Canberra, I had to try it out, I mean come on, wood, coal, imagine the wonders you can create from such things!
Wood & Coal’s layout is pretty neat. They’ve really fitted out the shop well, on the side that sits in the Canberra Centre, Wood & Coal has those Mediterranean arched walls. I know its not much but to me, it makes me feel like I’m over in the Greek Islands, instead of cold, rainy and gloomy Canberra. Though I must say, the menu isn’t that Mediterranean. There are some pretty Mediterranean menu items, like the loukoumades, and meats on a spit but there are other parts of Wood & Coals menu where it seems they’ve taken elements of hipster and then put their own twist on it, like the banh tit (which translates pretty weirdly from Vietnamese, should probably be banh mi tit, since banh could include cake, cookie, bread or any sort of dough or pastry where as banh mi refers to bread roll or bread slices), I also noticed a cocktail called kawaii.
Okay, so I normally talk about my entrees first, then my mains followed by the sides that I get. However, for Wood & Coal, I’m just going off the order we received our food in. Although Wood & Coal, does have separate sections for their entrees and mains, and they’re designed as a stand alone dish, they recommended to us that we should probably share, which of course is a bit ‘in’ at the moment. There’s a huge tasting menu for $69 per person, but we resisted that temptation and just grabbed a whole bunch of different plates to share. Alright, now for food talk.
First up, our large plate for the night, a Char-grilled beef short rib ($36) with pickled king oyster mushroom, potato, cauliflower and black kale. The picture doesn’t really showcase this very well but this was an amazingly pink and fatty piece of meat that was just wonderful. The meat was exceptionally tender and cut away really easily, and was covered in a light soy like sauce. The picture doesn’t show it, but in the back, there was a potato, cauliflower and ham concoction that was kind of a potato bake lasagne. Really compressed slab of ingredients and it was really fantastic, would have loved for a bit more! The mushrooms were pickled but I personally couldn’t really taste that portion of it, just tasted like braised mushrooms, which I love so that wasn’t a big deal, and the kale was quite crunchy and gave it all a bit of texture.
As I ate more and more of this dish, I started to realise it was pretty damn salty. Didn’t help that mushrooms were involved, and that the kale was drizzled in a fairly salty sauce. The only relief from the saltiness was that potato slab and in hindsight that’s probably why I loved it so much. This dish started off so well for me, and after a few bites I was willing to say it’s one of the best pieces of beef I’ve ever eaten, but over time the flavours just compounded and overwhelmed me. I’ve always been pretty sensitive to salty flavours though, our friend Kang ended up finishing the night at Wood & Coal with the beef short rib as his favourite of all, so it definitely seems like a preference thing.
Our second plate for the night was a goodie from the spit, the Pork spare ribs ($32) with cajun spice. This picture isn’t hugely appetizing, I know but for me, this was the highlight of the whole night! This dish was when we started to realise there’s a slight disconnect between the menu item and what actually comes out in Wood & Coal. This might be our faults for not being cultured enough or whatever but when I see pork spare ribs, I kind of expect bones to be involved at some point, and seeing Beef short rib sliced the way it was up there was a bit of a surprise too.
I should probably talk about the dish itself though, the pork came out in 3 big ol chunks of pork, sitting in a mild apple glaze sauce. It honestly reminded me more of pork belly than anything, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I was just expecting to get my hands dirty on this dish. The pork was lightly seasoned and the smokiness from how it was cooked on the spit was definitely present here. There wasn’t a huge layer of fat so this didn’t get sickly at all, just a really nice piece of pork that went down extremely easily. I’ve mentioned this before, but if pork skin is available, I want it to be extremely, extremely crispy. Unfortunately at Wood & Coal, this is not the case, the skin isn’t chewy or bad or anything, but not really crispy at all. Overall, I loved this dish though, and if I won the lottery, I’d order it a lot more often.
Our final spit item, the Yearling lamb ($45) with oregano, garlic and rosemary. This is another one where the picture probably doesn’t make your mouth water. While I appreciate the little garnishes of green leaves everywhere, I suppose there’s only so much you can do with sliced up bits of lamb in a bowl. The lamb was seasoned really lightly, which seems to be a theme for Wood & Coal who like to showcase the meats themselves, something I’m all for! The lamb was laying on top of a garlic and oregano yoghurt sauce that was quite sweet but really worked well with the lamb. My only complaint for the sauce was that there wasn’t enough of it! So many times we were trying to rub each piece of lamb into as much sauce as it could hold, and by the halfway point, nearly all the sauce was gone.
I’m not sure if all spit roasted lamb is like this, but this lamb was really quite tough and chewy. Kang mentioned that in the past, if you don’t want the lamb to get tough and chewy you need to eat it right off the spit, without it cooling down. I’d say, for me this was a bit of a disappointment, the flavours were all there, and the garnish was really nice, but for me, texture has a lot to do with how much I enjoy my meat, and the texture was a let down here.
Every item from the spit is served with some pickles and condiments that differ night by night, on our night, Wood & Coal was pairing their meats with Pickled cauliflower and celery. We ended up with two serves of this, which was great because I thought it was really tasty. The cauliflower and celery were both heavily pickled with a lot of sourness to them, this really helped with balancing the strong flavours and the heaviness of the meat. The cauliflower and celery were surprisingly crunchy and crispy considering how flavourful and moist they were. They were served cold and were really quite sour, and we ended up using it similar to how ginger is used in Japanese places, as a palette cleanser and to get your tongue ready for the next meat that was on the way. It was pretty good at that job.
Finally, our small plate for the night, the Hiramasa kingfish sashimi ($20) with sourdough, buttermilk, smoked fish paté, dill and fennel salad. This was a really nice little treat, really contrasted everything else we had and was really nice to end on before moving onto the desserts. The kingfish itself was really nice, it was a welcoming freshness after all those meats and had a lovely smooth texture to it. Each slice was cut perfectly in my opinion, not too thin leaving it rather flavourless, but not too thick and overwhelming.
There was also plenty going on around the kingfish. The dish was dotted with creamy buttermilk which also brought a little bit of sourness to the fish. I know the description doesn’t include it but I swear there was olive oil as well (you might be able to see it in the image as well), this added this rustic and Mediterranean element to it. Plus on top of all these flavours, there were also plenty of little textures, bits of fennel here and there, and some smoked fish pate, which I found really interesting. Overall, I really liked this dish, the only downside for me was the size and the price. For $20, you only get about five to seven slices of kingfish. Its not a huge amount of fish considering for $21 at Temporada, I got a full plate of Hiramasa kingfish. I really did like this dish, I just wish I got more kingfish or it didn’t cost as much as it did. Picky I know.
We only managed to get one side, and the side we got was probably the most common of all, Chips ($10)! These were served with with feta and oregano oil. We were kind of joking as we ordered it, but this became the silent saviour of our meal, because it was such a great side for all of the extremely rich meats. Even on their own, these chips were pretty nice, they were nice and chunky with a lot of flavour to them. I really love the fact that Wood & Coal used steak cut chips because it just fir so well. I know this might sound strange but the way the chip is cut makes a big difference to how they taste. Like these steak cut ones are really hearty, while shoe string fries are crispy and wouldn’t have done such a good job as meat taste deflector. Don’t get me started on crinkle cut. Wood & Coal’s decision to garnish these chips with feta and oregano oil was really inspired. The feta had a saltiness to it that did a great job of replacing the whole sea salt thing, while having a whole lovely creamy side to it all. I enjoyed the feta so much that I started to wish there was more feta throughout the chips, not just on top. The oregano also added another element of flavour to the chips, bring some great earthiness and made the chips smell really nice too. Not sure if it’s obvious, but I really liked these chips.
We settled on two desserts for the night, first one was the Olive oil sponge cake ($18) with blood orange custard, red velvet cheesecake ice cream and olive soil. This was an interesting little dessert. It looked absolutely amazing with the super dark cake and the vibrant hot pink ice cream, and to match its funky appearance, it also tasted pretty weird! The cake was really interesting, I’ve never had an olive oil cake before and after this, they’re definitely something I’ll keep an eye on in the future, very different. It’s not obvious that it’s olive oil but when you bite into the cake, you can tell that there’s is definitely a flavour to it that’s not your standard vanilla but it’s really hard to put your finger on it. I can’t say I really loved this cake, I’m sure as far as olive oil cakes go, this is probably up there with the best of them, though it’s definitely a flavour that I probably need to get used to. The cake itself was really light and fluffy, there wasn’t much sweetness to the cake itself due to its olive oil nature, but texture was really up there! They also had some sweet snow on top, which I thought was a cool little visual effect, and made the taste pop as well.
Surrounding the cake was a strong and flavourful red velvet cheesecake ice cream and blood orange custard. The red velvet cheesecake ice cream was amazing! I normally dislike red velvet, I think it’s the most overrated cupcake, or cake flavour around. Everyone absolutely loves it but all it is, is a bit of vanilla and a bit of cocoa with the redness coming from a reaction between the vinegar, buttermilk and cocoa. That’s the classic red velvet, now it’s red food colouring or beetroot, so what’s the big deal. For this particular red velvet though, they added cheesecake, which is essentially cream cheese! This was awesome, it made the red velvet flavour quite mild and really brought out the cream cheese flavours, making it quite a bitey ice cream. This was coupled with some creamy blood orange custard, which had a lot of citrus to it as well as some slight bitterness. Together the contrasting flavours of the red velvet cheesecake ice cream and the strong citrus blood orange custard really brought some great flavours and elements to the olive oil sponge cake.
Our second dessert was the Big John’s loukoumades ($18) with caramelised banana, popcorn honeycomb, hazelnut ice cream and pistachio. I was so excited about this dish, I absolutely love loukoumades, every time the Canberra Multicultural Festival comes around, I’ll buy a couple of boxes and work through them over a couple of weeks. That’s how much I love them, if anyone else knows of a way to get some without having to hoard them in February, I’d really be interested in that. They’re just so amazing, super light and fluffy on the inside, with a super crispy shell from the quick deep frying that they undergo. After the loukoumades are cooked, they are normally soaked in a honey syrup and then sprinkled with various nuts for crunch and texture.
Here at Wood & Coal, it wasn’t exactly like that. This dessert wasn’t bad but it is not a loukoumades. The loukoumades just tasted like donuts to me, there was no crispy outer layer and the inside was really doughy and dense, exactly like a donut to be perfectly honest. Like if this plate was called Big John’s donuts, I would be perfectly happy but I was really craving loukoumades after seeing Wood & Coal’s menu weeks before I came and to get this, I was pretty disappointed. Though, as a donut, these are pretty fantastic, so if anyone out there is keen for a set of $18 donuts, you could do a lot worse than these at Wood & Coal.
The rest of the dish was great. The ice cream was quite delicious thought I don’t think mine was hazelnut. For one, it was pretty white to cream in colour, secondly it just tasted like yoghurt, which was fine because I thought it worked quite well. I didn’t actually know the description had hazelnut as the ice cream flavour. My yoghurt ice cream was rather mild but the sourness really helped to break through the heaviness of the donuts and the sweetness of the other elements on the plate, so maybe it was better off this way! There were pretty big sweet elements in this dish, like the three chunks of berry jam that I got in my dish, which again isn’t in the menu’s description, but were a pretty welcome addition. They were great and really added some lovely berry flavours to the donuts but they did get quite rich, so the sour yoghurt flavours were really useful there. This was an extrmely busy dessert, with a whole lot going on, in addition the ice cream and loukoumades itself, there were just heaps and heaps of little bits of crushed nuts, banana cream custard, popcorn honeycomb scattered everywhere. This dish definitely had a lot going on, and it was pretty tasty and worked well together, its just the fact that the donuts were called loukoumades that made me feel quite lukewarm about this dish.
Wood & Coal was a pretty cool dining experience, its a nice addition to the Canberra Centre and I can see myself coming here a few more times over the coming months with workplace farewells and Christmas lunches coming up shortly. Plus, I did see that they had a lunch only menu which includes souvlaki and wraps, which sounds pretty cool. I’m sure I’ll give that a go shortly.