I think we’ve come full circle now, there was a time long ago when most restaurants you’d see around were named after someone in the attempt to make them seem more friendly, more relatable. Places like Lulu’s Cafe, China Joe’s, Uncle Jeff’s Vietnamese, any Thai restaurant (unless they went with the ‘thai’ pun option which was also super popular). Then after that came the modern era of places using words no one really understands, but if you go back in time or speak another language, it is actually a word that they use often for clean living or something. Places like Autolyse, Temporada, Mocan & Green Grout. Now I don’t have a particular preference when it comes to the names of restaurants, but I will admit I do have a slight nostalgic twinge at the thought of those old favourites and it is with great pleasure that I get to talk about a place named Joe’s Bar, presumably named after a man named Joe. Or woman named Joanne. You know, sometimes they shorten it like that.
Joe’s Bar is the newly opened Italian inspired eatery and bar located on the ground level at the East Hotel in Kingston and complements Ox Eatery as another reason to venture out to the East Hotel whenever you can. I’m not usually one to jump out of my seat to try and attend newly opened places since I hate waiting in lines, but whilst I was browsing Instagram, I kept seeing pictures of cool little cheese plates and drinks coming out of Joe’s but they weren’t just traditional Italian goodies and drinks, each and every one of them had a cool and modern twist. And flowers, heaps of flowers, when I saw that, my hipster instincts kicked in and I knew I had to check it out.
Stepping into Joe’s Bar, the first thing that hit me was how quirky and cool the decor was, but second to that was the fact that it actually wasn’t super busy at all! I was kind of expecting a huge rush simply because of how Canberra seems to get whenever a new place opens up, which, I should add, is really nice to see as someone who is invested in the growth of Canberra’s food scene.
The decor is probably best described as a Frankenstein of hipster and rustic and it’s something that I really enjoyed. I know I say hipster a lot but it’s 2015, there’s just a lot of hipster things around these days. There’s a lovely wooden, vintage feel to the place, as well as a ton of ornaments and lights that seem thrown together in a way that doesn’t really work, but at the same time totally does. Sometimes I feel like my true calling is not in the realm of ‘describing things I don’t understand’. This is one of those times.
Here you can see a few of the cool little things that make up Joe’s Bar’s character. Personalised coasters, cool little rocky candle holders and lemon slices in your tap water! Fancy! In addition, you get these cool little number cubes when you order that signifies what table you are. It’s these sorts of things that don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things but at the same time, I find really cool and is what sets a place apart from others. Also, stacking these little number boxes would be hell and I appreciate that kind of effort.
First up, we got some Complimentary popcorn with rosemary, pecorino and olive oil. This was a welcome surprise; soon after we ordered we were presented with a complimentary serve of Joe’s special popcorn, and the smell itself was enough to get us drooling. Strong wafts of cheese oozed out of this dish and we were pretty hungry anyway so we started diving in straight away.
I am not a huge popcorn fan, lets get that out of the way first. When I go to the cinema, I generally will opt for chips, though I am acutely aware of how awkward it is to eat crunchy chips in a cinema, so might turn to gummy bears if I’m watching something particularly dramatic, but the point is, I’m not a huge popcorn guy. With that said, this popcorn was freaking delicious. Really cheesy, oily and just rich and decadent. There were just loose chunks of cheese everywhere, and depending on what ended up in your hands, you’d end up with a really rich cheesy mouthful, or a more relaxed one. Later the waitress came over and noticed we demolished our first bowl and offered us another one, which we gladly accepted. We kind of turned into popcorn people for one night.
A couple of days later, I actually tried making this at home myself, since it was absolutely amazing and I thought the ingredients were fairly basic, it should be quite easy right? Well I was wrong, my one turned out about a quarter as nice. The pecorino wasn’t as rich, the rosemary wasn’t nearly as edible, and overall it just wasn’t tasty at all. I’ll figure it out one day I’m sure. (Please help me I have no idea what I did wrong with it).
Our first ‘main’ of sorts was the Polpettine di carne ($22) pasture-fed Cape Grim beef meat balls in vine ripened tomato sauce with crusty bread. So funny story with this dish, (it’s not that funny) I ended up picking it purely because of something I saw on TV recently. So on the show ‘No Reservations’ with Anthony Bourdain, there’s an episode where he goes to Italy and does, well food stuff. Anyway, at one point he goes to his camera man’s mother’s house and she cooks up this massive pot of Ragu and for 10 minutes it’s them just going on and on about the virtues of using bread to soak up sauce and how amazing it is, and the camera is just zooming in on them contorting bread into these shapes, soaking up sauce and shovelling it into their mouth.
Needless to say, I had to do it, and that is why when I saw this on the menu, I jumped at it.
The dish itself was pretty much what I was expecting. The meatballs themselves were really nice, good quality meat and slightly pink in the middle. I’m not sure if this is how Italians do it, but it wasn’t really heavily flavoured at all, and I found myself cutting open the meatballs, and then dipping the meat back into the sauce to coat it again. Luckily, I loved the sauce, which was a really rich, sweet and had chunks of tomato throughout it. This was quite nice, I prefer to have meatballs with a little bit more going on (my sister makes these amazing meatballs with rice in them which I absolutely love, in hindsight I should probably just ask her for the recipe instead of reminiscing about them) but I knew heading into this version at Joe’s that authentic Italian meatballs’ let the quality of the ingredients shine, and that’s exactly what happened here at Joe’s Bar.
This dish definitely satisfied my desire for dipping bread into sauce, and the lovely staff at Joe’s seemed to know it, and provided me with an extra serve of bread on the side. Really good, and would recommend if you’re at all interested in authenticity.
Next up was the Lasagne al sugo di maiale brasato ($22) slow braised chianti pork ribs deboned and sandwich between handmade pasta sheets topped with grated pecorino and fresh nutmeg. This was probably my favourite dish of the whole night, and that was surprising because I wasn’t expecting much from it at all. The slow braised pork rib was the highlight here, it was shredded up and just gave the whole dish this amazing texture and ensured that what you were eating hadn’t been processed in the slightest.
The flavour of the pork permeated throughout the whole dish and was easily the star attraction here. It was smokey, mild, and extremely tender. The actual sheets of pasta were fantastic as well, really well made and with a slight char on them that gave a wonderful crunchy texture to the rest of the dish. Most lasagne’s that I have, (of the Sara-Lee variety) are heavy on the sauce, and that’s what you taste the most of, but that definitely wasn’t the way Joe’s Bar had opted to do their lasagne. The sauce was muted and took quite a back seat to the strong flavours of the pork. I appreciated this move, although that could’ve been because I was also eating the rich sauce of the meatballs at the time. In any case, I really loved this lasagne and would recommend it to anyone. Except a vegetarian I suppose.
Next up, we ordered the cheese plate, or Di formaggi ($18) imported testun al barolo (grape infused pecorino), whipped goats cheese, taleggio lombardo, gorgonzola dolce, truffle honey, dried baby figs, candied pistachio and crostini. I’m not sure how much detail I’m expected to go into with a cheese plate, but let me start by saying this was just a beautifully presented plate. Not sure how much anyone cares about this sort of thing, but look at it!
The cheeses were all amazing but the highlights for me was the grape infused pecorino, the gorgonzola and the truffle honey. The grape pecorino was just a really cool cheese, and something I’ve never had the pleasure of trying before. It was a standard strong flavoured pecorino, but it also had this sweetness throughout it. The gorgonzola was a really mild blue cheese, and whilst I generally love blue cheeses, I do tend to get tired of how rich they are over time. This didn’t happen with the gorgonzola cheese at Joe’s, it was mild and delicious, and I managed to get all the way through it and even wanted more! The truffle honey on the other hand was exceptionally flavourful and rich. The flavour of truffle was incredibly strong in the honey, it almost felt like truffle oil in goo form. There’s a danger that it’s actually too rich for some, but as a huge truffle nerd, I loved it.
My favourite part of this cheese plate was the fact that you didn’t just get the typical cheddar, brie and blue combination. Most of the cheeses on this plate were really different, and I appreciated that change of pace.
Our second cocktail of the night was Joe’s mandarin Negroni ($14) mandarin infused Campari, Cinzano rosso vermouth and fresh mandarin juice. This was actually quite the shock for us! When we read the description with all its mandarins, we were kind of expecting something light and sweet (of course we had no idea what a Negroni was) so when this popped out, it was shocking to say the least. If you’re a fan of hard Negroni’s or hard liquor at all for that matter, then this is actually really quite nice. You could taste the mandarin elements through it, and unfortunately we did end up stealing some of the lime’s from the dark & stormy to kind of weaken this drink somewhat. We did enjoy it, it just needed a little bit of a tweaking. If you’re someone that can handle their alcohol, then I’m sure you’ll enjoy this. Probably.
I kind of wish I got a recommendation from the staff at Joe’s Bar, the drinks menu was absolutely massive with plenty of local and imported wines as well as classic cocktails and a decent list of ‘Joe’s cocktails’, which included many classic cocktail but all with a modern twist to them and some flowers, plenty of flowers. I’m sure they could have recommended me something sweet and fruity!
For drinks, we ordered a Joe’s dark & stormy ($16) Hayman’s Sloe gin, Cinzano extra dry vermouth, orange bitters and fresh lemon. Dark and stormy is actually my go-to cocktail whenever I see it on a menu because I love ginger beer. The dark and stormy here at Joe’s was really nice, full of lemons and limes and not too harsh on the alcohol. I’m not really a hardcore alcohol drinker so I’m not going to pretend I know what I’m talking about, but I did enjoy this.
Our time at Joe’s Bar was honestly fantastic. The service was really attentive, the food delicious, and the drinks tasty! The decor of the place is quirky and inviting, and it’s a place that adds wonderfully to the already delicious Italian shoe print in Canberra.
East Hotel, 69 Canberra Avenue, Kingston