19 July 2023

First Looks: Peonee is set to be one of Canberra's most exciting restaurants

| Lucy Ridge
beautifully plated dish

The kingfish with pickled nashi pear is an exceptional dish. Photos: Lucy Ridge.

Peonee is the latest venue to open in Campbell’s vibrant hospitality district, and early indications are that this restaurant is shaping up to be one of the hottest seats in town.

Chef Alberto Ranalli began his apprenticeship in his hometown of Bologna but has spent the bulk of his career working in Sydney restaurants. He says his food is more likely to contain Asian influences than any from his native Italy.

“I want the menu to be modern Australian, so obviously using a lot of Indigenous produce with Asian preparations, but at the same time keeping that old-school French base when it comes to technique,” he told Region.

“For the last five years I’ve lived in Cabramatta where there’s a huge Vietnamese community. So even though I’m Italian, my experience in kitchens is very Australian.”

Chef in restaurant

Chef and owner Alberto Ranalli wants his restaurant to be casual and approachable, while still having fine dining food.

Dinner at Peonee is a set menu of five courses, with snacks, petit fours and an optional cheese course. I dined with a friend who has a shellfish allergy and with advance notice the kitchen was able to easily accommodate those requirements with vegetarian alternatives.

We start with snacks: cheddar crackers sandwiched with a creamy filling, and a bar of brioche neatly topped with tender clam meat, mullet roe and nori. The non-shellfish option swaps out clams for Jerusalem artichoke. Both dishes are gone in a few bites and are a perfectly savoury start to the meal.

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I’ve chosen the wine pairing while my friend has the non-alcoholic option. The wines are all Australian-made using low-intervention techniques, erring towards the unusual and funky. The non-alcoholic pairings are creative without being gimmicky.

“People often think non-alcoholic options might just be juice, but we want to give them our house-made kombuchas and sodas and change their minds,” Alberto explained.

Jars of kombucha

The kitchen make their own kombucha, sodas and infusions for their grown-up non-alcoholic drinks pairing.

The first non-alcoholic drink is a thoroughly refreshing combination of cucumber, dill and nori, which is an excellent match for our next dish of kingfish, pickled nashi pear, charred daikon and Geraldton Wax. The paper-thin nashi slivers are gorgeously tart and cut through the richness of the fish.

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Next is a fragrant serve of Moreton Bay bug with curry leaves, and my friend has a beautiful dish of cauliflower, miso and almonds. All the food is brought to the tables by the kitchen staff. Alberto explained that while his food could be described as fine dining, he wanted the whole experience and atmosphere of the restaurant to be more approachable and casual.

“I want the chefs to take the food out because I want to be able to have that interaction, and I want guests to interact with each other at communal tables. I think the fine dining label can push people away.”

The chefs make their own malty, wholewheat sourdough in-house, and this is served with a dish of Jerusalem artichoke in rich onion broth with crunchy red sorghum. The bread is beautiful: there’s a slightly sweet glaze and some flakey salt on the crust. The non-alcoholic pairing for this dish is perhaps the most ‘out-there’ of the evening: parsnip, golden beetroot, pear and hay. It’s earthy and almost creamy on the palate, but the pear notes are refreshing and it’s a clever accompaniment to the other wintery flavours.

The largest dish of the evening is a piece of tender pork neck with apple sauce, and a side dish of witlof dressed with a pork fat sauce and pickles. It’s elegantly simple and well executed. Dessert is a glorious celebration of citrus topping a quenelle of caramelised yoghurt and Italian meringue.

Dish in clay bowl with bread

Jerusalem artichokes in onion broth and delicious house-made bread.

As we enjoy our petit four, our server explains this is only their second week of operation. They’ve been training new staff members tonight and everyone is still learning the ins and outs of the wine list: the liquor licence came through earlier that day. While the service isn’t totally confident just yet there’s plenty of potential as they settle into the space.

This brand-new restaurant is serving an accomplished and impressively innovative menu. $120 is a super reasonable price for the quality of food and value of the experience, and the matching drinks are well worth the additional cost. The menu will change regularly based on seasonal availability of produce so every visit will be unique.

Easily one of the most outstanding meals I’ve had all year: go to Peonee now before it’s too hard to book a table.

Peonee is located at 216/12 Provan Street, Campbell, entrance via Petland Street.
They are open for dinner from 6 pm to 10 pm Wednesday through Sunday and for lunch from 12 pm until 3 pm on weekends.
Follow Peonee on Facebook or Instagram and make a booking via their website.

Original Article published by Lucy Ridge on Riotact.

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