Restaurant review

Restaurant Review: XO’s Philosophy is a Modern Take on Southeast Asian Flavors | Canberra time

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Fine dining was not my priority when I decided to pack my bags and head to the bush capital to become a political journalist. But tucked away in local shops in the sleepy suburb of Narrabundah is a dining experience that rivals some of the big city restaurants. XO’s philosophy is a modern take on Southeast Asian flavors. Being named after the base sauce may have been a clue, but my guest and I were left impressed by the complexity and thoughtfulness that went into each of the dishes on the $88 per person menu. Our reservation was for 8:30pm and getting to the table was a bit slow. We later discovered that the restaurant was understaffed due to the isolation of a number of workers due to COVID, a common occurrence in the hospitality industry at the moment, adding further stress to venues already trying to recover from the closures. Considering that, I couldn’t fault XO’s service. The staff were accommodating and took the time to explain each dish as the dishes came out, despite having to quickly move on to the next table. For the first course, two small pieces of beef known as bo la lot were brought to the table. A take on the classic French beef tartare, the sirloin bite rested on a betel leaf with a hint of mam nem, a Vietnamese anchovy sauce. The starter had some spiciness but as with most tartare, one delicate portion is never enough. The next dish was a real star. Mapo tofu dumpling with fermented chili sauce shook. Inside the silky dumpling skin was a perfect ratio of pork and tofu, and with the chili sauce and hints of Szechuan pepper frothed on top, it was perfectly balanced. I was told the restaurant needed to tone down the heat on the third course. But I say turn up the heat. The bonito sashimi was my favorite dish of the night. It was my kind of food. Crispy, clean and a tribute to good products with a chef who knows how to bring out the best qualities in fish. The fish was dressed in seasonal stone fruit which provided a sweet respite from the spicy jaew som sauce. The list of drinks here is long. We went with a glass of Swan Valley Tamala Vermentino before switching to a Nevermind Tempranillo for the heavier dishes. Next on the menu was the lai yau tofu. Tofu made anyway is usually wasted for me. It’s not the first thing I gravitate to in a menu, texture is the main reason I try to avoid it. But I was able to appreciate the technicality of the dish and my “part-time” vegetarian guest seemed to shovel it without a care. The tofu medallions were presented with a kelp butter sauce and fluffy egg silk. The sauce was great but needed a little extra ka-pow. Maybe a hint of umami, like black garlic, mushrooms or truffles? Shortly after, a plate of “Asian bolognese” was brought. The dish was a plate of udon noodles with a chicken stew in XO sauce and accompanied by a 63 degree egg, which the waiters threw at the table. The word “bolognese” does not impress me, triggering memories of a school camp where you were served meat in a watery tomato sauce with pieces of half-cooked carrot. This rendition was tasty but, for me, it just didn’t match the rest of the meal. I wanted the noodles in a bowl on the couch while watching a movie. Not really in the middle of a menu’s delicately balanced flavors. The next three plates were outstanding. Center stage was a beautifully poached fillet of barramundi accompanied by fluffy steamed rice and green beans coated in a spicy belacan sauce. The fish rested in a sweet broth made with kombu, soybeans, cherry tomatoes and cilantro. A hint of ginger could also be tasted through the dish. The belacan beans were hearty and had the typical shrimp zing of a savory Malaysian sauce. The dish was comforting, well balanced and the fish “melted in your mouth” well. So good I had to order a whiskey. When it comes to my desserts, I generally gravitate toward more European styles. But Chengdu’s snow could only be summed up in a firecracker. A white chili chocolate mousse topped with Sichuan peppercorn, goma (sesame seeds) and tangerine. It was peppery and sweet at the same time. Very inventive and seriously entertained the taste buds. Only criticism: perhaps more foam/soil ratio needed. The night at XO was a treat and showed a big city slicker that Canberra is more than a political bubble consisting of a beer after a week of sitting at the Kingo. Address: 16 Iluka Street, Narrabundah Telephone: 6295 9696 Website: xo-restaurant.com.au Hours: Lunch 12pm-2pm (Tuesday-Friday), Dinner 6pm-10pm (Monday-Saturday) Owners: Greg Lally , Kent Nhan, AK Ramakrishna Chief: AK Ramakrishna Noise: There is a hum, but conversations can be heard. Meals outside: Available Dietetics: On request.

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