It wasn’t that long ago that the only serious steak house in Canberra was the 1970s icon the Charcoal. Now a number of places are putting quality pieces of beef on the plate, at a range of prices, Marble and Grain among them.
Tucked into the ground floor of the Avenue Hotel, as is the growing style for the new accommodation and eating out precincts that have sprung up in recent years, the long glossy space is lined with leather couches. It also features an outside private room as well as a bar as part of the busy restaurant.
On a Saturday night we are able to squeeze in for a 6pm booking, which ends promptly at 8pm. The open kitchen runs the length of most of the place, and adds drama to the efficient feeling establishment. In from the cold we are quickly settled into a generously proportioned table, and comfortable seats. Sparkling or still water is offered and menus handed around.
Steak, seafood, oysters, cheese and small goods board, are the go here, you get the drill.
Another night we will try the butchers board to share, an upmarket mixed grill, or the lamb shoulder, again to share, good value at $85 and $75 each.
But tonight we start with oysters and stuffed fried jalapeños. Oysters kilpatrick ($28 half dozen) are generously sauced with tomato, sherry vinegar and pancetta instead of the traditional bacon. Under the blanket of flavour the oysters and plump and juicy, if a little overwhelmed.
Fried jalapeños ($12) are filled with goats cheese, very lightly battered and deep fried to a elegant crisp. These are really tasty little morsels, great with a drink, and not so big they get in the way of the mains to come. Charming young staff pop by the table frequently, checking everything is ticking along.
Butchers steak ($28) is the smallest and cheapest steak on the menu, and it is great to see this as an option. A nice 200gm piece of beef, it well cooked, and great texture and flavour, and notably it is available on the bar menu also.
The beef fillet ($42, $45 with anchovy butter) is a lovely thick cut, tender and cooked exactly to order medium rare, this is a good steak. It could have been slightly hotter when it hit the table, but this is a small detail.
All the steaks are served with duck fat roasted potatoes, with the proper, serious crisp and flavour that this treatment gives.
A serve of onion rings ($7) is excessive, but delicious, crisp and sweet as good rings should be. Brussels sprouts ($9), simply steamed with other bitter greens, provide a great contrast to all the lushness.
Seafood is the other solid feature of the menu and bouillabaisse seems a good way to test the offerings. This classic Mediterranean dish is, at its best, a magical amalgam of various seafood, bound in a rich tomato broth, mopped up with charred bread and glossy home made mayonnaise. Marble and Grain do a creditable job here – plentiful fish, small, sweet mussels, and other seafood are all fresh, well cooked and teamed with decent charred bread and mayonaisse. What is lacking here is the fabulous combined richness and sweetness of seafood flavour that a great bouillabaisse has. This is still a good dish, and it is great to see a decent range of alternatives to the red meat in the menu.
Beef cheeks ($32) are fall-apart terrific, deep and rich in flavour and very good value as is much of the menu given the quality of the meat. Clonakilla Hilltops Shiraz ($65) does the job nicely and is one of a good range of local options on this solid wine list.
At this stage dessert is entirely unnecessary but we take a bombe Alaska ($15) anyway, all spiky with browned meringue around the outside, and the creamy chocolate ice-cream inside. The magic of this traditional dessert is slightly lessened by that fact that it does not arrive flaming at the table, but it is great nonetheless.
Marble and Grain is doing a great job as a modern reinvention of classy grill restaurant. Surprisingly good prices given the quality of the beef, and a modern luxurious interior, along with charming staff, make a it a great place to eat.