Finding cheap eats in Canberra can be quite the challenge. Though many southeast Asian restaurants offer affordable regular menus, few Modern Australian restaurants do. Not that I don’t love my dumplings and noodles, but occasionally the boyfriend and I want pizza or a steak or pasta or risotto or chicken breast, and to not have to go to a pub to be able to afford it. That said, there are a number of restaurants that offer excellent lunch specials or Monday/Tuesday dinner specials, but as someone who tends to eat out on the weekends, it would be nice to have something in between pub and fine dining.
In search of something like this, I came across Wilbur’s Bar Cafe on Urbanspoon. A quick glance at the dinner menu revealed a number of mains and pizzas around the $20 mark. More expensive than a typical pub but cheaper than your typical Canberran gastropub or fine dining establishment, while still having a nice variety of dishes that I knew would appeal to the boyfriend.
The restaurant is hidden away in the small strip of the Hackett Shops, and at 6:30, was still pretty quiet.
When you walk in, there is a bar area (where you place your order) and high-top seating with a large TV on the wall. Beyond that is the dining room, with a gas fireplace and local art on the walls. Blackboards displayed craft beers on tap and the night’s specials. For the beers, there were several varieties of 4 Pines and local brewery Zierholz. ‘A’ and the boyfriend ordered pints of the 4 Pines Pale Ale and I got the Kolsch ($8.50 each). For craft beer, I suppose $8.50 isn’t ridiculous for a pint, but I guess we had been hoping for some cheaper options.
The dinner specials were a bit more expensive than the regular menu, and we had already found things we wanted to order from the regular menu, so we skipped the specials, even though there were some appealing items.
We also skipped out on tasters, thinking they were a bit expensive for small plates, and finding nothing that we were craving.
Our food came out very quickly after ordering. The boyfriend ordered the Italian Stallion pizza (actually, he felt silly saying the name and said ‘pepperoni pizza’ instead, but they figured it out), which ended up being a dish large enough to share between at least two.
Boyfriend let ‘A’ and I try a slice each.
I found it to be a bit too cheesy, preferring a saucier pizza personally. We all agreed the base was slightly underdone, but another minute or two in the oven and it would have been pretty excellent, judging from the edge crust. The pepperoni was tasty, and all in all, the boyfriend really enjoyed his pizza.
‘A’ had a schnitzel craving and ordered the chicken breast schnitzel. This was probably the most disappointing dish of the night. The schnitty itself was average, though the dianne sauce was tasty. Perhaps most unappealing was the side of ‘greens’, which tasted like microwaved frozen veggies. In the end, ‘A’ was still hungry and unsatisfied and had paid gastropub prices for what was no more than a regular pub quality meal.
Lastly, I ordered the Wilbur’s Steak Sandwich with high hopes, enticed by the caramelized onion and fried egg. Upon arrival, I was impressed with the look of the sandwich.
Jumping right in with a huge bite, the first thing I discovered was that the steak was a cheap, tough, fatty piece. Aside from that though, I really enjoyed the combination of flavours on the sandwich, especially the onions. The bread was a bit disappointing though, because it wasn’t thick enough to hold everything together, especially with me trying to take bites out of the chewy steak. Perhaps a ciabatta type bun would have been better. It ended up being a tasty but messy endeavour. The chips were hot and crisp, so no complaints there. I felt this sandwich had a ton of potential, but I would have liked to see a better cut of meat. Watching some of the steak specials being whisked over to a nearby table, I could see they used nice, lean, but huge chunks of meat. Maybe the specials are the way to go here.
I don’t want to be negative about this place, because despite our ambivalence about the prices and parts of the dishes, I really liked the off-the-beaten-path, locals-only ambiance of the restaurant. And aside from the schnitzel, the other dishes seemed to have so much potential. I went in with high expectations so maybe I was a bit disillusioned. In the end, I’m not going to recommend it as a cheap eats place, but I really do think it has promise, and I think it’s worth checking out.