* I dined as a guest of Joe’s Bar, however all opinions are my own.
I was kindly invited to try out the newly opened Joe’s Bar located at the East Hotel in Kingston, where Ox Eatery is also situated. Owned by brother and sister duo, Dan and Dion Bisa, who also run East Hotel, the bar pays homage to their father Giuseppe or Joe, and their Italian roots. Joe’s Bar offers Italian sharing plates, cured meats, a selection of desserts and 80 types of Australian and Italian wines. There is a range of Australian and Italian beers, with 4 beers on tap that rotate each month. And then there’s all sorts of whiskey, Italian twists to cocktails and other spirits.
As J and I walked inside, everyone at the bar looked up and immediately greeted us with a smile, welcome and asked what we were after – drinks, food or both (and this was before I introduced myself). Inside, the long marble bar captures the eye with a range of spirits displayed on the back shelf and orange plastic stools where you can sit and watch the action.
The decor is like funky urban chic meets the 70s. Raw floorboards, chain mail light displays, with chain mail and timber slats along the ceiling. To balance out these darker elements, one wall is bright fuchsia with bright lime green seating and metal wire stools. One corner of the bar has a brown curved leather couch which looks extremely comfortable. There seems to be several little nooks where diners can either enjoy a meal or simply a glass of wine. Himalayan salt candle holders adorn each table to purify the air and give off a warm glow. The whole look is mismatched, eclectic and comfortable.
We were asked if we would like to start off with popcorn which is complimentary to all diners. The freshly popped corn is combined with a dehydrated celery, pancetta, pistachio, salt and pepper mix. It has so much flavour and salty goodness, mainly from the pancetta. Staff tell me the mix has been perfected since opening night. This was a good start to the evening.
J and I started off with the house made ginger beer (usually $6). This is mixed with chilli, star anise, a helluva lot of ginger and then left to brew for 4 days to give it a powerful punch. It certainly did have kick to it. A refreshing drink leaving a mild chilli aftertaste along the throat. I must admit this was one of the best old-fashioned home style ginger beers concocted. I’d gladly order another one.
I was happy for the chef, Francesco, to bring out food for me to try so I had no idea what was coming. I love cured meats, so I was very happy that a charcuterie board was brought out. The D’Affettati (usually $20) consisted of imported San Daniele prosciutto, Italian bresaola, black pepper mortadella, Nduja Calabrese, salame cacciatore, house made Tuscan parfait, pickled baby carrots and fennel, baby corn puree and marinated olives.
The selection of meats were easy to share between two. The Nduja, all the way from Calabria, was something different. Think a very spicy salami (with a chilli kick) but in a soft nearly paste-like form. The chef tells me he eats it spread on toast with a glass of wine. J tried it with his chardonnay and concurs that it is a good idea. I loved the charred and smoked corn puree – something different and a lovely light savoury balance to the pickled vegetables and saltiness of the cured meats. The parfait was light (not too offally) and was great spread thinly on the small slices of crisp bread. Both the puree and parfait are made in house. I was happy with the quality of what was offered for the price.
Next were the arancini balls (hurray! this would’ve been my pick) which came in a serve of four (usually $14). These arancini balls are stuffed with mozzarella and served with a spicy roast capsicum aioli. I must commend the chef for cooking such a fabulous crumbed exterior. These had a beautiful golden colour and were amazingly crunchy while the rice inside was cheesy. The capsicum aioli complemented the arancini through its pungent non-spicy flavour.
I ended up getting a Bellini mocktail with the blended peaches and lime. I’m told mocktails will cost around $10 depending on what it is. This is one of the better mocktails I’ve had as it showed effort and love. It wasn’t one of those half-assed attempts at orange juice, cranberry juice, tonic water and hey presto, this is your mocktail without any tasting or reasonable idea of what it should taste like (I’ve had plenty of those rip offs). No, this mocktail used the fresh blitzed peaches and was carefully concocted to taste.
Next was the burrata affumicata or smoked burrata cheese (usually $22) with shaved local truffle, extra virgin olive oil and crusty bread. The chef told me this was his favourite dish on the menu at Joe’s. Truffles will continue to be provided until the end of the season.
The burrata cheese looked beautiful with its white glistening skin, shaved truffle and edible flowers. The inside of the burrata was actually very soft and runny, that the middle bit oozes when cut in half. I couldn’t taste much smokiness in the cheese but it was extremely mild and light. There was no sharp edge to the cheese which made it easy to thickly spread on the bread and eat. The chef told us to spread some of the leftover Nduja (the spicy salami spread) onto the bread along with the burrata cheese. This is genius as the two balance each other. The mild milky cheese takes the heat away from the Nduja, which in turn adds some flavour to the mellow cheese. J and I finished this off and we’re not big cheese people! I can now see why Francesco adores this dish.
The chef told us not to go anywhere as he was preparing two desserts for us to try. The first came out in a small package and I’m told it’s the tramezzino al gelato or gelato sandwich (usually $8). The ‘sandwich’ is a Sicilian pistachio shortbread with a generous portion of fior di latte (vanilla cream) gelato. Both are made in house and together, it made one sweet stack of a snack. I could taste the freshness of the vanilla with vanilla seeds clearly visible. The shortbread was thick and buttery. We had to be quick to finish this before the gelato melted. Very satisfying and we felt like kids again – fighting over the portions and licking our fingers.
The next dessert was the crostata al cioccolato (usually $14) which was a double Valrhona chocolate tart with raspberries and salt. The chocolate short crust pastry was the perfect thickness to hold the Valrhona chocolate filling. Given its 64% cocoa rating, the chocolate was surprisingly not too bitter. I think that is because the salt brought out the sweetness of the dark chocolate. The crystallised sugar added some crunch and extra sweetness.
The chef, Francesco, has been cooking for 15 years and is originally from Rome where he ran his own restaurant. He is bubbly and so enthusiastic about Italian food. Everyone is friendly and staff seem so happy to be at work. I noticed one of the hotel guests had a small child with her who interacted with staff and his requests were treated with courtesy. A sense of humour is always appreciated. The tip jar is labelled with Just put in the tip, see how it feels and we were encouraged to tell them something dirtier while putting the tip in, which I won’t repeat here. We were very well taken care of and felt welcomed at Joe’s. Staff were equally welcoming of other diners who walked into the bar.
Part of the team at Joe’s Bar let me take a photo of them. Thank you for your hospitality!
The food at Joe’s Bar is well thought out, balanced and presented beautifully. Everything is made in house or sourced locally. Dishes are reasonably priced – $20 for that charcuterie and antipasto plate is a good price especially for the Kingston area. Other dishes that I’m keen to try are the 48 hour slow cooked sous vide Wagyu beef brisket, the Grappa and basil cured ocean trout and the ravioli. For the vegetarians, there is still much choice with stuffed olives, polenta chips, the arancini, a vegetarian antipasti platter, cheese platter, and salad of the day.
Staff tell me opening night was a huge success and they got smashed in the kitchen and bar. J and I were there on the weekend in the late afternoon having a very late lunch or early dinner (linner or dunch?) so it was quiet inside the bar with soft background music and light chatter from hotel guests. Noise levels would undoubtedly be higher after 6pm.
We’re told that the bar is aimed at the 30+ crowd that enjoy good wine and authentic Italian snacks. A great new addition to the Kingston scene and the Canberra nightlife.
Joe’s Bar is open seven days a week from 12 noon, however the kitchen opens from 3pm. The entrance is on Giles Street.
Value for money 8/10
Service 10/10 (yes I was invited as a guest, however from what I saw of other guests, service was exceptional).
FPJ score 27/30
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