*I was invited to dine at Natural Nine courtesy of the restaraunt, however all opinions are my own.
Not long after a dinner degustation at Natural Nine, Casino Canberra’s renovated fine-dining restaurant, I heard news of its rebranding into a modern Asian eatery. I must admit the fine-dining theme didn’t do enough for me to want to go back, so I was very curious about the new rebranding. The fit out remains the same with the addition of red Chinese lamps and new place mats.
A few foodies and I were invited to dinner to try the 9 Dish Roulette Banquet of the chef’s choice. We were asked if we wanted to try out any drinks. I asked for a watermelon-like mocktail while J ordered a beer he’d never heard of before – Feral Brewers Hop Hog, an American IPA style beer.
The first snack to arrive was the pork crackling. Now I know there’s plenty of you out there that love pork crackling, but it’s not something I’d order on its own. In saying that, they were thick slices and wonderfully crunchy.
The steamed rock oysters with black garlic and shallots were unique. Though I did love the black garlic and shallots combination with vermicelli, I couldn’t actually taste the natural flavour of the oyster. I’m a little undecided about this, though it’s great if you hate natural oysters.
I loved the plumpness of the steamed prawn and spanner crab dumplings in black vinegar. There was just a hint of spice from the chilli and vinegar. The crab and prawn flavours were easy to pick out and not ‘hidden’ like some when there’s not enough of it. Appropriate thickness of the dumpling skin. I did like how the ‘cup’ around the dumpling skin helped scoop up extra vinegar sauce.
Everyone ooh’d and ahh’d when the kung pao pork belly steamed mantou arrived at the table. Mantou are a type of steamed bun but different to the steamed bao which has more of a ‘mouth’ opening. Mantou are whole steamed buns which my mum used to buy pre-cooked and frozen, and would then steam for breakfast where we’d just eat them whole with no filling. This version cuts the mantou in half to make them look like mini-burgers. They looked great with (black sesame?) lines running throughout the buns.
The pork belly was just mouthwatering. It looked to have been deep fried before being coated in a thick rich dark sauce. The pork belly was tender and very easy to bite in to. Dee-licious.
The pandan duck pancake was not your traditional pancake but it did look pretty cool. This was like a very light version of a duck laksa with all the beautiful flavours, and without the big bowl of soup. A good option if you just want something light with a big hit of flavour. There was definitely a hit of chilli in there too.
The Sichuan chilli chicken wings were juicy with a light thin crispy skin. Though I couldn’t see any chilli, it certainly left my lips tingly and almost a little numb. Definitely not your KFC-like wings, but if you’re after something with just some subtle spice, these would do the job.
The ants climbing trees was named as it looked like the black sesame seed ‘ants’ were climbing up the noodle ‘trees’. We all loved this dish. It was a little spicy but didn’t get spicier the more I ate. The best thing was that the thin vermicelli noodles had soaked up the sauce giving it juicy flavour. It was nicely balanced with some mince and crunchy noodles on top. We will be ordering this dish again!
Our second lot of drinks arrived – I asked for a mocktail surprise which turned out to be a nice strawberry fizz. J ordered a cocktail of passion fruit and chilli.
The shiitake mushrooms and baby bok choy in abalone sauce was a big hit at the table. The mushrooms were big and so so juicy, sucking up any sauce it’s sitting in like a sponge. The leafy Asian greens are essential to add some colour and crunch. My mum makes this dish all the time and it’s something I’ve grown up with. I quite liked the Natural Nine version and so did everyone else.
The beef eye fillet with wasabi, soy and stir fry cos lettuce was another favourite at the table. This beef was wonderfully tender and served in bite sized pieces. No complaints. After this dish arrived, nobody could decide on a favourite dish.
The others couldn’t resist trying some of the dessert cocktails on the menu. From left to right – espresso martini, some sort of butterscotch martini, and a chocolate martini which tasted like a mocha.
Time for dessert. The first dish to arrive were the banana and pineapple fritters with rum butterscotch sauce. This was a little bit like roulette in that you didn’t know what you would get. I found the pineapple fritters had lost their flavour. When I first bit into it, I couldn’t taste what it was until I looked and saw pineapple flesh. That was disappointing as I love the sweet juice of pineapples. The banana fritters were pretty tasty. I found the butterscotch sauce to be too runny and didn’t have a bold butterscotch flavour. It could have been made thicker and richer so that it coated the fritters fully. But that’s just my two cents.
The last dessert to arrive was the coconut sago pudding with mango. So creamy with small chunks of mango and slivered almonds on top. A simple dessert done well. I could easily have polished off the entire bowl on my own.
The rebranded Natural Nine was a surprise hit with everyone at the table. Neither of us could decide on a favourite dish, as they all seemed to get better and better. Another surprise was the price. Rice and noodles are priced from $16-$18, while the house specials are priced from $11-$35. The best value for money option would be the 9 Dish Roulette Banquet at only $48 per person. Well worth a visit for decent prices, portions and great flavour.
Natural Nine can be found inside the Canberra Casino. Open seven days from 12pm to 10pm.
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