Gus Armstrong opened eightysix in the hotspot that is Braddon’s Lonsdale Street back in 2013. An industry veteran, though not a chef, he threw himself into the kitchen (alongside more qualified hands) to create a menu unbound by convention, and he was intent on delivering it in a way that would both attract and repel. Well, it did more of the former, but the attitude was very much one of not conforming and not caring what people thought. A brave gambit that typically leads to outrageous success or abject failure, but with eightysix still one of Canberra’s hottest of hot restaurants, it’s not hard to see how that played out – even if the hip-hop soundtrack may still keep some of Canberra’s more conservative food lovers away.
The interior is slickly modern, all timber, steel, concrete and glass, though the detail and compact scale make it both warm and intimate. Bar and kitchen are ensconced in a timber and tile bunker, with fluted glass louvres overhead, and a yellow neon with the digits of the numeric eponym wrapped in a serpentine embrace glowing in the background. There are 10 or so stools arrayed down the length for those drawn to the theatrics of kitchen and bar, making them prime seats for solo diners, or couples more keen on entertainment than conversation. A row of two-tops form a linear row parallel to the bar, with fours afforded banquette seating against the wall. Along the length of that wall stretches a blackboard where the entire menu is chalked up.
The wine offer is artfully featured, with wines laying cork to punt on timber shelves racked against the far cobblestone wall, a ladder providing access to the loftiest bottles. There are about 60 wines on the list, from the local to the global, with 15 by-the-glass options. All selections are chosen to complement the broad-ranging menu. And that menu tracks though eightysix classics – “salt and vinegar potato scallop,” “ghetto beef,” “caramel popcorn sundae” – while also having classic flirtations that are spun in new and interesting directions under Armstrong and chef Michael Rees’ watch.