While XO now offers a set menu of the modern South-East Asian fare, they’re always receptive to the casual visitor keen for a drink and a snack or two at the bar counter, where off-menu snacks can be paired with a compelling list of wine, beer and saké.
While the name XO may convey that most emblematic of Hong Kong sauces (as well as Cognac, if that’s where it takes you), XO restaurant, in the Canberra inner suburb of Narrabundah, is far from confined to a regional cuisine, no matter how cosmopolitan that cuisine may be. XO draws broadly on the cooking of South-East Asia, which naturally draws in influences from further afield, too.
The approach here is informed by tradition, but not bound by it, with a respectfully eclectic overlay to the menu. Moving away from an à la carte offering, XO now offers a tasting menu that is refreshed every month. You’re unlikely not to find dumplings on it, though, perhaps with pork and prawn and a spicy vinaigrette. A pumpkin, coconut and turmeric curry is currently listed, as too is burrata with XO sauce, heirloom tomato, pickled fennel and pangrattato.
And while XO is very much a restaurant, and a smart one at that, casual visits are warmly welcomed. “Our menu is a set menu, but we are very conscious about making our dining room accessible,” says xx. “At our heart, we’re a local restaurant, and we want to give customers the flexibility to stop in for a drink at the long table. More often than not, as the dining room starts to hum and plates start leaving the pass we see a fairly quick transition to the food menu, but we definitely don’t require this. Chef AK is always up for sending the odd snack out to match whatever’s in your glass.”
The wine list has a producers close to Canberra featuring, but it takes in makers from around the country, too, with a peppering of internationals. In general, the listings tend to the artisanal, with a decent smattering of lo-fi options. Local legend Clonakilla is particularly well represented, with a decade-long vertical of their iconic shiraz viognier on show. There are 13 by-the-glass options, and a handful of sakés, while cleansing Asian lagers rub shoulders with domestic craft brews.
“We made great use of lockdown periods to research and explore smaller producers in our region and across Australia and to look critically at the structure and composition of our cellar and the way it interacts with our food,” says xx. Local and Australian wines are now the cornerstones of our program, and we are focused on championing smaller, artisanal producers – both established and emerging – and different varieties and production techniques.”