"All Wodened Out" (Restaurant Review: Woden Plaza Food Court)

Our special guest writer, Robyn, has been made permanent! To celebrate this exciting occasion, the talented photographer/journalist headed down to Woden Plaza to partake of the famed southern Canberra cuisine.

The first rays of spring-like sunshine penetrated the backyard last Saturday, and my hunger pangs were chiming with an intensity I had not known before. As it was such a beautiful day, we decided to DINE OUT at Woden plaza!

Less than twenty minutes later we descended into the valley, which seemed to be bathed in a ghostly shimmer, and I was immediately struck how the delicate winter hues of the Woden countryside shaded delicately into the village style architecture of the town centre – or ‘plaza.’

As the strains of piped music (a folk-song that I was unable to detect the origins of, except that it seemed to be inspired by the theme to EStreet) ushered us from the multi-level carpark and into the foreground of the dining area, I began to sense some trepidation from my dining companion. With interior design values reminiscent of the highly acclaimed VLine/Countrylink school of waiting room design, the entrance to the Food Court dazzled with its heady mix of fluorescent lighting and bustling ambience.

Narrowly dodging a three-tier toddler carriage device, my dining companion headed directly to the nearest branch of his favourite bank, while I surveyed the scene before me. Waiting to be seated took some time, so I allowed myself the indulgence of lingering by the bain marie at the curry corner, anxious to discover some of the chef’s spice-laden secrets.

Indeed, the culinary history of Woden valley is a finely chequered one, with regional styles expressing themselves in variations on traditional dishes, such as the ‘wrap’ and the ‘supersize.’ Modes of presentation also differ between postcodes, as my dining companion discovered after requesting the the ‘junior size’ lasagna, only to find the minimalist tableware (hastily selected at the beginning of the queue) unable to support the dish’s heavy meat content. Equally disappointing were the Bauhaus style cutlery dispensers, inappropriately placed next to ‘Sizzle Bento.’ A more suitable method of condiment display, I felt, could be found in many modern venues around Canberra:

Skipping the entrée sized chicken nuggets preferred by diners slavishly adhering to the a la carte menu at Kingsley’s, I pursued the main course first, opting for a mid-size Bento box with petals of shaved ginger and rosette of Wasabi. This dish was nicely complemented by the delicate ‘Wild Berry’ coloured Slush Puppy, which I selected after a lengthy decision making process, accompanied by some gentle prodding from the maître d'.

For dessert, we decided to sample the exquisite patisserie items from KFC’s exciting new range of Sara Lee cheesecakes and, while the dining experience was enhanced by a delightful al fresco setting with views across the car park, I still wonder whether the Chocolate Bavarian flavour coupled with no-name lemonade beverage was ultimately too subtle for the common palate.

As with all fine dining experiences, the hosts were able to infuse the Food Court with an ambience of relaxed sophistication. The presence of Irene from Home and Away, diligently filling orders at a nearby tobacconist, certainly impressed upon me (if I needed any further convincing) that it IS possible to marry Oriental chic with quaint Summer Bay charm – not least, in Woden valley. All things considered, I give the Woden Food Court minus two and a half Michelin stars. My dining companion quibbled with the half star rating on the way back to the car park – but, as I told him (quietly, once we were in the car), the assault on the collective senses occasioned by the experimental lighting display near the entrance warranted nothing less.

[Editor's note: Many more wonderful photographs were taken on this jaunt. Stay tuned for "The Secret Life of JB Hi-Fi" and "Woden Folk feat. Geri Halliwell and Lynne McGregor (Supre's Newsagency Mix)"]


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