Digress Restaurant and Lounge

by The Editor

Let’s get one thing straight. Wandering the streets of Old Delhi we don’t expect to come across an espresso machine. While relaxing in a piazza with a lovely glass of chianti, we’d be equally surprised to see cows wandering in to snack their way through the bins. Therefore, in keeping with such cross-cultural collisions, we never expected Digress.

The Concept

Digress promotes itself as Australia’s first Indian-Italian fusion restaurant. Perhaps, like us you weren’t particularly surprised no one had provided such a cuisine before. The concept is so confusing as to delay our visit by a number of weeks as we mentally prepared ourselves for whatever we might find down the Akuna Street stairs.

The Venue

Arriving for lunch we discovered the dining room was closed behind a curtain, offering only brief glimpses of the neat tablecloths beyond. Instead we were ushered onto a long bench seat in the main part of the restaurant with small, square tables and some ottomans. Next to us sat a bunch of speakers and other audio equipment, waiting for the next karaoke night. We knew this was the case, as the large television above our heads advertised the event between retro music clips.

It’s an unusual space. Expansive wooden floors meet a monolithic island bar with a high counter that all but hid the two girls running the floor that day. Perusing the menu it’s hard to go past a quick snack from the $10 lunch specials list – an express lunch is always an attractive option on a busy day.  Meanwhile, TVs flicker with images of fruity cocktails, informing us of various activities for later in the evening. Our order is taken and before long our selection of Tandoori Chicken Penne and Aloo Tikki Wrap are sped out from the kitchen.

The Food

A couple of diners find their way onto the benches further towards the bar. We’re early, so it’s good to see people wandering in. As we watch them settle our food arrives – landing on the table with a flourish from our waitress. First sample is the Penne. The plate is simple, with little garnish, but looking, smelling and eventually tasting like a Butter Chicken with pasta. It’s tasty without being anywhere near as confronting (or exciting) as one may expect. In reality this was traditional chicken in a mild spiced sauce with a slight variation on the carbs.

The wrap is less of a success – not particularly well heated through, but still alive and finding its warmth through spice. Again, the flavours were straight down the line.

Dessert time, and the menu piqued our interest to ordering a chocolate pizza.  We’d heard of these over recent years, but had never had the opportunity to try one. Ten minutes later the moment of truth arrived courtesy once again of our ever-extravagant waitress – a sea of brown with the aroma of a hot chocolate rising from its surface. A single, fluorescent glace cherry (apparently dipped in chilli) broke up the dark tones. Hazelnuts dotted the surface, both toasted and fragrant.

And the taste?  We’re happy to report the chocolate pizza was like Nutella on thick, warm bread.  It was deliciously familiar and wonderfully rich and we ate every slice in spite of the sheer naughtiness of it all. The cherry, wrapped in the last slice of pizza made for a tangy finish.

We rose, paid and made our way up to the street. Pausing in the bright sun and looking back at the lions guarding the door gave us time to reflect on our meal. What did we make of our downstairs odyssey to this subterranean oddity?

The Verdict

Digress is trying to be all things to all people – a cocktail bar, a nightclub, a South American dance venue and a restaurant.  Put simply, Digress has about five fusions too many. It might be best for owners and customers if management stripped the venue back to its single most intriguing aspect: the food.

The Indian-Italian fusion idea is full of opportunities. We could imagine some truly stunning combinations based on the rich history of both countries’ cuisines. With some polish and focus on providing a sophisticated and clever dining experience more than the scattergun approach of their marketing strategy, there’s every chance of creating a true destination – an aspect crucial to anywhere in Canberra not at street level. At the moment, Digress has too much energy and not nearly enough direction.

That said, at the moment, Digress truly offers something for everyone. You’ll just have to pick your night. Grab some friends, make a plan and dig into a chocolate pizza. Take our word for it, there are a lot less interesting places in Canberra than this.

We’re keen to know of your Digress experience: Karaoke? Ladies’ night? A feast of fusion? Tell us in the comments below.

Digress Restaurant and Lounge

Lunch: Wed – Fri: 12:00pm – 2:30pm

Restaurant: Mon – Sat: 5:30pm -10:00pm

Lounge: Mon – Wed: 5:30pm – 11:00pm: Thur – Sat: 5:30pm – 01:00am

11 Akuna Street Canberra City

6248 6952