Review: Helix Bar & Dining – Canberra (ACT)

For the business traveler, time spent away from home often conjures up the mentality of having no creature comforts around. No familiar faces, no familiar items. This becomes all the more apparent at the airport lounge, where the décor serves a more functional purpose, and aesthetics more or less fly out the window. The food available to those in transit doesn’t even bear discussing at times. Those killing time at Canberra airport are fortunate they have a casual dining option such as this so close by.

Rather than try to create a homely, familiar vibe, Helix Bar & Dining, located within the ultramodern building that also houses the Vibe Hotel Canberra Airport, leans into this feeling of the “stranger in a strange land” and offers a dining experience, in its cuisine, service and location, that most wouldn’t get in their hometowns.

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The décor reflects a truly modern feel in harmony with the rest of the hotel. With the building a circular shape, Helix Bar & Dining‘s location in the very centre of the hotel lobby makes it the meeting spot for guests and diners alike. Touches like a long bar area and a pretty nifty fireplace with seating (perfect for winter nights) give it a real wow factor, and leave a lasting impression on visitors.

Specialising in contemporary Australian fare, Helix Bar & Dining take their inspiration from local Australian produce, both in its food and its wine. As a restaurant, it’s the epicentre of the hotel. Helix is situated in the lobby, and the constant hum of diners, hotel guests and staff serve as the “heart and soul” of the hotel.

As a bar, it acts as the chic airport lounge, an ideal hangout as you await your incoming guest or as the last place to chill before you hop onto your flight (and the airport is literally next door). It’s no wonder it’s named “helix”, an aeronautical term that refers to the airflow that runs through a rotating aircraft propeller, driving its movement forward. Without it, an aircraft remains stationary. Helix Bar & Dining remind people that home is far away – enjoy this “otherworldness” while you can. As if to further prove this point, Head Chef Toby Thorley also created special dinner menus that feature the celebrated Black Winter Truffle, or Perigord, to support Canberra’s annual Truffle Festival (an event that certainly doesn’t occur in my hometown, at least!).

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Helix Bar & Dining‘s regular menu is a solid offering of fresh, seasonal and local produce. It’s the menu’s job to promote homegrown produce for locals and visitors alike, and in doing so, supporting local producers, too. The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and also works as the in-room dining providers for the hotel.

On my recent visit, my guest and I were seated by very attentive staff, who chatted with us about our travel to Canberra, and offered us suggestions for things to do later in the evening (our waitress mentions a Canberra Raiders NRL game). It’s a pleasant lunchtime atmosphere, dining late means there are fewer people but the afternoon light is beautiful coming through the floor-to-ceiling windows.

Lunches here range from share plates to light meals, but we try the more substantial meals like the Angus Steak Sandwich ($24), with a rocket, tomato, caramelised onion and seeded mustard filling, and the Spanner Crab Linguine ($29), served with sugar snaps, chilli and garlic. The beans give it a wonderful fresh taste and lift it from being stodgy and filling to incredibly appetizing.

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Because the truffle menu isn’t available until dinner, we return later that night. Our waitress from lunch, still on her shift, jokes that we “just can’t get enough” of the place. She’s partly right. The restaurant is located about a 10-15 minute drive from Canberra’s CBD – why leave in the cold when we have a stylish bistro to dine at right here? There are more diners over dinner than at lunchtime. There’s a lively group of friends who have popped themselves around the fireplace, glasses of wine in hand. Elsewhere, groups of visitors are enjoying their meals, happy to be out of the cold and not worried about travelling back home just for the moment (even if home at that point is a level or two upstairs to the hotel rooms above).

We treat ourselves to Oven Roasted Lamb Rack ($37), served with sweet potato mash, green beans and a truffle minted jus. Worried the truffle overwhelm the other elements, it was a pleasant surprise to find that it did not, and the sweet potato mash worked well with the succulent lamb. We make the King Salmon ($32), served with heirloom tomatoes, green beans and olives, the “palette cleanser” of the evening. The salmon was well cooked, though not juicy the way the lamb was (could have been a case of food envy). The olives were a wonderful accompaniment to the lightness of the fish.

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After a few glasses of the Mount Majura Pinot Gris ($58 per bottle), we decide on dessert, a Black Truffle & White Chocolate Sponge Cake ($19). Beautifully presented, it was sweet and enjoyable, an added bonus as I had thought the white chocolate component might have been too sweet, and happy that is wasn’t. The truffle flavour and the sweetness of the dessert, though not off-putting, were at first an odd combination, which other people may find in Helix Bar & Dining‘s upcoming truffle desserts for the duration of the Truffle Festival. We play an odd game of “guess where the truffle flavour’s coming from” and decide it’s in the cake element of the dish. The dish sits on an ice cream bed that complements the whole dessert nicely.

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Helix Bar & Dining also offer a fairly considerable wine list, representing local and international wine regions. Prices start from $8 for a glass of the Aura Chardonnay, but, for those wanting to celebrate, try the Pol Roger NV Champagne ($230 a bottle).

Visitors to Canberra, particularly during the Truffle Festival, shouldn’t overlook Helix Bar & Dining just because of it’s location, it’s a great, accessible introduction to the world of truffles and to Canberra’s outstanding winter season.

The Truffle Festival down in Canberra is on every season, but ends this month.

Helix Bar & Dining

Address: Vibe Canberra Airport, 1 Rogan Street, Canberra ACT 2609
Contact: (02) 6201 1500
Website: www.helixbaranddining.com.au
Opening Hours: Monday to Sunday, 6am – 10pm

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