- Well priced
- Good staff
- Strange environment
- Modern, Asian food
A few weeks ago, I read a review of Natural 9 on the Her Canberra website. I had a brief look over their website but couldn’t find any mention of gluten free food so I filed it away, thinking that I’d keep an eye out for it just in case they could cater for gluten free tragic’s like myself.
Fast forward to last week, and while Michael and I were planning for a baby-free date, he found the Chinese High Tea package that had a gluten free option. Natural 9’s gluten free high tea runs from 2.30pm to 4.30pm every Friday and Saturday. It includes one food stand and tea for two people for $60 and you can pay an extra $10 each for a glass of sparkling wine.
Michael booked a table online for 3.15pm and called a couple of days later to discuss the risk of cross-contamination. The staff member that he spoke to was friendly and forthcoming with information, stating they were able to cater for gluten free clients, manage cross-contamination, and even had a separate gluten free fryer.
We rocked up to the casino on Saturday afternoon. The weather was temperamental so we chose to drive and park underneath the casino and Crowne Plaza hotel. Be warned, the car park is super tight and difficult to manoeuvre and it costs a fortune – $10 for the first three hours plus a fee if you pay by card.
We headed up in the lift, through the hotel to the casino, then across the casino floor to find Natural 9. I’m not a gambler at all and I found walking through the casino at 3pm an odd and slightly depressing experience. There was only a handful of people playing games and it wasn’t very busy, but the loud music and flashing lights had a feel of forced ‘fun’.
When we reached Natural 9 a staff member showed us to our table, confirming we were there for the high tea and that we had requested the gluten free option. Michael thought the staff member was the same one that he had talked to on the phone and she was very friendly. She served us all afternoon and was the only staff member working in the restaurant. This wasn’t a problem though as the place was mostly empty with only three other couples having the high tea.
After perusing the tea menu, we had a look over the restaurant itself. The room is long and rectangular. At one end there is the entrance and bar. There’s a picture next to the bar of the Natural 9 logo, which is a pretty cool collage of different Asian posters and a big, red Chinese character – 9. Above the bar, there’s a huge glitzy chandelier.
At the other end of the restaurant from the bar is a room for private functions. There is a long wall of floor to ceiling windows that look out onto the end of Glebe park and the opposite wall is made up of wooden screens with cut out cubes. You can see through these into the casino itself.
Hanging from the ceiling there are red and black lanterns and there are plenty of tables set up, and they’re well-spaced so that if it was full, you would still be able to have a conversation without being overheard.
It’s a really bright and stylish environment, spoiled by the gaudy lights and noise from the casino which can be seen through the wooden screens. It lowers the tone a lot, particularly the huge TV which was showing horse racing, and it’s quite distracting.
After a short wait, the staff member came up to find out which tea we’d like. We opted for the Pink Lemonade – a lemony, berry filled rooibos – and we ordered a glass of sparkling wine each.
After a very short wait, the staff bought over our bubbles, tea and food. The bubbles were nice enough. I’m not a big wine drinker so I managed to get comfortably tipsy before I’d finished the glass but the pink lemonade tea was lovely. It was a bright red colour and was slightly floral with a sweet, lemon flavour. We got the water topped up halfway through and polished off two pots of tea.
The food stand was also good. We only realised afterwards that what we had didn’t match the online menu. On the bottom plate were four savoury items, and the middle and top plates held sweets.
The crispy duck was the first thing I ate. Laid on a little rectangle of lettuce, it contained tiny cubes of cucumber and deep-fried duck. The lettuce was refreshing against the chewy, fatty duck. It would’ve been nice to have a little gluten free hoisin sauce but it wasn’t a big problem.
The Sweet and sour chicken wing was my favourite savoury item. I’m not a big fan of chicken wings usually but the sauce on this really made it. The sour was nicely balanced with a plumy sweetness. A really tasty treat!
The sake salmon and cucumber roll was cool and refreshing. The salmon was tasty and fresh, although I couldn’t taste the sake at all. While eating these three, I was simultaneously popping soy beans into my mouth! The soy beans were quite firm and slightly charred. They came with a sprinkling of what looked like red glitter on them although the online menu said this was riberry.
I had no idea what riberry was so I googled it and I’m still not sure! Apparently, it’s an Australian berry that tastes like cloves and cinnamon but all I could taste was sourness. It wasn’t bad on the soy beans but it wasn’t a particularly Asian flavour.
After chowing down the savoury items, we moved onto the middle plate. This contained three items – a mango and coconut spoon, oolong fudge and a mini white chocolate and yuzu cheese cake.
I tried the mango and coconut spoon first. The mango was ripe and juicy, and the coconut was firm and fresh. It was very sweet because of the mango, but the coconut could still be tasted. It looked very pretty, plated up on the spoon and disappeared in two bites!
The oolong fudge was also sweet but very nice, with the slightest burnt flavour. If it tasted of oolong at all, it was so slight that my unsophisticated palette couldn’t tell but that didn’t make it less enjoyable to nibble on.
The mini white chocolate and yuzu cheese cake was delicious. Sticking in the top were two pieces of green wafer, these had a slight umami flavour and were bendy and chewy. The cheesecake was lightly flavoured with white chocolate. Although the sweetness of this can sometimes be overpowering, the white chocolate flavour was perfectly balanced and creamy. I suspect the crumb may have been made from arrowroot biscuits. It wasn’t too sweet but was firm and crumbly. It was another good choice but the yuzu flavour was completely absent. The Asian twist on the item was missing.
On the top plate there were two items – an orange and almond cake with jasmine cream, and caramelised banana with ‘cajeta’. The orange and almond cake was basically a friand but it was nice. The orange wasn’t particularly strong though and the cream was lacking the jasmine flavour that I wanted.
By far the best thing on the stand was the banana with cajeta. This was basically a thin slice of banana that had been grilled and covered in cajeta. Cajeta is a Mexican caramel so it didn’t really fit with the whole Asian high tea theme, but it was delicious. The caramel had set slightly on the banana and had a little crispy layer to bite through. It was very satisfying, and despite being the simplest thing on the menu, it was the best.
An Asian High Tea is a great concept – I was tempted by the idea of gluten free deep-fried dumplings and spring rolls. The items included were tasty and the savoury items were clearly Asian foods.
I admit that desserts are not generally a strong point for Asian cuisine but Natural 9 did a good job. It could be improved by adding a few stronger Asian flavours, instead of the ‘so subtle I barely noticed them’ flavours that were there.
One gripe for Michael and I was that there were no refills. Other high tea’s I have been to usually include refills on a few items, and we both felt that we could have managed a whole stand each! Having said this the price was reasonable for a high-quality high tea.
Natural 9 is a stylish and trendy Asian inspired environment. it’s a good spot for tea during daylight but I doubt I’d go in the evening when the gaudy lights of the casino next door would be distracting in dark. I’d be interested to return in a few months to try the full menu when the restaurant has expanded a bit, both in terms of clientele and flavour!
Casino Canberra 21 Binara Street
0455 333 119