XO, Canberra

XO's "Sexy" squid

XO's "Sexy" squid

Our restaurant critics' picks of the latest and best eats around the country right now: XO, Canberra.

The infectious informality, enthusiasm and bravado of Canberra's inner-north casual dining has spread south of the lake in the form of XO. In suburban Narrabundah, four local lads have taken the poky space previously occupied by The Artisan and transformed it. The result is stylish and understated, comfortably accommodating everything from drinks and small bites at an extended kitchen bench to shared-plate dining at tables under pendant lights.

The kitchen channels the trailblazers of casual pan-Asian dining - there's a good take on the old Momofuku pork belly bao, and a minced prawn and pork dumpling that carries echoes of the version seen at Melbourne's Supernormal. Still, XO is far from cookie cutter - there's something quite genuine about efforts to capture the culinary exploration of émigré parents. Vietnamese "Bolognese" is a standout: udon noodles stir-fried, turned through chicken ragù and topped with a soft-yolked egg. "Sexy" squid (pictured) is also well executed, despite the creepy name - light, crisp, and no residual oil - while aged rice wine brings complexity to drunken chicken and wood ear mushroom.

The floor staff are clearly invested in the XO project, transcending boundaries of formality but in welcome ways. It's about hanging out with mates who love the same things - hip hop, Negronis, Old Fashioneds, craft beer, whiskey and whisky. The wine list has a regional focus (Eden Road, Clonakilla, Ravensworth), supplemented by small producers from France, Italy and Spain.

Good times and great rock and roll.

XO, 16 Iluka St, Narrabundah, ACT, (02) 6295 9696. Open Tues-Sat noon-3pm; Mon-Sat 6pm-11pm.

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