Planning a trip to Canberra this summer? Add this to your restaurant hit list.
In December the doors opened at Wilma, a progressive Asian barbeque restaurant helmed by renowned chef James Viles – known for his now-closed destination restaurant Biota in NSW’s Southern Highlands – alongside head chef Brendan Hill (ex-Aria and 12-Micron in Sydney).
It’s Viles’ latest opening as the culinary director of Canberra hospitality group Harvac, after taking over the Asian street-food menu at Akiba and launching Mexican taqueria Loquita earlier in 2021.
The chef-restaurateur closed his acclaimed Biota in 2020, after the one-two punch of bushfires and lockdowns. He was briefly the executive chef at luxury hotel Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley before making the move to Canberra.
In the space that was once good-time cocktail bar Kokomo’s, Wilma’s is all about Asian fare licked by flames and smoke. It’s inspired by the chef’s time living and working in Hong Kong and Shanghai.
“We’re not traditional Central or Southern Asian cuisine. We’re taking those flavours that Australians have fallen in love with since the 1960s,” he says in a statement. “There’s a Chinese restaurant in every regional Australian town, and the reason for that is that those flavours and those profiles, the Australian culture was adapted to them, we love them.”
There’s room for 200 diners, with a moody colour palette of blacks and greys, carefully balanced with tan leather banquettes and warm lighting reminiscent of the fires in the kitchen.
Viles and Hill say they are “barbequing as primitively as possible”, with wood burning in an offset smoker and coals smouldering in a custom two-tier yakitori grill locally made out of black steel.
The menu includes yakitori, of course, alongside roast-duck pancakes, char siu pork (smoked rather than roasted for a stronger flavour), grilled Wagyu with black garlic-braised mushrooms and glazed black bean-chilli beef short rib, but with Viles’ own twist.
On the wok menu you’ll find Balmain bug with egg noodles, mapo tofu with sizzling Sichuan shiitake mushrooms, XO pippies tossed with “wastage XO sauce”, made with leftover fish frames from the restaurant’s live raw bar.
There you can sit and watch chefs slicing sashimi (smoked kingfish, scallop and prawn tartare; tuna with coconut and lime; and raw snapper with kampot pepper and yuzu ponzu) and shucking oysters, while other small snacks include san choy bow, prawn toast and a sausage sandwich with Bulldog sauce.
And the chef is adding native Australian ingredients like warrigal greens and Davidson’s plum to the dishes, alongside local produce such as ducks from nearby Tarago and Majura truffles (used in an egg fried rice).
Or if you’re not in the mood for a full dinner, visit adjoining bar The Pearl for cocktails flavoured with Asian ingredients such as the yuzu spritz, Osaka Old Fashioned with chocolate bitters and Japanese spices or a Lychee Dragonfruit Margarita. Bonus: you can order a tight selection from Wilma’s snack menu while there.
1 Genge Street, Canberra
(02) 6171 2092
Wed & Thu 5.30pm–9.30pm
Fri to Sun 11.30am–2.30pm and 5.30pm–9.30pm
Wed to Sun 12pm–late