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Billabong Bar and Bistro

Neighbourhood: Osborne Village
121-D Osborne Street
Phone: (204) 452-1019
Entrees: $16-$28

(Editor’s Note – This business is no longer open.)

Just inside the front entrance of the recently renovated Billabong Bar & Bistro, guests are greeted with a choice of two doors.

Behind door number one, the Australian bar maintains what its regulars have come to love: a classic pub feel and a front row view of Winnipeg’s most eclectic neighbourhood. With a laid-back vibe and a boomerang on the wall, the place puts the “Oz” into Osborne Village.

Behind door number two, the shiny new bistro (formerly a gift shop) has a more refined ambiance. Modern steel lamps, dark mahogany, leafy tropical plants and walls of burgundy and taupe create a warm, relaxed setting.

The bistro provides a great forum for Billabong’s new chef Andy Arjoon to display his culinary creativity. Known for bringing global fusion food to Winnipeg while with The Storm, Arjoon later honed his technique at Coyote Cafe. Also influenced by his West Indian heritage, his revamped menu offers many dishes fusing Australian ingredients with Asian flavours.

Starters include the Aussie corn dog, which sees the North American guilty pleasure given a chic, “down under” twist. Savoury lamb and fennel sausages are speared, breaded in falafel and fried. A tangy masala-orange mustard dip nicely complements the robust sausage.

The Sydney Rocks Yum Cha dim sum offers a trio of quirky shapes on each side of a made-for-two bow tie plate. Crunchy, funnel-shaped wontons cradle a soft blend of mildly spiced shark, scallop and pork. Black beans add texture to shredded shrimp and barramundi (prize catch of the Great Barrier Reef) spring rolls. And, in an interesting North-meets-South permutation of the conventional pot sticker, Asian spices accentuate ground alligator and Manitoba pickerel to create airy little parcels with umph. A bowl of ginger-chile dip brings them all together.

Entrées are equally unique. Kangaroo loin arrives as a stack of chunky, peppery barbequed medallions. Extremely lean, the dark meat could easily be mistaken for bison—richer and more flavourful than beef, less gamey than venison. Spicy pineapple and beetroot relish delivers a tart kick, while smooth carrot and horseradish sauce soothes excited taste buds. Off to the side, flaky phyllo pouches encasing a velvety blend of sweet potato and pumpkin are so good they almost steal the show.

Pumpkin gives subtle sweetness to plump Lygon Street gnocchi (named after Melbourne’s Little Italy), with diced leeks and celery adding crunch to its mellow herbed cream sauce. Salty goat cheese and an earthy portobello mushroom contrast to the more delicate characters of the dish.

The split banana leaf of the barramundi wrap reveals a delightfully complex wave of taste. Shiitake mushroom enhances a creamy mound of risotto-style sticky rice. Underneath, a thick slab of the trendy Aussie fish is steamed fluffy, picking up gentle traces of its fragrant lime-coconut broth.

Of the desserts from down under, the highlight is the pumpkin date bread pudding—a dense and gooey cake covered with a buttery cinnamon-brown sugar caramel sauce.

The Billabong Bar & Bistro is open daily 9 am-10 pm.

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