I recently flew out of the Brisbane heat and its 90% humidity, was in the air for one hour and ten minutes and stepped out into 12 degrees at 2pm. Ah Canberra in the summertime…..and this was all before the great frosty leadership spill!
I went down there to see my son and fill his freezer with goodies. But the chip-off-the-old-block had other plans and, in the 3 weeks he had lived there, had managed to suss out every decent eatery in every suburb in the city. So much for study….
Now armed with the mum-bank, his first stop is Silo which on this frosty midsummer Saturday, is quite literally, standing room only. The bakery and cafe is in the popular suburb of Kingston and, once we can, we squeeze in the front door and edge along the glass display unit where some baguette crumbs and a sprinkling of flour makes up what is left of the display. With no chance of a table let lone anything to eat we trot next door to Me & Mrs Jones where a much larger corner shop has been converted into a really attractive modern diner.
Also packed with brunching girl-groups, newspaper-wrapped couples and pods of mamals (middle aged men in lycra), getting a table is tricky but not as much as then getting served. It’s a breakfast/lunch menu and runs through predictable but nonetheless appealing line up of bistro-retro dishes like chicken kiev and schnitzel burger and fries then moves the timeline forward to the 80’s and 90’s with prosciutto-wrapped pork loin on colcannon mash and eye fillet with truffled mushrooms and potatoes sarladaise. Bringing it into the present is pulled lamb shoulder salad with labneh,dukkah, beet leaves and pomegranate seeds immediately appeals and I leap on it. The student goes classic with fish and chips after hearing that garfish is featuring today. The fillets arrive in a wooden box lined with parchment paper and he digs away stabbing the fat chips under the battered strips. It appears a tad dry but is helped by some tartare and a teeny weany wedge of lemon.
On looks alone I’m winning but by mouthful number three my cheeks are puckering under a veritable drenching of acid – the dressing is quite literally burning my mouth. With eyes watering, little citrus explosions of pomegranate are delicious and the lamb is everything it should be – juicy, melt-in-the-mouth and packed with flavour but I can’t do the dressing, there’s just too much of it.
After lunch we head to the Lonsdale Street Roasters – just outside the CBD for a coffee and a wonder through an eclectic arcade of shops that is home to Sweet Bones Bakery and boutiques selling everything from miniature Le Creuset coffee mugs to to Swedish flatware to life size Jesus in scuba-wear and the odd archangel. Italian & Sons is across the road and largely billed as one of Canberra’s best Italians.
The brainchild of the Mocan Brothers who also make bespoke by-hand Goodspeed bicycles, Sean McConnell, brother of Melbourne chefs Matt and Andrew (yep there’s three of them and they’re all chefs!) is front and centre – literally.
The main seating area is also the kitchen and punters grab corners of space or a stool pulled up to McConnell and his team’s work bench. He bakes eggs Tripoli style and toasts banana bread by day and at night things get sassy with a set menu of edgy dishes like Boxgum pork belly with prawn floss and mango, Cloudy Bay clams with chorizo and fino and soft shelled crab with kewpie and sriracha. Outside are garden beds and pots where garnishes are grown. The focus is firmly on local and sustainable in both the food and the reclaimed timber that dominates the cosy interior.
Nowhere is very far away in the nation’s capital – There’s a mini chinatown in Dickson where you can eat incredibly well for not very much, a little further a field there’s Pod Food, set within a pretty nursery at Pialligo near the airport and the Bison Pottery outlet and a farm selling apples is also in the same lane. The Wig and Pen Bar and Micro Brewery right by the City Centre is the spot for liquid lunches or things eaten out of baskets.
The place is awash with good coffee and, even though it is literally crawling with politicians, there’s a small-town, glammed-up, almost-rural energy about the place that, frostbitten toes in silver strappy flats that scream Noosa from under the table notwithstanding, makes me feel like a local.