Monday, August 26, 2013

Canberra Eats. Oh yes it does.

Perhaps it was the too frequent school trips to Parliament House and The Australian War Memorial that  kept me away from our Capital city for over 25 years? 

It had been so long that when I found myself trekking south recently (err.. 6 months ago, seems like 3 weeks), for reasons of both business and pleasure, I was genuinely excited! Knowing I didn't have to tour our political hotspots probably helped. But in the back of my mind lurked some fuzzy information regarding an evolving food scene. 

While the 5am start on my own at Central station provided one of the more frightening experiences for me in recent times (no security to be found and some pretty intense and escalating, drug fuelled incidences had me banging on the door of the ticket office...)  I was soon on a train journey that had me completely blissed out. The Australian countryside from Sydney to Canberra was surprisingly striking and beautiful. Who knew a place could morph so frequently and dramatically. 

A visit with an old colleague,  the proprietor of the Portrait Cafe and catering/function business at the National Portrait Gallery, reminded me what a clever lady Vanessa Broadfoot is. Every tempting morsel is made on the premises - now how often do you see that at a venue like this? And what a great cafe space (with a fabulous gift and book store adjacent). Vanessa used to work with me at Murdoch Books - she was a very fine food editor, an extremely talented chef and one of the world's truly lovely people - so I am not surprised to see her doing so wonderfully well.  
Sticky fig and chocolate cake - yes please. 
Vanessa left the cafe in the hands of her very capable staff to take me to lunch at Italian and Sons, providing a mini tour of the area on route - including this sweet looking cafe, Lonsdale Street Roasters,  just a few doors away from the restaurant. 
The Civic Pub a few doors down also does an OK lunch in a handsomely refurbished space.  The food is a little bit stuck in the 80's but it's tasty enough if you just want a quick bowl of pasta or a burger with a glass of vino or a coldie.  Or a game of pool.
Now Italian and Sons was a delightful surprise - we had an excellent lunch. Couldn't fault the food, wine, service or atmosphere. These guys know their stuff. And Vanessa clearly knew it would work for me! Being the fussy cow that I am.
Crumbed pork zampone with caper salsa
Ocean trout Crudo with horseradish and fennel tips
Duck liver parfait with moscato jelly
Lamb Stracotto
 Sometime in the 90's, after one too many bland and rubbery Panna Cottas under my belt, I'd vowed to give em a miss until the end of eternity but Vanessa convinced me that I really needed to try this one.  

Now putting it on the record that the Ligurian honey version above with pears poached in red wine was THE BEST Panna Cotta that has ever passed my lips. Lifetime on the hips? Who gives a fig.
Thanks Ness for a wonderful catch up lunch. 
As Aubergine had been recommended by some local wine folk a few of us decided to check it out. Another top notch dining experience. Lovely space, charming and very experienced staff, cracking good food. In fact one of my favourite dishes this year would have to have been the spectacular 'Slow cooked egg, sweet baby onions, creamed potato, corn, rye biscuit'. Oh my.
amuse bouche
Crisp pork belly, hand picked spanner crab, watermelon, rouille
Confit Ocean Trout, smoked trout parfait, shaved fennel, cucumber
The aforementioned Slow cooked egg, sweet baby onions, creamed potato, corn, rye biscuit
Cape Grim beef rib eye,  mustard crust, mixed mushrooms, cabbage, morel jus
Grilled lamb ribs, rump and pastilla, freekah, baby carrots, yoghurt
Mulloway, braised octopus, ratatouille
Pineapple cremeaux, mango, passionfruit, toasted meringue, coconut
Orange creme caramel, caremlised orange, hazelnut praline, orange sorbet
Dark chocolate ganache, liquorice custard, strawberries, strawberry sorbet 

Breakfast the next morning was at uber cool Mocan and Green Grout
A gem of a spot in an otherwise quiet pocket of town. The funky fit out and cool-crew-vibe feels more Melbourne than Canberra - a definite leap forward for the Canberra cafe scene.  But I think I must be getting old as the music that was blaring during breakfast was the kind of stuff you might put on to get the heart pumping for a big night out  - not the kind of mellow morning tunes I prefer with my eggs and coffee. And most of the customers were older than us (ie 50's 60's) so reading the crowd wasn't a strong point. But perhaps they were just trying to drive us old ferrets out. Fair enough. 
 The menu sported some  fresh ideas but I felt the execution wasn't as sound as it might have been. I do know people who have eaten here since and given it the thumbs up so am assuming the cooking has improved. I really wanted to like it but it just wasn't jelling on this visit.  
The coffee was good and there was a steady queue at the takeout window - with plenty of local artwork to gaze at while you wait. 
A couple of coffees later and we were on our way.
But we couldn't resist a little stop off in gorgeous Berry where John Evans was cooking at the Berry Sourdough Bakery.
Fig and Roquefort salad, brioche croutons, hazelnuts and vin cotto
Paprika poached chicken breast, ligurian olives, pine nuts, roasted tomato vinaigrette

*** As I mentioned earlier, this trip was over 6 months ago and as we all know life tends to move along way too quickly. John recently left the Sourdough Bakery to open his own place with gorgeous wife Sonia Greig (who also used to work with us at Murdoch Books! spreading the lurve...) so I cannot wait to try out South on Albany - knowing the talent of this duo. 

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