Canberra considers contemporary dining the essence of urban life. From top end restaurants to colourful markets, Emma Gregg finds the Australian capital has plenty of ways to fill your days and your tummy
Serving up at Aubergine (VisitCanberra)
18 Barker Street, Griffith
At Canberra’s most celebrated restaurant, Ben Willis creates impeccable, original dishes with a casual twist, such as heritage breed chicken with cabbage and salsa verde or barramundi with globe artichoke and parsley sauce. Foodies travel from far and wide to sample Willis’ brown butter ice cream with almond praline and frozen lemon verbena milk. The Australian Good Food Guide has awarded Aubergine two Chef’s Hats, Australia’s answer to Michelin stars.
15 Moore Street, Civic
Ben Willis’ second venue is more relaxed than Aubergine, with a hip, faintly industrial look and an upmarket, tapas-inspired menu. Well-informed staff talk you through the options, such as steamed pippies (a type of clam) with a miso emulsion, or caramelised onion pierogi (stuffed dumplings) with nettles, roasted mushrooms, black garlic and Terra Prata black truffle.
54 Marcus Clarke Street, Civic courgette.com.au
This award-winning fine dining restaurant is owned by James Mussillon, who trained under Marco Pierre White in London before returning to Australia to make his name. It’s formal, with elegant décor in soft, cool colours and French-inspired cuisine, served with a sense of occasion. Expect glazes, foams and sauces.
Tasty Asian dishes at Akiba (VisitCanberra)
3/16 Blamey Place, Campbell
In this small, inviting South-East Asian-inspired dining room, the tablecloths are crisp and lanterns cast patterns onto the white walls. Polite staff serve delicately spicy dishes, such as soto ayam (white pepper chicken with Asian mushrooms) and beef rendang (slow-cooked Malay-style wagyu shank) with pickles.
1 Burbury Close, Barton
Lilotang serves delicious traditional Japanese cuisine with artistry and style in a sleek, sharply designed modern space. The sushi is prepared with precision, blending flavours and textures perfectly, and the sashimi, presented on a shining platter, gleams like a work of art.
40 Bunda Street, Civic
Famous for fun New Asian dishes, such as pork belly buns with Asian slaw, dim sum and Japanese fried chicken, Akiba was voted Australia’s favourite restaurant in 2016. Focussing on the nation’s connections to Asia, it's a vibrant place to eat, with long tables and diner-style booths lit by eye-popping neon.
Delicious dessert at Monster Kitchen and Bar (VisitCanberra)
25 Edinburgh Avenue, Civic
Occupying the ground floor of Hotel Hotel in NewActon, one of Canberra’s hippest hotels, Monster operates from 6.30am until late, serving seriously delicious seasonal fare-to-share with a dash of youthful irreverence. The yabby jaffle (a crayfish and horseradish toastie) is legendary. This place is perfect for brunch.
1/19 Marcus Clarke Street, Civic mocanandgreengrout.com
A firm local favourite, this ethical NewActon café and bike shop employed local artisans to make its crockery and create its arty, retro-chic vibe. Drop in for Fairtrade coffee or quick dishes made from local produce, such as baked eggs with charred eggplant or carrots with gorgonzola and haricot beans, sprinkled with homegrown herbs.
1/1-13 University Avenue, Civic
This airy coffee shop and café is run by world champion barsta Saša Šestić, who takes the origin, ripeness and freshness of his beans as seriously as winemakers treat grapes. In fact, Šestić once created an award-winning coffee flavoured with Canberra’s celebrated Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier wine. Opening at 7am (8am at weekends), The Cupping Room serves imaginative breakfasts and lunches, as well as perfectly brewed coffee.
Creamy desserts at Frugii Dessert Laboratory (VisitCanberra)
28 Lonsdale Street, Braddon frugii.com
Owned by local ice cream alchemist and passionate pastry chef John Marshall, Frugii makes ridiculously tasty ice cream, sorbets and desserts using fresh, all-natural ingredients. You can grab a little something to take away, or perch on a stool in the crisp, clean-lined shop and tuck in on the spot.
40 Marcus Clarke Street, Civic
You’ll feel like a child again as you sink your spoon into a FreakShake, an anarchic Instagram sensation that Pâtissez invented and has since trademarked. In case you’ve missed the mania, think of an outlandish volume of milkshake, ice cream, cake, fruit, chocolate sauce and other treats all loaded into a mason jar mug.
Corner Elouera and Lonsdale Street, Braddon
In a district stuffed with trendy restaurants, this is a crowd-pleasing choice. If you love watching chefs at work, you can sit at a bench overlooking the open kitchen, watching sharing plates of pickled pork terrine, veal gnocchi or spiced cauliflower with goat curd and pomegranate emerge. Their famous salted caramel popcorn sundae is worth seeking out, and consider their indulgent all-you-can-eat option for $86 per person to just keep happily ordering.
Local stall owner at Capital Region Farmers Market (VisitCanberra)
Union Court, Acton
In the heart of Canberra’s Australian National University campus, this temporary food, shopping, live music and entertainment space is open to all every day of the week. It features fresh, funky vendors of world food, such as flame-grilled burgers, rotisserie kebabs and Peruvian empanadas and Mexican burritos, plus Fairtrade coffee and BentSpoke, the city’s favourite craft beer.
Exhibition Park, Mitchell
Held between 7.30am and 11.30am each Saturday, this lively market brings together over 100 stalls representing local growers and producers. Choose a hunk of sourdough from Bread Nerds, goat’s cheese from Bryan Loader, tomatoes from Cool Climate Produce and perhaps some pickles from Franklin Road Preserves, and you’ve got the makings of a picnic.
21 Wentworth Avenue, Kingston
A relaxed Sunday morning shopping destination, this general market has a bohemian feel, with stalls selling handmade clothes, jewellery, scarves and homeware stalls, as well as vendors preparing good things to eat and drink. Regulars include Fekerte’s Ethiopian Cuisine for injera, Song’s for Lao spring rolls, Veganarchy for dairy-free cupcakes and Rowan Farm Berries, who sell wicked chocolate-dipped strawberries.
Want a copy of Wanderlust’s in-depth, expert guide to Canberra, Australia’s cool and cultured capital? Download the PDF/e-zine here: www.firststopsingapore.com.
Main image: Baked eggs at Mocan and Green Grout (VisitCanberra)