IT’S a wonderful play on words for a café inside a library, but then Bookplate is playful in many ways beyond its “perfect-fit” name.
It’s lovely to eat at our esteemed National Library, surrounded by famous Leonard French stained-glass windows. If the weather suits, you can move outside to Ex Libras on the veranda and take in pretty views of the lake and hills.
Dining at the National Library isn’t a “tourist trap” as some may think. There’s no gouging on prices and you get a million-dollar view thrown in for free. It’s easy going and interesting to watch the eclectic group of business people, mums with prams, those walking around the lake and avid readers who are inevitably visiting – a group as eclectic as the books on the shelves of the library itself.
At Bookplate/Ex Libras you order, grab a number and your meal is brought to you. There are quick gourmet sandwiches, creative salads and other meals pre-made daily, as well as an express service for takeaway coffees and food.
Bookplate has a full range of coffee and the quality is good. The specials board always features something interesting and so it was that I ordered the fusilli and roasted pumpkin, with caramelised onion, ricotta, olive oil, radicchio and shaved Parmesan, a generous serve for $17. While it was far more subtle than I had imagined and the presentation could have been refined (we do feast with our eyes), the pasta still went down quite well. My friend found the frittata delicious ($16.90) and enjoyed the combo of leek, goat’s cheese, potato and onion. The side salad was lovely and fresh.
On our visit, the specials board also included pork and red wine sausages ($18) and a ploughman’s lunch ($16.60).
Although technically a “café”, the staff wear proper serving attire. Thankfully there are no sloppy pants sweeping the floor, bellies popping out from under short T-shirts or hair hanging in the face while being served at the National Library. And no one calls customers “guys”.
FYI, Ex Libras seats around 100, under brilliant white, broad canapés, and has smart, brown, comfortable wicker chairs.
Bookplate and Ex Libras are fully licensed with local and imported beers and several wines by the glass, including some tasty top drops from the Canberra region.
Both places embrace their environment very well indeed. So, too, does Paperplate on the lower-ground-floor level of the library. It’s a brightly furnished space with free wi-fi and power access where you can also get good food and coffee (eat-in or takeaway).
Bookplate, National Library of Australia, Parkes Place. Open Monday to Thursday, 8.30am-6pm; Friday, 8.30am-4pm and weekends 10am-3pm. Call 6262 1154.