The good and bad news for holiday eating out

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I DON’T know whether to laugh or cry. Canberra is about to celebrate its Centenary, with a full-on national advertising campaign underway to attract people to visit our darling nation’s capital.

And the National Gallery has just opened the amazing “Toulouse Lautrec – Paris and the Moulin Rouge” blockbuster.

Water's edge
Water’s edge
So you would think dining establishments in the busiest eating areas of Canberra would be open for business, even though it’s holiday time. Well, our research tells a different story.

I phoned 45 restaurants and cafes to find out which were open – in part because a reader wrote saying she is expecting visitors from overseas and interstate and wanted to know which “nice places” would be open in January. It wasn’t a scientific experiment … I selected primarily from reviews I have done over the years or eateries I know are popular.

The good news is a handful of lovely places are being hospitable by staying open. The bad news is that many can’t be bothered, with one even closed until January 20. One was still deciding. And one that is itself closing expressed frustration at not being able to find a place to have their holiday party in January (admittedly, this restaurant is off the beaten track and I wouldn’t expect it to remain open).

Now, I know everyone deserves a break. And I know people in hospitality work damn hard. But seriously…

Enough groaning. Let’s get down to business. Here’s a recap of some of the places that are open various times through the holidays and January, although most are sensibly closed the obvious statutory holidays. Different places have made different plans so check in advance.

Pretty views and surrounds

  • Waters Edge, with its glorious location on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin, is an exquisite dining experience and is a point of pride for Canberra. The delectable delicate dishes created by internationally experienced Chef Clement Chauvin are a feast for the eyes and taste amazing.
  • Alto, perched on top of Black Mountain, is another elegant dining experience and is Canberra’s only revolving restaurant (one revolution takes around 85 minutes). It offers modern Australian cuisine and has an exceptional wine list.
  • At our esteemed National Library, Bookplate cafe is open for casual lunches. You’ll be surrounded by famous Leonard French stained glass windows if you dine inside. Outside on the verandah you’ll enjoy fabulous views of the lake and surrounding hills.
  • The National Museum of Australia has just opened its new waterfront café with some of the best views of the lake available. The café seats 200 – indoors or out on the deck.
  • Moving away from the lake, but into a lovely garden area at Gorman House, is Sage Restaurant and the Mint Garden Bar, a great place for summer drinks. A new chef is settling in nicely we hear.

New buzz, buzz, buzz

The new Ox Eatery, housed in the well-appointed East Hotel and located between the vibrant hubs of Kingston and Manuka, is a unique dining experience. It features a massive rotisserie oven which slowly turns big hunks of meat (including goat some days). The bar snacks are yummy and you can enjoy excellent wines on an outdoor patio.

Just down the road in Kingston is the newly opened Me and Mrs Jones, with its pretty pot plants poised on the exterior of the windows. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Me and Mrs Jones has a fabulous fitout and has kept many of the building’s original architectural elements. A private dining area for up to 30 (with your own waiting staff) is available.

Also new is The Elk and Pea in Braddon, with its eccentric décor. The food is super casual, but not expensive. Outdoor dining area is also available.

Those you can always count on

Saffron Restaurant in Manuka – and now with its sister restaurant in Kingston – is always there for us Canberrans. Both locations celebrate fine Eastern Mediterranean flavours, with classic and innovative modern dishes. You can count on attentive and knowledgeable service from Max and Marven Azize, the brothers who own and run the restaurants.

Me and Mrs Jones
Me and Mrs Jones
Also in Manuka is Urban Pantry, on The Lawns. Lovely fit out, lovely food and lovely coffee. Outside dining is available next to grand leafy trees. It’s open for breakfast, lunch and dinner (wi fi available).

Smack in the city is Cream (same owners as Urban Pantry), which is always busy and well located near the Canberra Centre. Just across the road is Tongue and Groove with its seriously cool fitout created by Sydney’s Paul Kelly Design. Check out the 3000-piece paper chandelier. I recently had a delicious spicy pulled lamb burger with red cabbage and goat’s curd, created by Chef Ayhan Erkoc. And T&G, as it’s affectionately known locally, really pumps at night.

In Dickson, Suburban is a fashion statement in its own right. Housed in a large art-deco inspired corner building it draws in the younger crowd with its cross between a pub and a wine bar on one side and Belluci’s Italian restaurant on the other (Belluci’s restaurants in Manuka and Woden are also open).

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Wendy Johnson
Wendy Johnson: Food reviewer for Canberra CityNews magazine since 2004, covering stories for true foodies to digest.

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