Pantry keeps warm personality

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IT’S Canberra’s Centenary (as though you didn’t know that). And celebrating how this city has grown is on the menu. A perfect place to do so is in Manuka, one of Canberra’s oldest shopping precincts.

Shops were first built in this “little village” around 1925 and you can imagine how excited customers were to line up their Model T Fords along the wide, dusty streets and then spend the day shopping.

An ACT Heritage Library photo of The Lawns at Manuka, when they were still lawns.
An ACT Heritage Library photo of The Lawns at Manuka, when they were still lawns.
Today we still shop in trendy Manuka. And we drink. And we eat.

A fave spot of many is Urban Pantry, perched next to the iconic Lawns, shaded by magnificent trees.

Warm and inviting is a phrase often overused by cafes, but it’s a phrase that captures Urban Pantry’s personality well. With its vintage floorboards, earthy colour palette, brick wall featuring “tree of life” artwork, and its small “pantry” of foodie goodies to buy – such as olive oils, antipasti delights, preserves and coffee – this cafe is, well, warm and inviting. And that includes the added touch of the live jazz music Urban Pantry has organised every Friday night in summer (6-10).

I hadn’t been for lunch or dinner for at least a couple of years. For lunch, Urban Pantry offers lighter meals, with many gluten-free and vegetarian options, including citrus-poached chicken and mango salad with cashews, avocado and chilli-lime dressing ($20) and a green-pea, falafel burger with quinoa tabouleh and tahini yoghurt ($19).

The "tree of life" mural at Urban Pantry
The “tree of life” mural at Urban Pantry. Photo by Silas Brown
The mains are intriguing and I will, one day, try the braised duck leg risotto with sugar snap peas and orange butter ($27) or the chilli and herb baked ricotta ($22). My friend ummed and ahhed – fair enough ‘cause there was a lot she felt like ordering. She settled on a dish she described as “sensational café food”, a pappardelle with juicy, plump king prawns, a nice kick of chilli, dainty zucchini ribbons and finished off with tangy lemon and fresh mint ($28). And who said vegetarian dishes are boring?

I’m a salmon lover and was told by the staff who explained the specials board that it was a lovely dish. They were spot on. It was a Nori and sesame crusted salmon with bok choy, wasabi mash and a mango and lychee salsa. I’m a big fan of creamy wasabi mash. I would have liked to be asked how I wanted my salmon cooked, but it was lovely and moist and I ate every single bit.

The menu at Urban Pantry will change in a few weeks to showcase new seasonal produce. The coffee is good, wine list decent enough and it’s service with a smile, starting with part-owner Luke Jennings, who always seems to be around the place infecting loyal customers with his pleasant and enthusiastic manner.

Urban Pantry, 5 Bougainville Street (The Lawns), Manuka. Call 6162 3556. Open Monday to Friday 7.30am to late, Saturday 8am to late and Sunday 8am-4pm.

Nori and sesame crusted salmon, wasabi mash with mango and lychee salsa.

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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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