I’m lucky enough to work in an area that is renowned for its cafe scene. Searching for a car park might feel a bit like Survivor: Automobiles, but the food culture of the Manuka and Kingston precincts is worth it. The inner south boasts a plethora of cafes and restaurants dotted around half a dozen different suburbs. It’s the perfect area for a coffee date or long lunch if you don’t feel like doing into the city.
Being a teacher however means that on weekdays, long lunches are more of a fantasy than anything. When I am able to duck out and grab something, I generally have to do it quickly before scarfing it down at my desk in between students barging into the office asking when the next assignment is due. Unfortunately, there’s only so many beef burritos a person can consume before the idea of fast food gets a little old.
So if you’re time poor like me (or too lazy to pack your lunch in the morning), this list of my top 5 takeaways in the inner south is for you:
1. MEE’S SUSHI
Mee’s serves arguably the best sushi in Canberra, and they have a large variety of it. Even eel, if you’re that way inclined. It’s a little independent operation opposite Manuka plaza and the line is always out the door when 1pm rolls around. That might seem a little off-putting, but even when it’s super busy I’m in and out in under ten minutes. They also do bento boxes, Japanese-style soups and hot tempura finger food in a bain-marie if sushi isn’t your thing. Bring cash though – they have a $20 minimum on EFTPOS transactions.
2. CAFE SOCIETEA
If driving around for fifteen minutes looking for a car park (and invariably giving up) in Manuka isn’t a palatable prospect, the Griffith shops have a collection of little places to get a quick bite. My personal favourite is the family-owned Cafe Societea. Somewhat incongruously wedged in an arcade between a pharmacy and a hairdresser, the clientele is a mix of little old ladies with blue perms and tradies in hi-vis. You can get a salad named after Marilyn Monroe, and a bacon and egg roll named after Elvis. This is my go-to place when I need a super epic mega shot of caffeine RIGHT NOW AND IT CAN’T WAIT DAMMIT. Sure, the coffee isn’t the most gourmet blend around, but it’s nice and the drawcard is that they do a jumbo size. Barista Phil always remembers me when I walk in. “Hello! Jumbo mocha?” Yes please Phil, and a Brad Pitt Usual to go.
3. MOUNTAIN CREEK WHOLEFOODS
Not just for tree-hugging hippies who smell like sandalwood. At the back of this shop in Griffith is a little canteen, and they do some nice lunch-type meals. Quiches, salads, smoothies (the real thing with natural yoghurt, none of this ice-cream nonsense) and the giant risotto balls are particularly nice. They also have a good selection of boutique juices and organic soft drinks. Plus, you can feel all smug and superior knowing that what you just ate for lunch was organically, locally and ethically produced. Just don’t try to pay with a credit card because that’s totes buying into the system, man, and also they don’t have an EFTPOS machine.
4. MINT RD
Going to the Narrabundah shops can sometimes feel like you’ve wandered into an episode of Housos. It’s covered in graffiti. The service station closed about a hundred years ago and nobody’s bothered to demolish it yet. I once braved the IGA for a packet of chewing gum and overheard someone yelling “Brayden! Give Jayden and Shayden a mars bar while Mummy gets her smokes!”*. These things aside, the Narrabundah shops also hosts a growing number of rather nice, upper-class establishments like La Cantina and The Artisan. While I’ve yet to sample the bigger meals offered at the recently established Mint Rd cafe, I can confirm that both their coffee and their banana bread is pretty tops. They also do sandwiches and rolls as well as home-baked sweet treats.
A colleague recently held an exhibition of his photography work, the opening of which I was unable to get to due to other commitments. In order to make me feel better for not being able to attend he would (repeatedly) tell me, “It’s ok Niki, because the catering is being done by Silo,” and then snigger. Which was really his way of rubbing it in that I was going to miss out on some premium baked goods. Silo is known to many as one of the best bakeries in Canberra. You can eat in if you have time but they also have some excellent goodies to take away, including a potato and gruyere cheese pie as well as a selection of sandwiches made with their in-house breads. You can find Silo in Kingston on the Giles street retail strip.
Niki van Buuren is a Canberra-based writer and teacher, and recovering burrito addict.