Agonising over what to buy your food-loving friends and rellies this Christmas? We’ve done the hard yards to make gourmet gifting a cinch – from moreish stocking fillers and covetable kitchenware to braggable foodie experiences. They’re great on their own or pull a few of your favourites together for the ultimate hamper with a very local flavour.
That’s the spirit
Artisan spirits are cooler than an Arctic picnic these days and Canberra-based Underground Spirits is making the most of our clean air, pristine countryside and pure spring water from the Brindabellas to produce beautifully nuanced gins and vodkas.
There’s the Signature Gin with its appealing purple label, as well as the Ad Crescendum Native Gin, a collaboration with the Australian National Botanic Gardens, in a fitting green. There’s even a version with shiraz and pepperberries, as well as a caramel vodka. If you’re torn, head to the new pop-up Underground Spirits Urban Distillery Experience at the Canberra and Regions Visitor Centre for a gin masterclass against the stunning backdrop of Lake Burley Griffin, where you can get some advice from the experts.
It’s almost a shame to wrap Jasper + Myrtle’s exquisite range of chocolates. The Canberra chocolatier’s packaging, featuring divine graphics punctuated by eye-catching metallic flourishes, is festive enough already. Regardless of whether you whip out the reindeer wrap or not, finding a box of Jasper + Myrtle chocolate under the tree (Brandy and Orange Dark Chocolate or Black and White Sesame Milk Chocolate to name just a couple) will be a treat for any chocolate fanatic. With drinking chocolates in a variety of flavours (French Vanilla, Spiced Rum Toddy, or Classic for those who don’t like to mess with things) and speciality bars including Silk Road Rocky Road, you could pretty much get the whole family sorted in one go.
A few years ago I developed a bit of an obsession with a peach and vanilla bean jam from chef Stefano De Pieri’s condiments range. I haven’t seen it around for ages, but I recently discovered the Apricot and Quince Jam with Cinnamon and Vanilla made by Fyshwick’s Wildflour Artisan Bakery & Café, and I’ve regained my equilibrium. The common denominator is the vanilla, with its intense, creamy, spicy notes – totally raising the game in the jam stakes. Pop a bottle in your favourite foodie’s Christmas stocking or, better still, go the hat trick and team it up with Wildflour’s Strawberry, Rhubarb and Vanilla Bean Jam and a bottle of the providore’s Salted Caramel Sauce.
The Fink Water Jug is a familiar sight on tables (kitchen and boardroom) around Canberra. But the iconic design, in its many metallic hues, is not the only nice bit of kitchen kit the Queanbeyan-based Fink And Co has in its range. Fink’s Rockpool Bowl, designed to reflect the late Robert Foster’s memories of playing in rock pools in Australia and design collaborator Masud Parvez’s recollection of his grandmother making traditional Bangladeshi rice desserts, is perfect for dips, biscuits and antipasto with its separate compartments, or for serving seafood (ice can be placed in the base to keep things cool). There are bowls of other shapes and sizes too. Check the Fink site for stockist details for all products or MAKE Designed Objects for the Rockpool Bowls.
The new black
If your foodie friend loves nothing more than experimenting with ingredients, check out Mr Pye’s range of condiments from Bredbo Black Garlic. Mr Pye’s Smoked Garlic & Plum Worcestershire Sauce is on high rotation at my place. It’s fantastic as a simple marinade for steak or chicken and adds depth and piquancy to pretty much everything else. Since building the fermenting machines in his Bredbo shed in which he produces perfect bulbs of black garlic, John Pye has created a tasty range of black garlic-infused products including butter, caramelised onion paste, barbecue sauce, balsamic vinegar and more. To gain real culinary cred with your gourmet giftee, get your hands on some of Bredbo’s raw black garlic bulbs and team them with one of Yotam Ottolenghi’s fabulous cookbooks, which regularly feature black garlic in their recipes.
A glass act
Bison creative director Brian Tunks is a master at producing covetable homewares and while best known for his ceramics, his ever-expanding range of glassware is equally alluring. The colourful Kellie glass bowls would look just right paired with a nice serve of Frugii gelato. Bisonhome’s recently released Brian Tunks Range is my favourite yet. The cut glass bowls in turquoise, blush, Aegean, blood orange or peach will add a colourful flourish to any home entertainer’s repertoire, and when not in use they double as a sophisticated table decoration. Tomorrow Bison opens its second outlet at Pialligo Estate, Crusoe and Co, adjacent to its existing Bisonhome store at The Plot in Beltana Road, Pialligo. Pop in and browse the range.
Bungendore is not the most obvious spot in which to hone your Gallic cooking skills, but the combination of chef Christophe Gregoire’s French heritage, his lengthy career as cook and teacher, and a region rich in quality produce created the perfect storm. Christophe and partner Josephine run Le Tres Bon restaurant just over half an hour from Canberra which, as well as serving the French classics, offers an annual calendar of cooking classes. They cover a multitude of themes, from French cooking basics to patisserie, truffles and festive cooking, plus tours through the regions of France. Who could go past one of the upcoming classes – learning to cook profiteroles, glass of champagne in hand, followed by a two-course lunch? Check the Le Tres Bon calendar for current events.
Make a meal of it
Due to distance, unreliable post and more than a little laziness, Christmas gifting between my Perth-based sister and I has recently extended to little more than DJs or Myer vouchers, or JB HiFi when feeling particularly adventurous. This year, my sister hit the ball out of the park by purchasing gift certificates for Aubergine and Raku for my husband and me. Many established local restaurants offer vouchers, so check them out before you head to the department store to pick up that same old gift card. As well as showing you’ve put some thought into it, there’s the additional benefit of making it easier (and cheaper) for the giftee to decide where to go for that next big night out. Win-win.
There’s little more satisfying than picking and eating fresh veggies, herbs or salad that you’ve grown yourself. Kick-start someone’s kitchen garden by gifting them a selection of herbs and salad greens from one of Canberra’s myriad nurseries (Yarralumla’s Heritage Nursery always has a great selection; there’s also Pialligo’s bounty of plant shops). Throw in a copy of the very handy The Canberra Gardener by The Horticultural Society of Canberra, a guide to everything you need to know about successful gardening in the nation’s capital, and you’ve got the gift that keeps on giving.
Wine and recline
The glorious Lake George Winery has it all – an atmospheric cellar door featuring gourmet goods from nearby providores as well as Lake George’s own award-winning wines, a beautifully styled, light-filled restaurant led by an acclaimed chef, even a smattering of live music events throughout the year. So what better for your wine-loving loved one than an overnight stay at Little George, an onsite tiny house overlooking the winery? With a fire-pit out front to watch the stars as you sip one of Sarah McDougall’s award-winning wines, pristine natural bushland to hike through and a location just 20 minutes from Canberra’s CBD, it’s the perfect midweek or weekend escape for the time-poor vinophile.
Say cheese (or bread … or antipasto)
Thor’s Hammer in Fyshwick has been recycling local timber and turning it into custom furniture since 1994, and the locally owned business has never deviated from its ethos of high quality and sound design principles. Occasionally, Thor’s shifts its focus from bigger ticket furniture items to eminently collectable kitchenware and serving pieces, such as its B&T Boards and Planks, made of mixed ash and blackbutt salvaged from the roofs of Canberra houses and finished with grapeseed oil. Named after the creative collaboration between Brian Tunks from Bisonhome and Thor Diesendorf of Thor’s Hammer, they’re perfect for serving cheese or slicing bread on, or for arranging an elaborate antipasto spread for bigger groups.
The Museum Shop at the National Museum of Australia is a treasure trove of gorgeous gifts, including many to suit the discerning foodie, from designer kitchen utensils and teapots to cookbooks, condiments and carafes. A set of brightly coloured Indigenous-designed Yiwarri Kuju coasters will add a splash of colour to any coffee table, including this beautiful design, Sunday Well from Dadda Samson of Martumili Artists. The coasters are specially made by the Museum, and almost too pretty to rest a coffee mug on.