19 December 2020

A dozen reasons to eat and drink in Canberra this festive season

| Kim Treasure
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This year has been many things to many people, but here at Region Media we used the time to refocus on food and wine – and didn’t our readers love it!

With renowned food columnist and travel editor Michelle Rowe at the helm, we took you to cosy bars, upmarket restaurants, corner bakeries and street stalls.

We introduced you to makers, to bakers, to growers and gourmets, and packaged up some of the very best places to wine and dine.

Here are 12 of the food and wine stories you loved in 2020 – and rest assured, there will be many more to come in 2021.

1. Canberra’s favourite Canadian and the Caribou team do their little bit of good for the community

Exterior of Caribou Kingston.

The fabulous team at Caribou Kingston has adapted to a new normal and want to give back to the community. Photo: Michelle Taylor.

COVID-19 delivered a massive hit to the hospitality industry, but Leeroy and Sophia from popular watering hole Caribou Kingston created their own little bit of positivity.

They set up the whole front of the shop like a big takeaway, Canadian pub-style. They offered take-home Caesar cocktails, famous Canadian clamato juice cocktails, and even Cryovacked their own special vodka/Caesar mix.

2. Raising the bar in Canberra hotels

Cosy nook at Monster Bar and Kitchen.

A cosy nook at Monster Bar and Kitchen at the Ovolo Nishi hotel on the edge of the Canberra CBD. Photo: Michelle Rowe.

Canberra in winter can be chilly, but Michelle Rowe reckons there’s an upside to the cold. What else to do but cosy up in a hotel bar?

Here she delivered our picks of the best of the bunch – and we reckon they rock in summer, too.

3. Canberra’s Sage Dining Rooms named Australia’s best fine-dining restaurant

Sage's coco butter seared kangaroo dish.

Sage Dining Room’s coco butter seared kangaroo with roasted corn, roasted salsa and macadamia butter is a feast for the eyes as well as the taste buds. Photo: Supplied.

In 2020, Canberra continued to set the pace for fine food. Sage Dining Rooms was named Australia’s best fine-dining restaurant.

Sage pipped at the post the likes of Shannon Bennett’s lauded Vue De Monde in Melbourne, and NSW Blue Mountains favourite Silk’s Brasserie.

Kingston’s buzzing East Hotel, home to Joe’s Bar and the popular Agostinis Italian restaurant, took out 23rd spot among Australia’s top 25 hotels.

4. Five minutes with Mini Gaundar, owner Rama’s Fiji Indian Restaurant

Mini Gaundar at Rama's Fiji Indian Restaurant.

Mini Gaundar, owner of Rama’s Fiji Indian Restaurant in Pearce, has been serving the Canberra community since 1991. Photo: Supplied.

As part of our Five Minutes With… series, we caught up with Mini Gaundar, the driving force behind enduring local favourite Rama’s Fijian Indian Restaurant in Pearce.

She spilled the beans on some of her favourite dining experiences, including Jimmy’s Place in Dickson and Rubicon at Griffith shops.

5. Get to know the trio behind Weston’s the Meating Room

Aerosol portraits of co-owners of the Meating Room: Robii Khalil, Hamish Walker and Phillip Sacksady.

Aerosol portraits of the masters of good times and co-owners of the Meating Room, Robii Khalil, Hamish Walker and Phillip Sacksady. Photo: Sophia Brady.

Robii Khalil is a marvel in the kitchen, Hamish Walker is a magician with smoked meats and coffee, and Phillip Sacksady is a customer service whiz. Together, they’ve just ticked over their five-year anniversary as owners of popular local venue, the Meating Room – a buzzing cafe, grill and bar that has become a valued part of the Weston Creek community. Sophia Brady introduced us to the gang.

6. Oscar’s Bakery Café launches their Bake at Home range

Oscar outside Oscar's Bakery Cafe at the University of Canberra.

Oscar outside his bakery-café at the University of Canberra in Bruce. Photo: Michelle Taylor.

Oscar’s Bakery Cafe adapted to the COVID-19 curveball with a new Bake at Home menu featuring a decadent range of meals and snacks. Lasagne with house-made pasta, spinach and ricotta cannelloni, gozleme, vegan potato borek and a selection of pastries and croissants were among 32 items on the menu. Michelle Taylor gave us the good oil.

7. Feelish peckish? Kukula’s flame-grilled chicken meals will hit the spot!

Kukula's managers Vidya and Aryan.

Kukula’s managers Vidya and Aryan welcome you to sample their Portuguese-style menu. Photos: Supplied.

Have you been to Kukula’s? The city restaurant specialises in tender, fragrant Portuguese-style flame-grilled chicken meals, but that’s not all that’s on the menu. With burgers, wraps and pockets, fresh salads, garlic bread, scrumptious sweet potato fries and paella also on offer, it’s not surprising there are franchise outlets in the works.

8. La Empanada’s empa-ressive range of stuffed pastries continues to grow

André and Andrea at La Empanada in Gungahlin.

Let André and Andrea transport your taste buds to Ecuador at La Empanada in Gungahlin. Photo: Michelle Taylor.

How is an empanada different from a meat pie? Standing in front of La Empanada’s glass counter in Gungahlin and looking at the rows of half-moon pastries, you can’t help but wonder.

We asked owners André and Andrea for an explanation.

9. What has been is now Bean Central as cafe opens in Queanbeyan

Bean Central owner Matt Morrissey posing in his cafe.

Bean Central owner Matt Morrissey has opened a new cafe at the old Central Cafe site in Queanbeyan. Photo: Michael Weaver.

The legacy of Queanbeyan’s legendary Central Cafe – and its even more legendary mixed grill – lives on with the opening of Bean Central cafe. The Central Cafe closed its doors in 2018, but Matt Morrissey revived the Monaro Street site and tipped his hat to its former glory.

10. New online store delivers locally produced liquor to Canberra homes

Matt Farrah behind the counter at Farrah's Liquor Collective.

Matt Farrah says there’s no buying limit at Farrah’s Liquor Collective: “If you want to stock up and we have it in stock, you can buy it.” Photo: Supplied.

As social distancing hit businesses and confined many of us to our homes, one clever enterprise geared up and took its business to its customers.

Farrah’s Liquor Collective launched a new online store, making its vast stock of wine, beer and spirits available for home delivery.

11. Hot in the City: UNDER, the cult market bakery opens in Mawson

Swedish buns from UNDER bakery at Mawson.

Cult market favourite UNDER opened a bakery in Mawson selling sweet Swedish buns. Photo: Supplied.

Local bakery UNDER has earned a reputation as a Southside Farmers Market favourite, but this year it opened its doors at a brick-and-mortar store in Mawson.

And it was in good company in the suburb, joining the ranks of well established Italian Continental Bakery, which has been pumping out some of Canberra’s best cannoli for more than three decades, and Al Manoosh.

12. Local chef turns sourdough bread-making into therapeutic enterprise

Chef Frankie Bodel holding sourdough loaf.

After recently losing her job, local chef Frankie Bodel has taken to baking sourdough bread. Photo: Supplied.

Like many Canberrans, chef Frankie Bodel lost her job because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but baking sourdough bread proved to be the perfect starter.

As the pandemic took hold, Frankie said she found baking to be a very calming process.

“The simplicity of only a few ingredients can create something so incredibly nurturing,” she told Region Media. “The smell in the house is like a big warm hug – something you can’t get from just anyone nowadays.”

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