The best bistros in Canberra

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Rib Eye steak

Canberra Southern Cross Club, one of Canberra’s most recommended bistros. Photo: Canberra Southern Cross Club.

Everyone loves heading out with family and friends for lunch or dinner. But you don’t always want to eat in a basic café. And you don’t always want an expensive, upper-end restaurant.

So what’s the answer? Head to a great bistro.

A great bistro is casual but has flair. It has a great vibe. It also offers quality, innovative dishes that won’t burn a hole in your pocket. Bistros have full table service and are licensed.

Canberra has an exciting range of modern-day bistros, each with their own personality. Some focus on traditional, home-style French cooking and slow-cooked meals. Others focus on their own cuisine type and locally inspired dishes made with amazing produce.

In this article, we’ll outline the qualities to consider when choosing a great bistro, and share where to find the best in Canberra.

What makes a great bistro?

Choosing the right bistro is the key to enjoying a great lunch or dinner.

It can be helpful to keep the following in mind when choosing a bistro.

  • Atmosphere. You’ll want a bistro that’s upbeat and has a great atmosphere. That includes décor, music, ambience, and the personality of the team serving you. Atmosphere can make or break your experience.
  • Service. A great bistro has great service. Staff are attentive and efficient but never intrude. They’re helpful, knowledgeable, friendly, and accommodating.
  • Menu. Bistros focus on food and use quality ingredients. You’ll appreciate a bistro that sources local produce and has a great range of dishes. They also take cater for diners who prefer vegetarian, gluten free and other dietary specialised dishes.
  • Drinks. Great bistros carefully curate their drinks list to match food. The best have quality wines that marry well with the dishes their chefs create. They also offer creative cocktails.
  • Value. You should expect value-for-money at a bistro. You should expect to pay more than café prices but not upper-end restaurant prices. Your experience will be memorable if you don’t overpay for your bistro experience.

The best bistros in Canberra

Riotact’s editorial team has combed through 20 years of on-site comments to compile a list of the most recommended businesses according to you.

To be listed in our Best of Canberra series, each business needs to have consistently received positive feedback on Riotact and Facebook as well as maintaining a minimum average of 4/5 stars on Google.

Canberra Southern Cross Club

The Southern Cross Club in Tuggeranong, Woden, Jamison and the Yacht Club are four great spots to take the family or catch up with friends for quality bistro-style food. With a focus on quality at affordable prices, their diverse menus guarantee to satisfy every taste.

At Woden Central, enjoy all-day dining with favourites that feature a fresh twist of flavour and style. Chargrilled pasture-fed steaks are served right from the grill. Signature dishes include main-size salads, innovative pasta dishes and wood-fired pizza. A range of classics is on offer and Woden Central is well known for its plant-powered menu.

With a stunning waterfront location on the lake that features stunning views, the Yacht Club Restaurant is true bistro style, starting with creative entrees. Mains also feature local and regional sourced produce. The menu changes with the seasons. Currently closed for redevelopment, the Yacht Club will reopen on 10 August 2022.

For those living or visiting southside, Tuggeranong’s Valley Grill is a destination. The menu features delectable steaks, including Rib Eye and Black Angus Rump, all cooked to order. The Asian Sharing Platter has become a new favourite. Diners keen on old favourites won’t be disappointed.

And don't forget one of the favourite meeting places, Jamison. Cornerstone Restaurant is known for its good portions and variety, offering all the favourite classics plus a number of exciting specialities. Jamison is also home to Snapper, where you can find fresh fish and chips.

The drinks menus at all locations are well selected and offer great value-for-money.

Christopher Nelson wrote on Google,“We had the grilled salmon and fishermen's basket. The food was excellent. We ate in the Patio. It was quiet, intimate, and relaxing. The windows give a nice view of the outside. The service was friendly and so quick.”

Phone: Woden - 02 6105 9970, Tuggeranong - 02 6105 9868, Jamison - 02 6105 9851, Yacht Club Restaurant - REOPENS 10 AUGUST

Kingston Hotel

The famous, historic Kingston Hotel has been a gathering spot for good food and good friends since 1936. Maddies, at “The Kingo”, offers delicious bistro-style food to enjoy in the inviting interior dining area or out on the plant-filled outdoor patio. Wines are quality and reasonably priced.

On Google, Kevini Callan wrote, "Have been going there since I was 17. Now I’m 66. Still a great place to meet friends and have a drink and food. Don't ever change. Lots of fond memories …"

Two Blind Mice

Two Blind Mice creates dishes with a European twist in a relaxed vibrant venue. The menu is intriguing, with new creations and innovative approaches to many classic dishes. This exciting local is serious about service. The wine list is a winner and dining is both indoors and outdoors.

Cooper Shaw wrote on Google, “Best food I’ve had in a long while, hands down. The guys here look after you and whip out some cracking food and drinks.”

If you’re looking for more information on dining out in Canberra, you might like our articles on the best cafes in Civic, best fine dining, best pubs, best gastropubs, best steakhouses, best cocktail bars and the best wine bars Canberra has to offer.

Your experience with bistros in Canberra

Thanks to our commenters who have provided insightful feedback. If you believe we have got it wrong, please let us know.

Have you had experience with any of the bistros listed above? If so, share your feedback in the comments below.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is a bistro?

A bistro sits between a casual café and a fine dining restaurant. Bistros are relaxed venues with flair. They focus on quality, innovative dishes. Bistros have full table service and are licensed. Some focus on traditional, home-style French cooking. Others focus on their own cuisine type.

Are all bistros French-inspired?

Bistros originated in France and are often family businesses passed down through generations, with owners very much involved in running their businesses. They’re welcoming, modest and focus on good quality food. In Canberra some bistro-style dining venues specialise in other cuisine types.

Do bistros offer takeaway?

Some bistros offer takeaway but not all do. It’s best to check the bistro’s website or social media pages to see if they do.

Do bistros cater for dietary requirements?

The vast majority of bistros cater for dietary requirements. This includes creative gluten free, dairy free and vegetarian dishes. They don’t compromise on quality either.

Do I have to book at a bistro?

Quality hospitality venues—whether a café, pub, brasserie, bistro or restaurant—are often busy so booking is recommended to avoid disappointment. This is especially true on weekends. You can show up without a booking, but there’s no guarantee you’ll get a seat.

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I’m a member of frequent many Canberra Clubs including the Southern Cross Club. My wife and I recently attended an exhibition at the Woden Southern Cross Club recently and we rated our experience at the club’s bistro as the worst we’ve ever encountered. So bad that I wrote to the Club manager to complain and offered suggested improvements but am yet to receive a reply. The atmosphere was dingey and a few new lights wouldn’t hurt. The unlabeled pie I ordered (ended up being what I suspect was chicken…couldn’t see the contents in the dark and the taste gave no clue…my fault for not asking what type of pie it was but one usually thinks that an undesignated pie would be a ‘meat pie’) was just thrown into the microwave and it’s stodgy texture was complemented by the serviette being left in the gravy. They cremated a croissant in their sandwich press making the butter content bitter. They forgot my milkshake and had to be reminded. They mucked up the members discount pricing. And the quality of the actual food was ordinary to say the least. Hopefully they have lifted their game.

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