Five minutes with Ben Johnston, The Old Canberra Inn and Queenies

Michelle Rowe 19 March 2021
Ben Johnston

Ben Johnston outside his eclectic bar and dining room, Queenies at Kingston. Photo: Supplied.

Who is Ben Johnston? Bringer together of people at The Old Canberra Inn and Queenies at Kingston.

Best recent dining experience: The Italian Place in Braddon. I loved the simplicity of the style, the warm chat with the owner, Tony, and the ridiculously good handmade pasta.

Most embarrassing pantry item: Baileys for my morning coffee ­­– don’t judge me!

Handmade pasta Braddon

You can dine in on great handmade pasta at The Italian Place, or pick up a box to prepare at home from its providore. Photo: Supplied.

Must-buy ingredient: Lutenica, a Balkan capsicum relish. It’s so good with crackers and sharp cheddar cheese, and it’s my secret ingredient for chilli.

Next big thing: Small suppliers, sustainability and provenance. Business owners need to take responsibility for their supply chain. The benefits are huge – ethically sourced produce creating a superior eating experience for your customers, and creating community by building relationships with other local small business owners. In a progressive, affluent city like Canberra, these considerations will only enhance your business. Canberra businesses should support local. Also, treat your staff well!

Favourite place for breakfast in the ACT: Anywhere that still serves eggs benny on a muffin. Special mention to The Knox, Watson for house-made muffins.

The Knox

House-made muffins and more are on the menu at The Knox, Watson. Photo: Daniella Jukic.

My Canberra food secret: Tak Kee Roast Inn in Dickson. The combination short soup is the best and the lady chopping the roast pork and duck with the giant cleaver actually does it without looking – impressive!

Biggest culinary influence: My wife, Kalina. She made me my first spicy meal (super mild Thai green chicken curry) at age 20. I had to drink a litre of milk, but it stirred something in me. On that note, Canberra really needs to dial up the heat. No-one should ever ask you if you want your vindaloo mild.

Favourite cookbook: Halliday Wine Companion. Someone already made the wine, which suits me perfectly.

Who I admire on the Canberra food and wine scene: Fergus McGhie from Mount Majura Vineyard. He and the team there have worked extremely hard to test the boundaries of Canberra District winemaking and adapted to the soil and climate by producing outstanding varietals such as Graciano, Tempranillo and Touriga. Fergus himself is a wonderful human and an amazing ambassador for the Canberra District. He has always made time to help my businesses in any way he can.

What’s on the menu this week: At Queenies, we’re always integrating Australian native ingredients into our menus. To drink, try the MacaDame Edna Cocktail with Appleton Estate Jamaican Rum, Unico Zelo Mandarin Liqueur, house-made macadamia orgeat and lime. To eat, try the pepperberry smoked kangaroo with macadamia milk and redcurrant. If you can squeeze in dessert, the native pavlova with lemon myrtle, kiwi, passionfruit, finger lime and berries is to die for.

Pavolva at Queenies in Kingston

The native pavlova with lemon myrtle, kiwi, passionfruit, finger lime and berries at Queenies. Photo: Supplied.

Where I’m going next: I take my mum out for lunch every week and wouldn’t mind trying Daana in Curtin as we both love Indian.

Death row meal: Tempura battered Moreton Bay bugs washed down with a bottle of Billecart-Salmon Rose. I hope RAKU delivers.

My COVID-19 response: We have a great team at The Old Canberra Inn, and within days we had a takeaway food menu and bottle shop set up. With the advent of JobKeeper, we were able to use our long-term casuals as delivery drivers. The response of our regular patrons was incredible and many went out of their way to support us almost every day. Thank you!

Daana in Curtin

Enjoy authentic Indian cuisine at Daana in Curtin. Photo: Supplied.

Cook like a professional … with a really simple recipe: Pasta with three parts Pialligo bacon to one part Morcon salami from Ainslie IGA. Just add passata, paprika, herbs and away you go. The Morcon breaks down, combining with the paprika to form a spicy, smoky, indulgent ragu. NOT a health food! Best eaten on the couch.

The Old Canberra Inn in Lyneham is open midday to 10:00 pm, Sunday to Thursday, and from midday to 11:00 pm Friday and Saturday. Queenies in Kingston is open from midday to 11:00 pm from Sunday to Thursday and from midday to 12:00 am on Friday and Saturday.


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