29 April 2024

Plans to reopen famous Red Hill restaurant revealed

| James Coleman
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Carousel Restaurant at Red Hill

The Carousel Restaurant first opened in December 1963. Photo: Paul Harris.

One of Canberra’s most iconic restaurants has been closed – and languishing behind construction fences – for two and half years now.

And no, we’re not talking about the Telstra Tower.

Older Canberrans will remember the Carousel restaurant at the top of Red Hill for its stand-out ‘dodecagon’ mid-century architecture and sweeping views over the city.

An award-winning restaurateur has now revealed her family’s plans to bring it back to its former glory in time for summer.

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At its official opening on 6 December 1963, The Canberra Times described 60 Red Hill Drive as “one of Canberra’s most unusual buildings”.

“The Minister for the Navy, Senator [John] Gorton … said the opening of the building was an illustration of the way in which people from overseas were contributing to the growth of Australia.”

Designed by Czech-born architect Miles Jalk, it was the vision of Peter and Lidia Vidovic. Peter hailed from Croatia and Lidia from Poland.

A former head waiter in Melbourne, Peter was running the restaurant at Motel Cortina in Cooma when he learnt of land for sale in Canberra and grabbed the opportunity.

Carousel Restaurant in the mid 1960s

The restaurant and look-out was a go-to spot for Canberrans in previous decades. Photo: Anthony Vidovic.

Almost two decades later, the building was closed for renovations overseen by famed architect Dr Enrico Taglietti.

It reopened seven years later on 2 August 1981, and its new convex bay windows were said to be designed in the “style of the year 2001”.

Dr Taglietti added, “We should strive for development that nurtures Canberra’s soul, the very soul that too many developers, politicians, and ill-informed people proclaim does not exist”.

“Canberra’s soul is quality and poetry, not quantity and ‘downtown’ syndrome.”

The Red Hill restaurant offers panoramic views of Canberra. Photo: LJ Hooker.

After Mr and Mrs Vidovic died, their surviving son and daughter sold the site for $2.25 million in May 2021.

“It’s been in the family all these years, and I have strong memories of the place, but it’s too difficult to maintain from Sydney and Melbourne, and neither of us has a desire to move back to Canberra,” the couple’s son Anthony Vidovic told Region at the time.

“We want to find someone who loves it as much as we do so that it will still be there in five years.”

Two and a half years later, the new owners have revealed themselves to be award-winning restaurateur Tracy Keeley and her two sons, Matthew and Nick Keeley.

Tracy is behind the ‘Bookplate’ cafe at the National Library of Australia and ‘Pollen’ at the Australian National Botanic Gardens.

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Together, they plan to open two new restaurants in the building in six months: Lunetta and Lunetta Trattoria.

“Our vision is to transform 60 Red Hill Drive into a vibrant destination for locals and visitors alike to experience and appreciate the Canberra spirit, location and hospitality,” Ms Keeley said.

Sydney architecture studio ACME is leading the refurbishment and promises a “contemporary, timeless and classic interpretation of this modernist monument”.

Ms Keeley added that the design would also pay homage to the building’s history through “carefully considered and quality, textured design details”.

Matthew, Tracy and Nick Keeley have grand plans to resurrect Carousel as the Italian-style ‘Lunetta’. Photo: Paul Harris.

It’s understood that Lunetta, offering a “modern dining experience,” will be located on the top floor, while the “flexible” and “casual” Lunetta Trattoria will be at the bottom, along with outdoor dining options.

They say the “Italian-inspired menu is created to share, indoors or out, day or night in a warm and welcoming space”.

“Lunetta heralds a new age for a Canberra icon,” Ms Keeley said.

“Lunetta will reflect the timeless wonder of that era while providing visitors with a memorable dining experience for all the right reasons: good, wholesome food, warm ambience, genuine hospitality, connection, location, attention to detail and a sense of being at ease in a special place.”

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A lot of time, effort and money will go into this project. I hope the end product is affordable and worthy of our support. If it is, I hope that Canberrans do support the business; otherwise, it will go the same way as all previous iterations.

Such wonderful memories of this restaurant when we first moved to Canberra in 1984 – so happy it is being restored to its former glory . Hopefully the Keeley’s will include one Eastern European dish as a nod to former owners Peter and Lidia and to the original Architect.

My father took us up there in 1964 for my birthday, first time I had ever been in a posh restaurant.

I hope the cost to eat at the new restaurant is reasonable

Peter Graves11:48 am 28 Apr 24

Some current photos would help understand what’s being proposed there. Currently, it’s been just about completely gutted, down to the very bare frame. I can understand that the windows would need to be replaced with double-insulated ones.

But the rest – how about a completely up-dated story, as the building is actually being re-built ?

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