Canberra - a food and wine hub
Beyond its role as the seat of power in Australia, Canberra’s moment as a food and wine lover’s mecca has truly arrived.
Understandably, Canberra is inseparable from its identity as the parliamentary centre of the nation, but today it’s making more of a name for itself as its high quality restaurants and a bountiful cool-climate wine region at its doorstep become major draw-cards. Where it may have once been overlooked as the boring Bush Capital, its thriving restaurant scene and laidback lifestyle are now something to boast about, inviting locals and tourists alike to explore what the city and its surrounds have to offer.
Nestled in the hills and valleys of the region, Canberra is meticulously designed for the enjoyment of nature and culture. Planned streetscapes sprawl around the artificial Lake Burley Griffin that runs through the centre, with national institutions dotted around its shores. The district’s vineyards are full of cool-climate delights, with cellar doors less than an hour’s drive from the city centre. The compact nature of the region also means less time driving and more time for enjoying the experiences.
Shiraz and Riesling grapes have historically been the most prominent plantings here and that remains the case, but variations in temperature across the region, as well as across vineyard elevations and soil types, are perfect for a host of alternate varietals like Tempranillo, Fiano and Sangiovese that local winemakers are utilising to create their unique offerings.
CANBERRA CITY LIFE
The lake and mountain vistas are a welcome break away from skyscraper skylines, and the best way to take it all in is by the lakeside. The pedestrian route around the central basin of Lake Burley Griffin is a flat, easy path popular with walkers, runners, cyclists and scooterists, affording picturesque views across the lake towards sites like Telstra Tower, the War Memorial and Parliament House. Sights like the National Gallery of Australia and the Portrait Gallery are rich with collections of Australian and international art – see the famous Blue Poles and wander through the country’s largest dedicated exhibition space for First Nations art.
Australian War Memorial (Credit: Tourism Australia)
Blue poles by Jackson Pollock, National Gallery of Australia (Credit: VisitCanberra)
Lonsdale Street in Braddon is the spot to stop for shopping. The vibrant street is lined with coffee shops and boutiques. Local homeware business, Bison, has timeless servingware and vases, while Kin is a jewellery gallery representing more than 70 Australian jewellery designers and makers. Pop Canberra is a fun and bright shopping experience that champions locally made products with everything from gin to socks.
No need to travel outside of the ACT to get your cellar door fix – Mt Majura Vineyard is set on the rocky slopes of Mt Majura and is notable for its Tempranillo. Leisurely tastings can be enjoyed overlooking the vines with a platter of cheese and charcuterie.
Make the most of the Bush Capital with a bushwalk on one of the many nature reserves within the city. Mt Ainslie is just behind the War Memorial and is one of the most popular hikes for good reason – the path winds its way through eucalypts and wildflowers to reach a lookout above the treetops, over the Lake and the Parliamentary Triangle.
EAT AND REPEAT IN CANBERRA
When it comes to restaurants, Canberra punches well above its weight in quality and choice for a small city. A seat at the arched window of Bar Rochford with a glass of wine and toast smothered in burrata is a fine way to spend the evening. It’s especially beautiful in the depths of a Canberra winter with a roaring fireplace to counter the chill outdoors.
Scenic Views of Lake Burley Griffin by bike (Credit: Richard Poulton for VisitCanberra).
Bar Rochford's tantalising morsels (Credit: PewPew Studio)
Acclaimed fine diner Pilot. is a set-menu experience in a suburban setting, while Rebel Rebel is an energetic diner by Sean McConnell (youngest of the McConnell brothers – Andrew with Cumulus Inc. and Matt with Bar Lourinha), conveniently located in the New Acton precinct amongst hotels like Ovolo Nishi and QT. It’s a creative menu with everything from carrots with smoked yoghurt and harissa oil, to a macadamia and lemon myrtle ice cream sanga.
The sleek sophistication of Rebel Rebel (Credit: PewPew Studio)
Aboriginal Memorial, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra (Credit: VisitCanberra)
Head south of the lake and dining options abound also. Onzieme is a neighbourhood bistro driven by wood-fired cooking. Their cosy sub-ground bar is set in an old bank vault, and offers a curated selection of natural wines and substantial snacks to graze upon.
Eightysix South is a newly opened restaurant in Woden, building on the success of the original Eightysix in Braddon. It follows the same refined style of dining with a more modern Italian slant, with dishes like corn and taleggio tortellini with fermented chilli butter, and its iconic banoffee pie.
CANBERRA AND SURROUNDS
The Canberra District's vineyards seamlessly cross into the surrounding regions, with the majority of the wineries in clusters towards Murrumbateman, Yass and Lake George in the north, and Wamboin and Bungendore in the east. There are plenty of options for cellar door visits less than an hour's drive from the city, so it's easy to fit in a couple of wineries in a day trip, but linger over a couple of days and make the most of the other attractions on offer.
Cheese and charcuterie at the Lerida Estate cellar door
View of Clonakilla cellar door (Credits: Pew Pew Studio)
Murrumbateman’s Clonakilla is perhaps the most famous of the region. Started by scientist Dr John Kirk in the 1970s, the winery is one of the oldest in the area and has since become most well known for its Shiraz Viognier and Riesling.
A short drive away is Shaw Wines, whose new cellar door offers views over the rolling hills and vineyards while you do a tasting with a platter of cured meats, cheeses and local pickles; or, for something more substantial venture next door to the Olleyville restaurant. Don’t miss Murrumbateman Chocolate Co. on your way to your next stop – sip on a hot chocolate at their cafe, or just pick up a pack of chocolate-coated honey-roasted macadamias for the road.
Grazing co-owner Tanya Neumann tending to the gardens at Grazing, Gundaroo
Visiting the cellar doors in the Canberra wine region
Drive east to Gundaroo, where you’ll find Grazing, an award-winning restaurant which seamlessly blends warm and homely country charm with fine dining food. Top or tail your lunch with a wander through the kitchen garden and end up at Gundog Estate – they have vineyards in the Hunter Valley and Hilltops as well, where they grow Cabernet Sauvignon for the purpose of making their rosé.
On the Federal Highway you’ll find Lerida Estate, whose cellar door is open every day of the year except Christmas Day. Next door is Lake George Winery, who offer a Vine and Wine experience on the first Sunday of every month, which involves a tour of the vineyards followed by a visit to the wine cellar and a tasting.
All this, and we've barely scratched the surface. Sure, the Canberra District may be amongst the youngest of Australia's wine regions, but make no mistake – it's grown up quickly, and today stands as one of our most beautiful, most accessible, and most rewarding regions to explore.