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Canberra: Can Do Food & Wine

Canberra’s food and wine scene is fast becoming the perennial place to be for those curious about the gastronomic goings on, in and around the city. Within 50 years, Canberra’s wine country has grown from a fledgling district in the early 1970s to a place now well known for producing high quality Shiraz and Riesling, plus a host of emerging alternate wine varietals, as well as a burgeoning food scene that would give many Aussie cities a run for their money.

“It’s really interesting seeing Canberra become not just a place to go see monuments and galleries and experience the political landscape. People are now coming to enjoy the whole food and wine experience,” says Lark Hill winemaker, Chris Carpenter.

“I think we’re seeing what Canberra can do as a place for good food and wine.”

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Beneath Capital Hill, a delicious foodie evolution is taking place, offering discerning diners a myriad of superb eating options. Revered restaurants, Aubergine and Ottoman Cuisine are leading the pack with two hats to their name, while Chairman and Yip, eightysix, and Monster Kitchen & Bar have each proven their own outstanding qualities, with each awarded one hat in recent years. Other cool Canberra dining rooms upping the culinary ante in the capital include Aubergine’s funky baby brother, Temporada, and the blistering hot spot for Asian-fusion, XO.

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“There’s such a great community vibe being harnessed here in Canberra at the moment,” says Kent Nhan, from XO.

“And there’s so much positivity for the food scene. When we started, we knew we could contribute something new and exciting to the city by putting our modern interpretation on Southeast Asian cuisine.”

Since opening in 2015, XO has breathed new life into the inner-city suburb of Narrabundah, with its playful and contemporary take on Asian fusion.

Now, combine this year-on-year raising of the gastronomic bar in the city with the old school standard of places like Poacher’s Pantry, set along the food and wine trails of the surrounding Canberra Wine District, and you’ll quickly understand how contemporary Canberra goes well beyond politics, pornography and fireworks. In fact, these days, cool Canberra refers so much more than just the climate. Australia’s capital really is an extraordinary place to explore, eat, drink and be merry.

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“There is so much exciting stuff going on in the Canberra culinary scene, which plays in so nicely with the wine district,” says Andrew McFadzean from Lerida Estate. “It’s got a great food scene, and, obviously, the wines are outstanding. You can literally spend a week here exploring all the great food and wine that Canberra has to offer by visiting a new place each and every day.”

Just opposite Canberra’s mysteriously ephemeral Lake George, Lerida Estate not only makes delicious estate grown Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Shiraz, and Pinot Noir, their onsite dining space, Café Lerida, is the perfect place to stop on your way in or out of Canberra. Here, you can taste through Lerida’s range of full flavoured wines, while enjoying anything from a quick coffee to a full three course meal from their ever-changing menu.

“When people visit us, we want them to spend the afternoon whiling away the hours,” Andrew explains. “You can taste the wines, have some food, even just stop in for a short break. We’re very much a destination for people to come and relax and take in the magnificent views of Lake George.”

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Grazing locally

A little further north, in the small village of Gundaroo, you’ll find one of the Canberra District’s best loved restaurants, Grazing. Dining here is always different and always a real treat for the senses as Chef Kurt Neumann places a huge emphasis on using locally sourced, fresh and seasonal ingredients from around the region. Kurt grows all manner of vegetables and other edibles right next door to the restaurant in his own chef’s garden, which just happens to be neighbours with Gundog Estate’s Canberran cellar door.

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“We work with Kurt to put on various dinners through the year,” says Geoff Burton from Gundog Estate. “It’s always wonderful to see, smell, and taste our local produce when it’s cooked by Kurt, particularly when it’s matched with our wines.”

Using local produce is just as important to former Michelin star chef, Anthony Williams, whose team has recently taken over the kitchen at Shaw Vineyard Estate’s Olleyville restaurant in Murrumbateman. Whitehouse’s background in haute cuisine is the basis for Olleyville’s honest and fresh approach to food.

“We aim for casual, uncomplicated dining that’s as much about going back to basics as it is about creating high quality cuisine that everyone will enjoy,” says Anthony.

While diners and guests relax on Chesterfield sofas beside the roaring, warming fire, Olleyville’s kitchen team works their own fire-to-full effect. In blazing wood-fired oven, they cook delicious pizzas with flavoursome toppings and blistered crusts, roast chicken, juicy Tomahawk steaks, and rich beef cheeks.

“We’re not trying to be too clever or too complicated with the food at Olleyville,” Anthony explains, “we just want people to come and relax and enjoy eating good, honest, and wholesome food, especially after a long day’s wine tasting.”

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Be ‘shaw’ to drop by

Next door is Shaw Estate Vineyard, who are opening a brand new state-of-the-art cellar door on their picturesque Murrumbateman property in September.

“The new building has a seated tasting area and private tasting room, plus a lounge area for guests to come and relax while they enjoy our award-winning wines,” says Shaw Vineyard Estate’s Director, Tanya Olinder.

“We’ve installed huge floor to ceiling glass windows, offering gorgeous views of the vineyard and paddocks. The idea is for people to find a space within our cellar door, and take their time tasting through our wines before dining with us next door.”

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Elsewhere in Murrumbateman, Poacher’s Pantry smokehouse is a Canberran foodie institution. Set on a rambling 700-acre property, Poacher’s create a range of hot and cold smoked meats, which supplies many cafés and restaurants in the district. They also plate them up to the public seven days a week in their Smokehouse Restaurant. The restaurant also doubles as a cellar door for the property’s utterly delicious Wily Trout wines, where a tasting of their renowned Shiraz is highly recommended.

“A lot of people forget, but Canberra wine country is less than 30 minutes’ drive from the CBD,” says Will Bruce from Wily Trout/Poacher’s Pantry. “We see a lot of local day trippers from all around the region who usually bring their families out to do a wine tasting with us, and then stay on for brunch or lunch.”

With plenty of accommodation, wine and evermore food options on offer, Canberra can do world-class food and wine on par with any other capital city in Australia.

Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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