Saturday, August 8, 2020

Returning to the city while the coast is clear – Raku serves up Japanese seafood with style

While I was in the city recently I noticed that Raku restaurant was open. It’s an old favourite and we’d looked at takeaway from there in the midst of the first lockdown, when everyone was ordering from their favourite locals to help keep them afloat. However, we hadn’t been to the restaurant since the pandemic struck. Since we needed to grab some lunch, we thought why not go there and support one of our local businesses while the coast is clear since the hospitality sector has been the only one to be harder hit by the pandemic shutdown than the creative sector. A stream of Japanese dishes seemed a suitable way to enjoy the charm of a local restaurant that serves up seafood with style.

Several months back, before Victoria exploded, we asked the doctor who looks after my 93 year old mother in law if it would be okay to take her out of her retirement village for a meal. The doctor replied that it was the right time to do it, when there had been no new cases of COVID-19 in Canberra for more than a month, rather than wait until the situation might potentially be worse.

Beef wagyu gyoza dumplings with truffle oil, white ponzu, pickled mustard and sesame.

Working on this advice, and being very conscious that unless we are all super vigilant and disciplined, what is happening in Victoria could happen anywhere in Australia at any time, this week I went out to take care of business while the coast is clear. I had a dental checkup booked so I thought I’d add a haircut – only the second one I’ve had since December last year.
 
‘I noticed that Raku restaurant was open. It’s an old favourite and we’d looked at takeaway from there in the midst of the first lockdown, when everyone was ordering from their favourite locals to help keep them afloat. However, we hadn’t been to the restaurant since the pandemic struck.’

While I was in the city I noticed that Raku restaurant was open. It’s an old favourite and we’d looked at takeaway from there in the midst of the first lockdown, when everyone was ordering from their favourite locals to help keep them afloat. However, we hadn’t been to the restaurant since the pandemic struck. Since we needed to grab some lunch, we thought why not go there and support one of our local businesses? There was plenty of light, airy space and it was so good to relax for a while in the city. Even in these troubled times, when the future is unclear, trying to remember what everyday life can be like is worth an effort.

Lashing out 

To aknowledge that we were back at Raku after all this time we decided to lash out a bit. My fellow traveller started with a glass of Zardetto Molin Prosecco Extra Dry from Conegliano in Italy and I had a glass of the Unico Zelo ‘River Sand’ Fiano from the Adelaide Hills, to remind me of all the time we spent cruising those hills in March this year, before the first pandemic lockdown arrived.

Crispy tofu with barley miso and avocado salsa with dried chilli julienne.

The first dish was beef wagyu gyoza dumplings with truffle oil, white ponzu, pickled mustard and sesame, which was superb. Sometimes I think that gyoza possibly might be my favourite dish. This was quickly followed by crispy tofu with barley miso and avocado salsa with dried chilli julienne on top.

Moreton Bay bugs with yuzu kosho mayonaisse and chilli ponzu sauce.
.
Rediscovering Chardonnay 
 
By this stage my fellow traveller needed another glass to accompany the stream of small dishes that kept arriving and settled on a glass of the Cooke Brothers ‘Schoenthal’ Chardonnay, also from the Adelaide Hills. I tried it and it confirmed a growing suspicion I have that I might be rediscovering the punchy taste of Chardonnay.

‘The first dish was beef wagyu gyoza dumplings with truffle oil, white ponzu, pickled mustard and sesame, which was superb. Sometimes I think that gyoza possibly might be my favourite dish.’

Then the main game arrived – Moreton Bay bugs with yuzu kosho mayonaisse and chilli ponzu sauce, accompanied by broccolini with moromi miso and giant Mooloolaba king prawns with XO butter and seasonal pickles. The pickles had a tart, clean vinegary taste, which complemented the richness of the prawns and the Moreton Bay bugs made good use of the light tempura batter which only the Japanese can deliver. 

Layers of dessert 

After all this, we decided that we would have dessert after all, which was a very fortuitous decision. Who knew the Japanese could do desserts this good – yuzu and matcha pannacotta, sake jelly, cookie crumbs, lychee sorbet and mango pearls, all carefully layered and arranged. All in all it was a terrific return to a familiar place.

Yuzu and matcha pannacotta, sake jelly, cookie crumbs, lychee sorbet and mango pearls.
 
I just hope our fortunate state continues here in the high country and that all our Victorian friends and relatives will be able to do this again soon, too. The hospitality sector is the only one to have been harder hit by the pandemic shutdown than the creative sector. Since our local restaurants need support, it would be good to see more people get along to places like Raku.
 
See also

‘tableland’ on Facebook – life on the land and at the table
‘Life on the land and at the table, the companion Facebook site to this blog, for brief and topical snippets and vignettes about land to table – the daily routine of living in the high country, on the edge of the vast Pacific, just up from Sydney, just down from Mount Kosciuszko’, 'tableland' on Facebook.

Flour and eggs and happiness
‘The Easter holiday was fast approaching and due to the pandemic lockdown, no-one could go away. For years I'd been saying about Easter that it's a great time to go away, but it's also a great time to stay home. What better way to enjoy it than by marking a return to a habit from decades past – making my own pasta’, Flour and eggs and happiness.

Unexpected surprises in unusual places – Bar Rochford ticks many boxes
‘One of the pleasures of living in a city is the unexpected surprises in unusual places. Tucked up at the top of a stairway in the Melbourne Building in the heart of Canberra is a terrific bar that ticks many boxes. Whenever I go to Bar Rochford I feel happy. It has interesting wine and thoughtful food, so I’ve been there quite a few times – and I’m likely to go many more times’, Unexpected surprises in unusual places – Bar Rochford ticks many boxes.

Better and better – a cold night in at Pulp Kitchen

‘After a regional road tour through Victoria to Adelaide and back – packed with produce of every kind – the best recipe for happiness at home was a quiet spot in the corner at local restaurant Pulp Kitchen, enjoying a very different meal in a very different restaurant, after almost two weeks of very good – and sometimes exceptional – food and drink’, Better and better – a cold night in at Pulp Kitchen.

Dispatches from the Royal Mail – Wickens restaurant delivers the goods
‘I’ve always been interested in the Royal Mail Hotel in Dunkeld, at the southern tip of the Grampians, and its varied offerings. It’s been one of Australia’s best regional restaurants for many years and I am particularly attracted by regional restaurants. I took advantage of a regional road tour through Victoria to Adelaide to update my first visit from several years before. In every respect the experience was worthwhile. The attention to detail and focused application was apparent, from the signature restaurant to the wider range of services it provides’, Dispatches from the Royal Mail – Wickens restaurant delivers the goods.

Travelling overseas in your own country ­– Austrian winter lunches in the high country
‘The pay off for cold Canberra mornings is that with no cloud during the night the days are clear and blue and brilliant. That’s when Canberra comes into its own. That’s the time to enjoy a long luxurious lunch with friends. The ACT is so tiny that is doesn’t take long before you have to cross the border in your quest for food and drink and spectacular landscapes. These outings are the slices of life in between the restaurants and bars where you go out in public. This is where the farmers markets and the home-grown produce and the local vintages come together in the privacy of your own home. With moments like this, even winter starts to look attractive’, Travelling overseas in your own country ­– Austrian winter lunches in the high country.

Eating out in the cold country – Grazing at Gundaroo
‘In winter your mind turns to food - well, it turns there anytime, but perhaps more so in winter. I can’t remember how many years I have been coming to Grazing restaurant, in the tiny historic town of Gundaroo, just outside Canberra – it seems like forever. In the time I’ve been coming here Prime Ministers have risen and fallen, Governments have teetered, illusions have shattered. On a Sunday recently, I ventured out from the cold of approaching winter on a clear, blue day and went there one more time for food, wine and firewood. I wasn’t disappointed’, Eating out in the cold country – Grazing at Gundaroo.

Mezzalira Ristorante – the Italian empire strikes back
‘I seem to spend a lot of time in the small Italian and Sons restaurant in hipster heaven in downtown Braddon, with its equally small bar annexe, Bacaro, at the rear. It’s so good and so pleasant that it’s easy to forget the other parts of the Italian empire. The flagship restaurant, Mezzalira, is across the the city, near the National University. It’s in the fabulous but somewhat neglected though stately Melbourne Building, with its Italianate arches and colonnades. I sometimes think that if suddenly the world was about to end (a bit like contemporary times) and I was offered the choice of only one cuisine until the crunch, I’d have to choose Italian. That way I could die happy,’ Mezzalira Ristorante – the Italian empire strikes back.

Ester – the sweet smell of success
‘Because the high country is adjacent to the low country, it takes only three hours to drive from the nation’s capital to the nation’s financial capital. In the early to mid 1990s Chippendale in Sydney was a suburb you travelled through to get somewhere else. All that is changing in a big way, with plenty there to explore. A sure sign of these times is eatery Ester, a restaurant that reflects the focus of its name on the science of food with some intrepid experiments in the culinary arts’, Ester – the sweet smell of success.

In a corner with a cake (or two) – the hidden attraction of local hangouts
‘Tucked away in a corner at the Ainslie shops where it’s easy to miss entirely ­– in the heart of the suburb know as the Red Centre for it’s exceptionally high Labor vote – is an unexpected delight. The location has hosted a series of less than successful ventures but this most recent has been an unqualified success. Who would have thought that a cafe hailing from Brittany could attract such a crowd. The secret of success is that it focuses on what it does and it does it well. You can park yourself inside the small venue or outside if the weather is fine and pick from some unexpected sweet pastries, throw down the odd glass of French wine or eat buckwheat pancakes or baguettes. The cafe also runs to daily specials that can be very unexpected. Long may it reign over us – Rule Brittany rather than Rule Britannia’, In a corner with a cake (or two) – the hidden attraction of local hangouts.

We all scream for icecream – cooling down in a cold climate with Frugii
‘I realise I may have just become a statistic. I have a suspicion that I have eaten more sorbet, gelato and icecream since local Canberra icecream outlet Frugii opened in Canberra’s Braddon perimeter than I have eaten in my whole previous life. Tucked away in hipster heaven, it keeps churning out flavours, in an ever changing smorgasbord of coldness’, We all scream for icecream – cooling down in a cold climate with Frugii.

A bustling Friday night in hipster heaven
‘On a bustling Friday night in hipster heaven, I popped into my favourite Canberra restaurant, Italian and Sons, planning for little more than a quick bite to eat. I managed to get my favourite spot – when I’m not settled comfortably in Bacaro, the adjoining bar out the back, that is – sitting in the window, watching the action on the street. I headed straight for a real blast from my Adelaide past, part of my earliest discovery of Italian cuisine – saltimbocca. Then I beat a path down Lonsdale Street to Frugii, Canberra’s own dessert laboratory. What is happening to this city? It’s getting cooler by the minute and it’s not just the icecream or the approach of winter’, A bustling Friday night in hipster heaven.

Vitello Tonnato for a life well lived in hipster heaven
‘It had been quite a week and I had been crushed by too many encounters with the crazy world of Centrelink as I fulfilled my long list of aged care responsibilities. I needed cheering up so last night ate out at the venerable Italian and Sons, the very first of the many funky venues which now enliven Braddon. My attention was drawn to the rare appearance of vitello tonnato. My imagination had been captured decades ago when I was a young boy by seeing the recipe for the dish in Margaret Fulton’s classic cookbook. I finally tried it in a tiny restaurant in Florence, during my first visit overseas, after a stint at the massive Frankfurt Book Fair in 1989. This most recent one was the best I have ever eaten outside my own home – well, perhaps the best anywhere. This is a favourite place, probably my most favourite in Canberra. Coming here always makes me feel happy and what more can you ask?’, Vitello Tonnato for a life well lived in hipster heaven.

Eating out in a cold, funky city – Canberra comes of age in the Asian Century
‘On a day and night which was bitterly cold – as cold as Canberra has been this year, with the hint of snow clouds overhead – I was reminded why I live here. As we wandered along after a full day of cultural institutions and design events, looking for somewhere to eat we impetuously popped into Restaurant Eightysix and even more impetuously were able to get a table. I had forgotten reading somewhere that famed long-former Adelaide chef, Christine Manfield was here for the month, cooking up an Asian-inspired menu. How much better could it get?’, Eating out in a cold, funky city – Canberra comes of age in the Asian Century.

Provenance - knowing where good things come from
‘It took me only five years but I finally found my way to Provenance, the legendary regional restaurant established by chef Michael Ryan in Beechworth in 2010. Provenance is widely considered one of the best restaurants in regional Victoria, in a tiny state that contains many good regional restaurants. I had been meaning to eat there since it was established and given how regularly we travel to Beechworth and its surrounds I was amazed I hadn’t been earlier. It took some time but it was worth it’, Provenance - knowing where good things come from

In praise of the Berra
‘When I first moved to Canberra, almost as an accidental intersection of geography and employment after the Sydney Olympics, I used to say “if you had lived in Sydney and one day you woke up and discovered you were in Canberra, you would think you had died.” Then I changed my mind. It took ten years but it was inevitable. Berrans are a hardy bunch – they can withstand the hot winds of summer and of Australia’s Parliament, the chill flurries from the Snowy Mountains and the chilling news of budget cuts. The Berra is half-way between everywhere’, In praise of the Berra.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Takeaway takeover – steering a course through an unfolding pandemic

Local fine dining restaurant, Pilot, is tucked away in the back corner of the Ainslie shops in a quiet suburb of North Canberra. Over the last five months, Pilot has steered a course through the unfolding pandemic, as the changing relationship between diners and the restaurant has mapped the meandering trail of the COVID-19 pandemic through lockdown and easing. We’d been to Pilot to sample their long Sunday lunch in late February before the world fell apart. Then the pandemic struck and the lockdown began. Stuck at home our minds turned to the fine dining of the new era – takeaway. Then in July, as the lockdown finally eased – at least for a while – we found our way back to Pilot.

Looking back after many months our earlier long Sunday lunch at Pilot restaurant in late February now seems to be part of another world. I suppose it’s much like many other local places across Australia – once regular haunts of diners seeking a good night, or day, out, suddenly stranded by circumstance. It was a time when a relatively obscure regional city in China – Wuhan – was bettter known as a UNESCO Creative City of Design, than the source of a global pandemic.

‘Looking back after many months our earlier long Sunday lunch at Pilot restaurant in late February now seems to be part of another world. I suppose it’s much like many other local places across Australia – once regular haunts of diners seeking a good night, or day, out, suddenly stranded by circumstance.’

Fish curry in aromatic broth.

How quickly this all happened was brought home when I realised that I had two unfinished articles for this blog – one about the long Sunday lunch just before we went away on a two and a half week regional road tour to Adelaide and Kangaroo Island in March and one about the takeover of the dining world by takeaways, as restaurants scrambled to convert their operations in order to survive.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Flour and eggs and happiness

The Easter holiday was fast approaching and due to the pandemic lockdown, no-one could go away. For years I'd been saying about Easter that it's a great time to go away, but it's also a great time to stay home. What better way to enjoy it than by marking a return to a habit from decades past - making my own pasta.

Over 20 years ago I lived in Sydney and worked at Community Radio 2SER and the Powerhouse Museum, residing in an old apartment above a pizza shop in Balmain. Just down the road was Leichhardt, home of the Sydney Italian diaspora. I bought a handmade pasta-making machine and used to make fresh pasta regularly – as you do. I was surprised at how easy it was – flour (‘Continental’ flour), eggs, mix, knead and roll. I even made noodles once, from flour and water – harder, but not too difficult after getting the pasta-making down pat.

Then I moved interstate, taking my pasta-making machine with me, and for those 20+ years it has sat in its box and I have not made pasta again – though the thought was there, somewhere in the background. For the last few months I have increasingly had the urge to make some again.

Fresh fettucine with Continental flour and mighty pasta machine

So I did. I finally made fresh fettucine – twenty years after last using my mighty machine – from an excellent Italian cookbook I bought at a remainders sale in Adelaide over 40 years ago, which I still use. I just upped and did it again – like riding a bike – and haven't stopped since. It’s a very good skill during pandemics.

Nothing good ever really disappears from your life – especially flour and eggs and happiness.

See also

‘tableland’ on Facebook – life on the land and at the table
‘Life on the land and at the table, the companion Facebook site to this blog, for brief and topical snippets and vignettes about land to table – the daily routine of living in the high country, on the edge of the vast Pacific, just up from Sydney, just down from Mount Kosciuszko’, 'tableland' on Facebook.

Unexpected surprises in unusual places – Bar Rochford ticks many boxes
‘One of the pleasures of living in a city is the unexpected surprises in unusual places. Tucked up at the top of a stairway in the Melbourne Building in the heart of Canberra is a terrific bar that ticks many boxes. Whenever I go to Bar Rochford I feel happy. It has interesting wine and thoughtful food, so I’ve been there quite a few times – and I’m likely to go many more times’, Unexpected surprises in unusual places – Bar Rochford ticks many boxes.

Better and better – a cold night in at Pulp Kitchen

‘After a regional road tour through Victoria to Adelaide and back – packed with produce of every kind – the best recipe for happiness at home was a quiet spot in the corner at local restaurant Pulp Kitchen, enjoying a very different meal in a very different restaurant, after almost two weeks of very good – and sometimes exceptional – food and drink’, Better and better – a cold night in at Pulp Kitchen.

Dispatches from the Royal Mail – Wickens restaurant delivers the goods
‘I’ve always been interested in the Royal Mail Hotel in Dunkeld, at the southern tip of the Grampians, and its varied offerings. It’s been one of Australia’s best regional restaurants for many years and I am particularly attracted by regional restaurants. I took advantage of a regional road tour through Victoria to Adelaide to update my first visit from several years before. In every respect the experience was worthwhile. The attention to detail and focused application was apparent, from the signature restaurant to the wider range of services it provides,’ Dispatches from the Royal Mail – Wickens restaurant delivers the goods.

Travelling overseas in your own country ­– Austrian winter lunches in the high country
‘The pay off for cold Canberra mornings is that with no cloud during the night the days are clear and blue and brilliant. That’s when Canberra comes into its own. That’s the time to enjoy a long luxurious lunch with friends. The ACT is so tiny that is doesn’t take long before you have to cross the border in your quest for food and drink and spectacular landscapes. These outings are the slices of life in between the restaurants and bars where you go out in public. This is where the farmers markets and the home-grown produce and the local vintages come together in the privacy of your own home. With moments like this, even winter starts to look attractive’, Travelling overseas in your own country ­– Austrian winter lunches in the high country.

Eating out in the cold country – Grazing at Gundaroo
‘In winter your mind turns to food - well, it turns there anytime, but perhaps more so in winter. I can’t remember how many years I have been coming to Grazing restaurant, in the tiny historic town of Gundaroo, just outside Canberra – it seems like forever. In the time I’ve been coming here Prime Ministers have risen and fallen, Governments have teetered, illusions have shattered. On a Sunday recently, I ventured out from the cold of approaching winter on a clear, blue day and went there one more time for food, wine and firewood. I wasn’t disappointed’, Eating out in the cold country – Grazing at Gundaroo.

Mezzalira Ristorante – the Italian empire strikes back
‘I seem to spend a lot of time in the small Italian and Sons restaurant in hipster heaven in downtown Braddon, with its equally small bar annexe, Bacaro, at the rear. It’s so good and so pleasant that it’s easy to forget the other parts of the Italian empire. The flagship restaurant, Mezzalira, is across the the city, near the National University. It’s in the fabulous but somewhat neglected though stately Melbourne Building, with its Italianate arches and colonnades. I sometimes think that if suddenly the world was about to end (a bit like contemporary times) and I was offered the choice of only one cuisine until the crunch, I’d have to choose Italian. That way I could die happy,’ Mezzalira Ristorante – the Italian empire strikes back.

Ester – the sweet smell of success
‘Because the high country is adjacent to the low country, it takes only three hours to drive from the nation’s capital to the nation’s financial capital. In the early to mid 1990s Chippendale in Sydney was a suburb you travelled through to get somewhere else. All that is changing in a big way, with plenty there to explore. A sure sign of these times is eatery Ester, a restaurant that reflects the focus of its name on the science of food with some intrepid experiments in the culinary arts’, Ester – the sweet smell of success.

In a corner with a cake (or two) – the hidden attraction of local hangouts
‘Tucked away in a corner at the Ainslie shops where it’s easy to miss entirely ­– in the heart of the suburb know as the Red Centre for it’s exceptionally high Labor vote – is an unexpected delight. The location has hosted a series of less than successful ventures but this most recent has been an unqualified success. Who would have thought that a cafe hailing from Brittany could attract such a crowd. The secret of success is that it focuses on what it does and it does it well. You can park yourself inside the small venue or outside if the weather is fine and pick from some unexpected sweet pastries, throw down the odd glass of French wine or eat buckwheat pancakes or baguettes. The cafe also runs to daily specials that can be very unexpected. Long may it reign over us – Rule Brittany rather than Rule Britannia’, In a corner with a cake (or two) – the hidden attraction of local hangouts.

We all scream for icecream – cooling down in a cold climate with Frugii
‘I realise I may have just become a statistic. I have a suspicion that I have eaten more sorbet, gelato and icecream since local Canberra icecream outlet Frugii opened in Canberra’s Braddon perimeter than I have eaten in my whole previous life. Tucked away in hipster heaven, it keeps churning out flavours, in an ever changing smorgasbord of coldness’, We all scream for icecream – cooling down in a cold climate with Frugii.

A bustling Friday night in hipster heaven
‘On a bustling Friday night in hipster heaven, I popped into my favourite Canberra restaurant, Italian and Sons, planning for little more than a quick bite to eat. I managed to get my favourite spot – when I’m not settled comfortably in Bacaro, the adjoining bar out the back, that is – sitting in the window, watching the action on the street. I headed straight for a real blast from my Adelaide past, part of my earliest discovery of Italian cuisine – saltimbocca. Then I beat a path down Lonsdale Street to Frugii, Canberra’s own dessert laboratory. What is happening to this city? It’s getting cooler by the minute and it’s not just the icecream or the approach of winter’, A bustling Friday night in hipster heaven.

Vitello Tonnato for a life well lived in hipster heaven
‘It had been quite a week and I had been crushed by too many encounters with the crazy world of Centrelink as I fulfilled my long list of aged care responsibilities. I needed cheering up so last night ate out at the venerable Italian and Sons, the very first of the many funky venues which now enliven Braddon. My attention was drawn to the rare appearance of vitello tonnato. My imagination had been captured decades ago when I was a young boy by seeing the recipe for the dish in Margaret Fulton’s classic cookbook. I finally tried it in a tiny restaurant in Florence, during my first visit overseas, after a stint at the massive Frankfurt Book Fair in 1989. This most recent one was the best I have ever eaten outside my own home – well, perhaps the best anywhere. This is a favourite place, probably my most favourite in Canberra. Coming here always makes me feel happy and what more can you ask?’, Vitello Tonnato for a life well lived in hipster heaven.

Eating out in a cold, funky city – Canberra comes of age in the Asian Century
‘On a day and night which was bitterly cold – as cold as Canberra has been this year, with the hint of snow clouds overhead – I was reminded why I live here. As we wandered along after a full day of cultural institutions and design events, looking for somewhere to eat we impetuously popped into Restaurant Eightysix and even more impetuously were able to get a table. I had forgotten reading somewhere that famed long-former Adelaide chef, Christine Manfield was here for the month, cooking up an Asian-inspired menu. How much better could it get?’, Eating out in a cold, funky city – Canberra comes of age in the Asian Century.

Provenance - knowing where good things come from
‘It took me only five years but I finally found my way to Provenance, the legendary regional restaurant established by chef Michael Ryan in Beechworth in 2010. Provenance is widely considered one of the best restaurants in regional Victoria, in a tiny state that contains many good regional restaurants. I had been meaning to eat there since it was established and given how regularly we travel to Beechworth and its surrounds I was amazed I hadn’t been earlier. It took some time but it was worth it’, Provenance - knowing where good things come from

In praise of the Berra
‘When I first moved to Canberra, almost as an accidental intersection of geography and employment after the Sydney Olympics, I used to say “if you had lived in Sydney and one day you woke up and discovered you were in Canberra, you would think you had died.” Then I changed my mind. It took ten years but it was inevitable. Berrans are a hardy bunch – they can withstand the hot winds of summer and of Australia’s Parliament, the chill flurries from the Snowy Mountains and the chilling news of budget cuts. The Berra is half-way between everywhere’, In praise of the Berra.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Unexpected surprises in unusual places – Bar Rochford ticks many boxes

One of the pleasures of living in a city ­- whether giant, bloated cities or more human regional cities - is the unexpected surprises in unusual places. Tucked up at the top of a stairway in the Melbourne Building in the heart of Canberra is a terrific bar that ticks many boxes. Whenever I go to Bar Rochford I feel happy. It has interesting wine and thoughtful food, so I’ve been there quite a few times – and I’m likely to go many more times.

Most recently I was at Bar Rochford for a quiet birthday celebration. I was tucked away in a corner, underneath the metal framed windows characteristic of the Melbourne and Sydney Buildings – those two twin heritage icons that are some of Canberra’s best assets, though sadly under-used and under-appreciated. Sometimes I get the impression that half the shops in the Sydney building are closed and the other half shouldn't be open.

Using nectarines in salads
We started with two cold dishes. The first was one of the dishes under the heading ‘raw’ – carpaccio, goats curd and beetroot. I am very partial to a good carpaccio, especially if finely sliced, but I’ve never had one with beetroot before. It was impressive and the beetroot didn’t overwhelm the flavour of the meat, as could so easily have happened.

Carpaccio with goats curd and beetroot.

This was followed by a vegetable dish, burrata with nectarine and tomato, which was very fresh and sharp. Using nectarines in salads is something I have only recently started to appreciate ­– having had it during a foray to Rebel Rebel recently. This is the restaurant that Sean McConnell established after leaving Monster Kitchen and Bar in what used to be Hotel Hotel in the New Acton precinct. With these dishes we tried the spatchcock with corn and radicchio, with a side dish of potatoes, buttermilk and roe.

‘Up until a couple of years ago I could confidently say I could easily count the number of times I had drunk rosé – and even more easily the number of times I had enjoyed it. However, after two and a half weeks in the heat of...Southern France in 2018, I developed a taste for rosé that 

As we savoured these varied dishes, we didn’t forget the wine, because this is one of Bar Rochford’s specialities. We had caught the bus into the city, so we were determined to try a variety of wines. As it was her birthday celebration, my fellow traveller started with a martini made with Martin Millers gin, while I had a tremendous 2018 Brash Higgins ‘Nymph’ Rosé, a blend of Cinsault and Carignan from the Omensetter Vineyard in Mclaren Vale. Up until a couple of years ago I could confidently say I could easily count the number of times I had drunk rosé – and even more easily the number of times I had enjoyed it. However, after two and a half weeks in the heat of Vaison-la-Romaine, in the Vaucluse region of Southern France in 2018, I developed a taste for rosé that has not diminished since.

Spatchcock with corn and radicchio, with a side dish of potatoes, buttermilk and roe.

Determined to try a variety of wines
Then, after my rosé as the meal progressed, we tried a couple of whites – a 2018 Bobar Chardonnay from the Yarra Valley, then diverged to a 2017 La Morella Cortese from Piedmont in Italy and finally a 2018 Meyer-Fonne Pinot Blanc from Alsace. It’s a variety I am quite partial to that also reflects my interest in Alsace, with its overlapping French and German heritage. Then, as we tried the spatchcock dish, we moved onto a 2019 Barbera/Nebbiolo blend by the Hilltops region by local winery Ravensworth, and a 2019 William Downie Pinot Noir, another wine from the Yarra Valley.

‘Good food is a combination of quality produce, skilled technique and inspired ideas and merely listing the ingredients conveys only a part of this.’

I have only one complaint, and since it’s a complaint I seem to have about nearly every restaurant at the moment, I can’t really complain too much. Despite its standing, Bar Rochford enthusiastically participates in a fad common to so many restaurants at the moment, describing all its dishes by simply listing the ingredients. I first noticed it at Biota restaurant in the Southern Highlands – a long-time favourite – five years or so ago, but since then it seems to pop up everywhere, including at my other local favourite Pilot restaurant. I know that putting the produce in pride of place is important, but a dish is more than the sum of its ingredients. When I order a dish I want to know how the ingredients are treated. Good food is a combination of quality produce, skilled technique and inspired ideas and merely listing the ingredients conveys only a part of this. If nothing else it means that restaurant staff have to spend valuable time explaining each dish.

Dry Martini and rosé

 All in all the mix of food and wines had been very enjoyable making for an extremely pleasant evening – and it was still light as we sortied out into the mild evening. Bar Rochford is a tremendous asset for Canberra and a place I will be going back to many times.

See also

‘tableland’ on Facebook – life on the land and at the table
‘Life on the land and at the table, the companion Facebook site to this blog, for brief and topical snippets and vignettes about land to table – the daily routine of living in the high country, on the edge of the vast Pacific, just up from Sydney, just down from Mount Kosciuszko’, 'tableland' on Facebook.

Flour and eggs and happiness
‘The Easter holiday was fast approaching and due to the pandemic lockdown, no-one could go away. For years I'd been saying about Easter that it's a great time to go away, but it's also a great time to stay home. What better way to enjoy it than by marking a return to a habit from decades past – making my own pasta’, Flour and eggs and happiness.

Unexpected surprises in unusual places – Bar Rochford ticks many boxes
‘One of the pleasures of living in a city is the unexpected surprises in unusual places. Tucked up at the top of a stairway in the Melbourne Building in the heart of Canberra is a terrific bar that ticks many boxes. Whenever I go to Bar Rochford I feel happy. It has interesting wine and thoughtful food, so I’ve been there quite a few times – and I’m likely to go many more times’, Unexpected surprises in unusual places – Bar Rochford ticks many boxes.

Better and better – a cold night in at Pulp Kitchen

‘After a regional road tour through Victoria to Adelaide and back – packed with produce of every kind – the best recipe for happiness at home was a quiet spot in the corner at local restaurant Pulp Kitchen, enjoying a very different meal in a very different restaurant, after almost two weeks of very good – and sometimes exceptional – food and drink’, Better and better – a cold night in at Pulp Kitchen.

Dispatches from the Royal Mail – Wickens restaurant delivers the goods
‘I’ve always been interested in the Royal Mail Hotel in Dunkeld, at the southern tip of the Grampians, and its varied offerings. It’s been one of Australia’s best regional restaurants for many years and I am particularly attracted by regional restaurants. I took advantage of a regional road tour through Victoria to Adelaide to update my first visit from several years before. In every respect the experience was worthwhile. The attention to detail and focused application was apparent, from the signature restaurant to the wider range of services it provides,’ Dispatches from the Royal Mail – Wickens restaurant delivers the goods.

Catching up in the kitchen – Pulp Kitchen delivers the goods
‘I have been here twice since it changed hands and the capable crew from Restaurant eightysix in Braddon took over this Ainslie favourite, tucked away down the side of the shops. Each time it has been very good and very enjoyable. I used to really like the previous incarnation of Pulp Kitchen and went there many times, but this is even better. I was catching up with a friend I hadn’t seen for many decades and it made for an excellent night in a buzzy, busy venue in the heart of the inner North’, Catching up in the kitchen – Pulp Kitchen delivers the goods.

Travelling overseas in your own country ­– Austrian winter lunches in the high country
‘The pay off for cold Canberra mornings is that with no cloud during the night the days are clear and blue and brilliant. That’s when Canberra comes into its own. That’s the time to enjoy a long luxurious lunch with friends. The ACT is so tiny that is doesn’t take long before you have to cross the border in your quest for food and drink and spectacular landscapes. These outings are the slices of life in between the restaurants and bars where you go out in public. This is where the farmers markets and the home-grown produce and the local vintages come together in the privacy of your own home. With moments like this, even winter starts to look attractive’, Travelling overseas in your own country ­– Austrian winter lunches in the high country.

Eating out in the cold country – Grazing at Gundaroo
‘In winter your mind turns to food - well, it turns there anytime, but perhaps more so in winter. I can’t remember how many years I have been coming to Grazing restaurant, in the tiny historic town of Gundaroo, just outside Canberra – it seems like forever. In the time I’ve been coming here Prime Ministers have risen and fallen, Governments have teetered, illusions have shattered. On a Sunday recently, I ventured out from the cold of approaching winter on a clear, blue day and went there one more time for food, wine and firewood. I wasn’t disappointed’, Eating out in the cold country – Grazing at Gundaroo.

Mezzalira Ristorante – the Italian empire strikes back
‘I seem to spend a lot of time in the small Italian and Sons restaurant in hipster heaven in downtown Braddon, with its equally small bar annexe, Bacaro, at the rear. It’s so good and so pleasant that it’s easy to forget the other parts of the Italian empire. The flagship restaurant, Mezzalira, is across the the city, near the National University. It’s in the fabulous but somewhat neglected though stately Melbourne Building, with its Italianate arches and colonnades. I sometimes think that if suddenly the world was about to end (a bit like contemporary times) and I was offered the choice of only one cuisine until the crunch, I’d have to choose Italian. That way I could die happy,’ Mezzalira Ristorante – the Italian empire strikes back.

Ester – the sweet smell of success
‘Because the high country is adjacent to the low country, it takes only three hours to drive from the nation’s capital to the nation’s financial capital. In the early to mid 1990s Chippendale in Sydney was a suburb you travelled through to get somewhere else. All that is changing in a big way, with plenty there to explore. A sure sign of these times is eatery Ester, a restaurant that reflects the focus of its name on the science of food with some intrepid experiments in the culinary arts’, Ester – the sweet smell of success.

In a corner with a cake (or two) – the hidden attraction of local hangouts
‘Tucked away in a corner at the Ainslie shops where it’s easy to miss entirely ­– in the heart of the suburb know as the Red Centre for it’s exceptionally high Labor vote – is an unexpected delight. The location has hosted a series of less than successful ventures but this most recent has been an unqualified success. Who would have thought that a cafe hailing from Brittany could attract such a crowd. The secret of success is that it focuses on what it does and it does it well. You can park yourself inside the small venue or outside if the weather is fine and pick from some unexpected sweet pastries, throw down the odd glass of French wine or eat buckwheat pancakes or baguettes. The cafe also runs to daily specials that can be very unexpected. Long may it reign over us – Rule Brittany rather than Rule Britannia’, In a corner with a cake (or two) – the hidden attraction of local hangouts.

We all scream for icecream – cooling down in a cold climate with Frugii
‘I realise I may have just become a statistic. I have a suspicion that I have eaten more sorbet, gelato and icecream since local Canberra icecream outlet Frugii opened in Canberra’s Braddon perimeter than I have eaten in my whole previous life. Tucked away in hipster heaven, it keeps churning out flavours, in an ever changing smorgasbord of coldness’, We all scream for icecream – cooling down in a cold climate with Frugii.

A bustling Friday night in hipster heaven
‘On a bustling Friday night in hipster heaven, I popped into my favourite Canberra restaurant, Italian and Sons, planning for little more than a quick bite to eat. I managed to get my favourite spot – when I’m not settled comfortably in Bacaro, the adjoining bar out the back, that is – sitting in the window, watching the action on the street. I headed straight for a real blast from my Adelaide past, part of my earliest discovery of Italian cuisine – saltimbocca. Then I beat a path down Lonsdale Street to Frugii, Canberra’s own dessert laboratory. What is happening to this city? It’s getting cooler by the minute and it’s not just the icecream or the approach of winter’, A bustling Friday night in hipster heaven.

Peas in a pod – food takes off
‘Pod Food is in the heart of the slightly ramshackle gardening and nursery hub of Canberra, Pialligo , adjacent to the burgeoning exercise in urban growth called Canberra Airport. It was always the place you went to get large pots and even larger apples. Pod Food was always good enough – but now it is something a whole lot more impressive. On a rainy Friday I entered through their marvellous cottage garden entrance way to sit on the covered and contained outside deck. The entrance to Pod Food, formerly part of an operating nursery, is the sort of garden I eventually want to have. It felt highly suitable sitting at the entrance to the Australian high country as the rain came down, drinking the fine product of another high region on the opposite side of the world’, Peas in a pod – food takes off.

Vitello Tonnato for a life well lived in hipster heaven
‘It had been quite a week and I had been crushed by too many encounters with the crazy world of Centrelink as I fulfilled my long list of aged care responsibilities. I needed cheering up so last night ate out at the venerable Italian and Sons, the very first of the many funky venues which now enliven Braddon. My attention was drawn to the rare appearance of vitello tonnato. My imagination had been captured decades ago when I was a young boy by seeing the recipe for the dish in Margaret Fulton’s classic cookbook. I finally tried it in a tiny restaurant in Florence, during my first visit overseas, after a stint at the massive Frankfurt Book Fair in 1989. This most recent one was the best I have ever eaten outside my own home – well, perhaps the best anywhere. This is a favourite place, probably my most favourite in Canberra. Coming here always makes me feel happy and what more can you ask?’, Vitello Tonnato for a life well lived in hipster heaven.

Eating out in a cold, funky city – Canberra comes of age in the Asian Century
‘On a day and night which was bitterly cold – as cold as Canberra has been this year, with the hint of snow clouds overhead – I was reminded why I live here. As we wandered along after a full day of cultural institutions and design events, looking for somewhere to eat we impetuously popped into Restaurant Eightysix and even more impetuously were able to get a table. I had forgotten reading somewhere that famed long-former Adelaide chef, Christine Manfield was here for the month, cooking up an Asian-inspired menu. How much better could it get?’, Eating out in a cold, funky city – Canberra comes of age in the Asian Century.

Smoking for broke beside the Molongolo
‘Where the market gardens that supplied Canberra as far back as the 1820s used to be a small fortune has been spent turning 86 acres overlooking the Eastern end of Lake Burley Griffin into a superb regional restaurant, Pialligo Estate Farmhouse Restaurant. It made for a tremendous birthday lunch in a spacious airy and light space, full of exciting food treated well. I couldn’t take my eyes off the copper guttering and downpipes. I thought all the loose copper in the world had already been stolen but clearly it’s still available. It’s quite clear that even though work is still being finalised, when it is finished it will be a spectacular addition to the nation’s capital and the region’, Smoking for broke beside the Molongolo.

Provenance - knowing where good things come from
‘It took me only five years but I finally found my way to Provenance, the legendary regional restaurant established by chef Michael Ryan in Beechworth in 2010. Provenance is widely considered one of the best restaurants in regional Victoria, in a tiny state that contains many good regional restaurants. I had been meaning to eat there since it was established and given how regularly we travel to Beechworth and its surrounds I was amazed I hadn’t been earlier. It took some time but it was worth it’, Provenance - knowing where good things come from

In praise of the Berra
‘When I first moved to Canberra, almost as an accidental intersection of geography and employment after the Sydney Olympics, I used to say “if you had lived in Sydney and one day you woke up and discovered you were in Canberra, you would think you had died.” Then I changed my mind. It took ten years but it was inevitable. Berrans are a hardy bunch – they can withstand the hot winds of summer and of Australia’s Parliament, the chill flurries from the Snowy Mountains and the chilling news of budget cuts. The Berra is half-way between everywhere’, In praise of the Berra.