Archive for April, 2010

Silo bakery

April 28, 2010

Silo is something of a mecca for food and coffee lovers in the Canberra region, and its pastries have acquired cult status. Tucked away between restaurants and real estate agents at the Kingston Shops, the small bakery/cafe/cheese room does a bustling breakfast, lunch and coffee trade.

The unassuming frontage is easy to miss, with its discreet signage and small collection of footpath tables. No large partitions advertising coffee to hem the patrons in, instead Silo’s alfresco diners mix happily with passers-by, frequently calling out to passing friends, and enjoying the sun in front of the tiled facade and large window.

At most times of the day, the first thing to greet you when you push open Silo’s glass door is a hubbub of noise. Be prepared to stroll around the block or sit at the counter while you wait for a table to become free; I’ve even been turned away altogether. If you’re heading there for lunch a booking is a good idea, but according to their website they don’t take breakfast bookings, so be willing to try your luck. At the very least you can get a takeaway coffee and pastry.

Silo’s bakers and pastry chefs make a range of breads, pastries and tarts which daily sell out, so if you’re after a particular treat, get in early. Also available are takeaway rolls and sandwiches, an inventive breakfast menu and a European-inspired lunch menu, both of which change seasonally. As far as liquids go, Silo provides a full range of cafe beverages including coffee by local roasters Cosmorex, and has a small but carefully selected wine list. The cafe also boasts a walk-in cheese room stocked with a range of local and overseas varieties; samples can be found on the menu and they also supply other restaurants in the area.

Inside, it becomes clear that Silo’s background noise level is produced not only by the number of patrons crowded in at little tables, but also by the lack of soft furnishings. Expect polished concrete floors and cushionless chairs, but in some respects these add to the atmosphere, along with the old-fashioned light shades, and the stainless steel and marble fittings. The high ceilings of the cafe and its narrow footprint (the back section is little more than a corridor) lend it the sort of vintage charm that’s often missing in Canberra, with its post-1960s buildings.

On Saturday we were lucky enough to get a table only minutes after we’d taken a seat at the counter. While the quality of the service is a bit variable, this time we scored a friendly and attentive waitress, and water was brought to the table before we could even asked for it.

Our visit was just for a hot drink and a treat, so we abandoned the menus placed before us to stand in front of the glass-fronted marble patisserie counter, weighing our options carefully. With all the beautifully made offerings spread out before you, it’s difficult to limit yourself to just one.

Eventually I settled on a plain, buttery brioche; delicate of crumb and crisp of crust. Phil gave his order for a passionfruit and mascarpone tart, but as often happens when there’s only one or two of a particular item left, it was gone by the time he ordered. Our waitress suggested the substitution of a berry and almond tart, which I gather went down very nicely.

Not being in the mood for coffee, but feeling the need of something warm and sweet to ward off the outside chill, I ordered a hot chocolate; my first from Silo, and it was delicious—chocolatey, sweet, creamy, not too rich and with none of that terrible gritty brown powder lurking at the bottom. I discovered the new taste sensation of brioche dipped in hot chocolate, and I can strongly recommend you try it. Phil ordered a ‘large latte’ which I’m told was a little stronger than anticipated, but which was definitely quite large. Both food and drinks arrived in a timely manner and the drinks were beautifully presented.

Whether you like sourdough, pain au chocolat, pear and caramel tart, or brioche, you can’t do better than Silo in the bakery/patisserie stakes. Past experience and present popularity is proof of the quality of more substantial meals as well, and they are a dab hand with the espresso machine. Go early because the best is guaranteed to sell out. Silo is open from 10am to 4pm Tuesday to Saturday, and prices are very reasonable for the quality of food presented—we paid about $14 for two pastries and two hot drinks. Special options include vegetarian meals. Restrooms are available onsite, and there is ample on-street parking around the whole Kingston Shops area, though be prepared to pay on weekdays and Saturday mornings. Silo is located at 36 Giles Street, Kingston ACT. Rating: 4 cups.

Canberra, it’s OK + introducing the Canberra Cafe Series

April 26, 2010

As you might know, I live in Canberra. Canberra is actually a pretty nice place, and nowhere near as boring or as cultureless as its opponents like to suggest. The trick is to avoid illogical comparisons. Many of my student friends whinge that ‘Canberra isn’t a patch on Melbourne/Brisbane/Perth/insert-city-here’, but you can’t compare Canberra to (e.g.) Melbourne, you just can’t. Melbourne is a bustling coastal metropolis with a population of four million. Canberra is a small inland city of 350 000 inhabitants and is under a century old. Which obviously means you’ll find fewer cafes/bars/shops/beaches/insert-pastime-of-choice-here.

The secret to finding the good stuff in Canberra is to give the place a bloody chance. For one thing, as stated above, the smaller population means demand for leisure activities is smaller, with an obvious smaller choice of activities. For another, the high percentage of public servants means ‘mainstream culture’ is the most prevalent (I’m not judging here people—I know some very alternative and interesting public servants, but the service industry seems to think they’re all boring yuppies). And the last, and most important point to remember, is that Canberra did not grow, it was designed, so it works differently from other cities.

Let me elaborate a little on that last point. Other cities I’ve lived in or visited seem to have grown up around the pedestrian or the horse and cart. There are straight streets, amenities are either close by or on the way to somewhere, and attractions like shops and restaurants are handily congregated together in one place, usually on the sides of a (straight) street. Canberra, however, seems to have been designed around the car. Wide boulevards give way to enormous roundabouts, and you’re better off trusting the roadsigns than your sense of direction. Supermarkets and fuel stations are not found on the side of major roads, so if you need fuel before work expect to go a little out of your way. And if you’re not willing to drive halfway across town, you’re never going to discover that quirky little cafe or that fantastic restaurant.

Because that’s the way it is in Canberra. The best cafes, restaurants and shops aren’t always to be found in the major centres. You can’t expect to stumble upon them on your Sunday stroll unless you happen to live in the next suburb. In addition to the major shopping centres, most suburbs in Canberra have their own little set of shops. You’ll find no corner stores here, instead The Shops might have a small supermarket, a newsagent, a bakery, and if you’re lucky maybe a cafe, a clothing store, or a small pub. And these small suburban Shops (find them by looking for the blue signs) often hide those little Canberra gems. But the only way to discover them is to be told about them by someone else, or to actually go and look. And yes, you can probably do this by taking a few buses. But in general, the people who seem happy to make this effort are those who have cars.

So, to you dissenters, to you whingers, to you who say ‘There’s nothing to do in Canberra’, I say, You Haven’t Bothered To Have A Proper Bloody Look, Have You. But because I know it helps to have some tips on where to start looking, and because I want to share the cool places in Canberra with everyone, I’m going to help you out.

I’d like to introduce a new semi-regular feature of An odd assortment, which I’m going to call ‘The Canberra Cafe Series’. Every so often (read: whenever I get organised) I’ll publish a review of one of the cafes around town that I particularly like, and that I encourage anyone to try. And if you’ve been, or if you go on my recommendation, I’d love to hear what your experience was like.

Keep your eye out for the first installment, coming soon: Silo Bakery.

Yellow

April 23, 2010

Last night I made lemon cupcakes using this recipe.

I’m a big fan of lemons and of cupcakes, and adding the two together seemed like a wonderful idea. It also seemed like a good excuse to celebrate pale yellow, since both lemons and cupcakes are yellow, and I seriously heart pale yellow. Can you tell?

The cupcakes are delish with a beautiful texture (previous cupcake recipes I’ve tried have been a bit dry), although next time I would make them more lemony. But the yellowness of cupcakes, icing and decorations was perfectly judged :)

Seven sugars

April 18, 2010

That’s how many I was given with one pot of tea at a cafe yesterday.

Um…?

Peacock wallpaper

April 16, 2010

Discovering new places with friends—spontaneous weeknight laksa and drinks.

Cold mornings

April 12, 2010

More bearable with hot porridge.

Lipstick cowl

April 11, 2010

Allow me to introduce the fourth FO for 2010: my Lipstick Cowl.

This project is a pretty special one for me. Not only was it an improvised pattern, but it’s the first thing I’ve knitted from yarn I spun myself! This is what became of the beautiful treetops merino I spun at Spinning Camp last October. And as well as its luscious lipstick colours and incredible buttery softness, it’s wonderfully cozy. I happened to be knitting the last of this in a seminar at work on an abnormally cold day about a month ago. I hadn’t dressed warmly enough for the weather; when I bound off I simply popped this on. Lovely!

The yarn was spun (intentionally) thick and slubby so I decided garter stitch was the best way to go. From my experience making Urchins it’s fantastic for displaying these sorts of yarns, and I wanted to celebrate the irregularities, not hide them. I used 7mm needles and knit in the round because I couldn’t see any point in seaming something like this. If you’re going to make a cowl this way, I’d recommend knitting with the magic loop method. The long circular needle makes it easy to try the thing on as you go.

As you can see it flares out a little at the bottom; I find this more comfortable—and much warmer—at the base of the neck. For those of you who are interested there are more specific construction details on Ravelry. And for those of you who are confused by the concept of a cowl, just think of it as a turtleneck sweater—without the sweater part.

I think this cowl—the first item of my 2010 winter wardrobe—is going to become a staple. I love its softness and warmth, and I fell in love with the colours six months ago on the treetops website. And again when I spun it. And again when I knitted it. In fact the best demonstration of my love for this cowl is that it was never blocked—when, cold and needy, I put it on in the lecture theatre that day at work, I realised it would be difficult to take it off.

Beans!

April 7, 2010

When we planted our vegie garden I intended to document its growth regularly, both photographically and in words, to record, both for you and myself, its development. Wouldn’t it be nice, thought I (with the best of intentions), to be able to look back, once we are harvesting our vegies, and see how far they’ve come?

Yes. Well. Haven’t heard much, have you?

In fact I don’t think I even mentioned that our new garden was for vegies, or that our newborn seedlings were broccoli and brussels sprouts, with baby carrots, spinach, snow peas, dwarf beans and purple beans yet to be sown. And my photojournalism aspirations didn’t come to anything much either. This is the last photo I took, just after the dwarf beans sprouted, on Valentine’s Day.

The next photo I managed was on Saturday.

The row of dwarf beans is on the left, with, moving towards the right, a row of snow peas easily as high as my chest, and finally the towering purple beans—or rather, purple beans that would tower if we had taller stakes. They make do with twining around the neighbouring snow peas, twisting around each other, and growing back down to the ground.

So yes, rather a lot of growth between those two photos. But most excitingly of all, we have harvest!

We picked our first lot of dwarf beans on Saturday afternoon, and they are lovely—crunchy and sweet with that especial ‘I made this myself’ savour. It seems like there will be lots more too. We also ate the first of our spinach on Monday, and it was again first rate. I am definitely into this gardening lark.

Easter

April 6, 2010

I hope you had a lovely weekend too :)