Posts Tagged ‘cafe’

A bite to eat (a drink as well)

July 30, 2010

A bite to eat, tucked away in the residential southside suburb of Chifley, has an alternative vibe that’s otherwise difficult to find in Canberra. But it’s not just the atmosphere that keeps the regulars coming back. The food and drink are also top notch, a fact confirmed by the cafe being twice voted ACT’s best cafe in the delicious. magazine cafe awards.

No matter what the time of day, A bite to eat’s fare is fresh, tasty and inventive. The seasonally changing menu has an emphasis on vegetarian cooking, with influences widely varied: English, Asian, Middle Eastern and Italian to name a few. Whether you enjoy a lazy breakfast, a working lunch or just pop in for an exceptional coffee and a slice of freshly baked lemon and rosemary cake, the food is sure to satisfy. Open every day except Tuesday, breakfast is served all day on weekends and until noon on weekdays. Dinner is available Wednesday – Friday, and the cafe is fully licensed so diners can enjoy a quiet drink at any time of day. Bookings are usually a good idea.

While you’re waiting for your order to arrive, take the opportunity to absorb the cafe’s eclectic decor. From the first step inside the door, it’s clear that this cafe is unlike any other in the city. Think retro furniture, mismatched vintage crockery, touches of modern design, and a collection of old snow domes. A large pinboard adorns one wall, sporting postcards, comics, thankyou letters and photos. My favourite parts are the huge front window with its collection of comfy-looking cushions, and the many different lampshades. But alternative though it may be, A bite to eat is not reserved just for hippies and art students—on any day customers can include young families, besuited executives, elderly couples and groups of bright young things. I’ve been there with my husband, with my best friend, and with my parents; I’ve even attended a baby shower there. Though upbeat, the cafe is as welcoming as your nanna’s kitchen, with the added bonus of much superior coffee.

On a bright Saturday morning in May, Phil and I visited for a much-anticipated breakfast. There are many aficionados who’d say A bite to eat makes one of the best, if not the very best, breakfasts in Canberra. I would definitely agree. On this morning the menu included sourdough fruit toast, banana pizza, and a smoked salmon and potato creation. While the choice was difficult, we had plenty of time to mull over our selections whilst standing in the long line waiting to order. Weekend breakfasts are popular here.

Coffee was definitely going to feature, and our flat whites were perfectly made.

At peak times the wait on food can be as much as half an hour, but this doesn’t seem unreasonable given the cafe’s huge capacity (a large L-shaped room inside, a courtyard out the back, and tables on the footpath). In any case the drinks are usually fairly prompt. And between admiring the interior, the conversation of your companion, people-watching, examining your vintage cutlery and deciding which of the condiments to use when your food arrives, there is plenty to keep you occupied.

On this morning I’d ordered roasted mushrooms on sourdough with spinach, cheese and broccoli pesto, which was absolutely divine. Although I’m not a vegetarian I just can’t stomach meat at breakfast time; my idea of a good breakfast cafe is one that offers vegetarian options beyond pancakes. A bite to eat definitely fits this bill. Phil opted for bubble and squeak with poached eggs and harissa tomatoes and a side of home-baked beans. Delicious, fresh, and definitely different.

If you only try one cafe in Canberra, my recommendation is A bite to eat. It ticks all the boxes, with food that is both fantastic and surprising, great coffee, a funky interior and a convenient location (only ten minutes’ walk from Woden plaza). A bite to eat is open from 8am Wednesday to Monday, closing late Wednesday to Friday only. Food is freshly cooked and of very good quality. Prices reflect this but both breakfast and lunch menus include cheaper options. We paid just under $40 for two hearty breakfasts, a side dish and two coffees. Special options include vegetarian, vegan and gluten free meals. Restrooms are available onsite and there is free time-limited offstreet parking around the Chifley shops complex. A bite to eat is located at Shop 8, Eggleston Crescent, Chifley ACT.

Rating: 5 cups.

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.

Seven sugars

April 18, 2010

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

Um…?

Brisbane, part two

October 10, 2009

Thursday morning dawned on two ladies recharged for another busy (but exciting) day. Washed and dressed, Mum and I headed into the city to meet Tina for a girls’ day of shopping, coffee and gossiping. We caught up with her at Anzac Square, where you can stand next to the eternal flame on Ann Street and look over the Bottle Trees to the city beyond.

anzac square

Our first stop was a buffet breakfast at the Sofitel, definitely the nicest hotel in Brisbane, and without doubt the grandest and most varied breakfast buffet I have ever seen. It was lovely to take our time, lazily going back for more watermelon or croissants or poached eggs. Full to bursting and regretful that we couldn’t manage just another mouthful of that roast tomato, we started for the shops.

Our first stop was the heritage-listed Brisbane arcade. Filled with marble floors, panelled wood and stylish shops, it’s one of those places that Canberra is missing, with all its buildings no older than sixty or seventy years.

brisbane arcade

Here we found The Tea Centre, and Mum stocked up on some of the necessities. I picked up some of their Stockholm Blend, having tried it at High Societea on Tuesday. It’s one of those teas that I, a no-milk-no-sugar-thankyou-very-much purist, love—light, low tannin, and fragranced by a collection of flowers (no fruits or pieces of caramel in my tea, thankyou all the same). It goes very well with cinnamon buns, I have just discovered whilst writing this.

Avoiding the chain stores in the mall, we and our tea traipsed to Queen’s Plaza, in search of things a little nicer and a little different. There are some pretty fancy shops in Queen’s Plaza and while some are within my means (just), the rest you go to simply for the experience. So while Tina and Mum bought mineral makeup at Mecca Cosmetica, and I got some cute pyjamas at Peter Alexander, we went into Tiffany’s purely to feel like Audrey Hepburn, and only imagined making purchases in Alannah Hill. Soon our sore feet turned towards a cafe and a sit-down, but before long we were off again.

a welcome cup of tea

We eventually wandered back out onto the street, tired and hungry but carrying packages that spoke of success. Tina left to catch the ferry to Kangaroo Point, and Mum and I discovered that the hill up which we needed to walk had somehow become steeper since the morning. The sight of some Dalek-like sculptures on a corner underneath a huge fig tree did cheer us up though.

tree

We spent a quiet evening at my Oma’s place, where I showed her my knitting and a knitting magazine I’d brought with me. After that we were more than ready for bed—it’s funny how the excitement of shopping can spur you on, but suddenly you realise you’ve got no energy left.

The next morning we were glad of the chance for a sleep-in, but were still up in time to meet Tina, Andrew and the boys at the Old Botanic Gardens for morning tea. Sitting under the trees was lovely, and the Gardens Cafe was much better than such cafes usually are.

family morning tea

Two coffees apiece was enough to get us going, and we all dawdled over the footbridge to Southbank, where Tina and her family could catch a ferry back to their apartment, to meet their lunchtime visitors. On the way, I couldn’t resist taking more photos of those amazing Moreton Bay Figs.

fig tree

After the others caught the ferry, Mum and I walked along the riverbank to the Art Gallery, where we spent a few hours before it was time to walk back down to Southbank for some lunch. I was particularly taken with the fountains outside one of the windows—I think they look just like dandelions ready to be blown apart by the wind.

fountain flowers

I grumbled a little at all this walking, but the cafe was worth the walk, and we did get the chance to put our feet up.

lunch on the deck

Lunch over, we caught the ferry back to the city, and soon we were meeting Dad at our apartment. He’d been working hard all week—unlike us! We took a few hours for some much-needed couch time, and then it was time to get ready for the big family birthday party.

Tina’s 50th party was held at the Brisbane Jazz Club. Inside a band played traditional jazz while couples danced, and outside we had a huge table on a platform next to the river, with a fantastic view over to the city. Tina’s family and friends, stylishly dressed, chatted, ate and drank the night away. It was lovely to see everyone, and lovely to be outside at night without catching our deaths. Andrew had arranged a bar tab so the champagne was almost endless, and Tina’s favourite cake—Sacher Torte—crowned the birthday table. Towards the end of the night some of us managed to make it inside to hear the band play, nursing a snifter of cognac. They were jazz veterans, relaxed and skilled, and the music made us sway and wish we hadn’t drank too much to dance.

Somehow, somehow, Mum, Dad and I managed to make it out of bed early enough on Saturday morning to meet Suzie at the West End markets. These are fantastic markets which I’d never managed to visit before—combination farmers’ markets, craft markets, trash and treasure, and international food fair. Held in a park in alternative West End, shaded by huge trees.

west end markets

Then we headed into West End proper for a much-needed coffee. On the way I finally managed to find some photo-worthy Jacarandas. These beautiful trees, come spring, replace all their leaves with lavender-coloured flowers, which later fall to make a carpet around the tree. They don’t grow in Canberra, and I miss them.

jacarandas

We sank gratefully into cool armchairs at the Three Monkeys, definitely the funkiest cafe I have ever been to. I ordered their signature drink—the Edith Piaf, a latte-style coffee that comes in a bowl. That’s not just perspective that’s making the cup in the background look small.

edith piaf

Saturday was also the lovely Emma’s birthday, so that evening I joined her family birthday dinner, under the stars in her parents’ backyard. We all wore sparkly party tiaras, at the insistence of ‘Chicken’, her gorgeous three-year-old.

party

On Sunday, Mum and Dad’s last day in Brisbane before heading back for work on Monday, the three of us took a drive up to Tamborine Mountain, behind the Gold Coast. It was good to get out of the city and see some nature. On the way we stopped at a rainforest treetops walk, and wandered through the canopy and along the forest floor in a happy daze.

dad

tree with strangler fig

mum

We had lunch in Tamborine Mountain Village, at a cafe in a converted house. We ate on the back verandah, with this view

cafe

and then explored some of the shops on the main street, discovering a very good chocolatier. All too soon it was time to drive back to Brisbane and then, after a farewell meal of Thai, for Mum and Dad to leave for Toowoomba. I’m always sorry to part with them and feel blessed that we have such an easy and friendly relationship. I spent a last night in the flat in Spring Hill, knitting and thinking about my wonderful family, and the wonderful week we’d had together.

On Monday morning Emma picked me up and I spent my last day in Brisbane with her and adorable, cheeky little Chicken. Even a few hours with an energetic three-year-old gave me a new respect for Emma! I don’t know how anyone does it. It was fun, and I amazed myself and made Emma laugh as I continually came out with old sayings and parent-jokes, that I hadn’t heard since my parents said them to me as a child. It’s funny how these things lurk under the surface, and appear unbidden on your tongue as soon as you encounter a child. It’s also funny how you never get sick of taking photos of children doing funny things.

adorable

My Brisbane trip came to an end that evening as Emma dropped me back to the airport for my flight home to Canberra. It’d been a fantastic week—packed with family, friends, shopping, food, happy times and nice places. I miss you Brisbane, and I’ll be back.

Sydney

June 26, 2009

We had a lovely time in Sydney last weekend, despite the rain. Oh the rain. How it rained. Here in Canberra we never get that sort of rain, so I’m never really prepared for it when it happens (something similar happened to us when we went to Melbourne in March).

We arrived on Friday night and checked in to our lovely hotel, cheap thanks to lastminute.com. If you haven’t discovered that site yet you are really living under a rock. The hotel had an aquarium in the floor—I could walk above the fish—which was very cool but kinda weird. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any photos of it. We ducked out to chinatown for some dinner—if you’re in the area, do try Zilver‘s food. It’s just amazing, like no Chinese I’ve had before. And their prawn dumpling short soup is absolutely to die for.

On Saturday morning we headed to the artsy suburb of Glebe, for the very cool Glebe Markets. These markets are full of creativity, good humour and alternative style. You can get everything from vintage clothing and indie jewellery to secondhand books and international food. I love to visit every time we’re in Sydney, and my wonderful and very patient husband is happy to take me. This time, like last time, there were some amazing offerings and I came home with some beautiful and funky stuff.

leather bag, vintage shirt, monster threads tee and hoodie

peacock headband, amber ring, vintage porcelain pendant, domino pendant

The only downside was the rain. My goodness it rained. The markets are held in a schoolyard and there were puddles, and overflowing drains, and waterfalls cascading from tarps onto unsuspecting heads. We bought an extra umbrella. We sheltered under whatever cover was handy at the time. We still got wet, wet, wet. But hey, it was the Glebe markets nonetheless, and I wasn’t going to let a little rain spoil it for me. I had several stallholders ask me why I was so chirpy given the terrible weather—I had to reply that I was from out of town, and today was the only chance I would have this year at the Glebe markets, so I was going to make the most of it! But I was still relieved when we were done, and could duck across the road to the warm and dry San Churro, for Spanish hot chocolate and churros.

From there we headed back to the city, where I discovered that Morris & Sons was having a sale. I mean, who can resist half-price wool? Anyway, there are now three potential sweaters in my stash.

half price wool rocks

I also scored the coolest, most 80s-tastic sneakers on sale at Adidas:

high visibility

they’re now known as my fog shoes (as in, used for the same purpose as fog lights).

Saturday night and the reason we’d come to Sydney in the first place finally arrived. The Simon and Garfunkel concert! (really, it’s difficult to restrain myself from putting more exclamation points after that sentence). All I can say is that it was amazing to see them live, like a dream come true. I thought they would always just be one of those things I’d missed out on, like so many other events/fashions/bands/experiences, being too young. So when this opportunity came up I simply jumped at it—and I’m so glad I did.

They sang all the old songs, they told stories, they played some of their solo work, some of it accoustic and some with their very talented backing band. The venue was huge—we were up high and pretty far away—so I was glad of the large screens, the chance to really see it all happening. I was just so happy the whole time, and I feel really blessed that I had the chance to be part of it. I pulled out my record (yes, vinyl) of the Concert in Central Park yesterday, and it said on the front that that was ‘an historical event’. I think that term could easily be applied to the concert I saw last Saturday. And most importantly—Garfunkel still has the ginger ‘fro! :D

The rest of the weekend was slow and sweet after that. Sunday morning brought the sun, and a snatch of warm weather before we left Sydney (where did all that rain go?). We had brekky at a cute little place in Redfern called Strangers with Candy. Their website goes on about their great service, but for me the decor and the food were the stars. Do try it if you’re in the area—it’s a little hard to find but worth the effort. Their homemade hollandaise was the best, and lightest, I have ever tasted.

We stopped for lunch at Lerida Estate on the way home. I guess you could say it’s on the shores of Lake George, but that seems a bit odd since Lake George has been dry ever since I’ve lived in the area—people graze sheep and cows on it now. They make a very nice Pinot Gris there, and everything else I tasted was lovely too. I didn’t realise but apparently the area is also very big for truffles. It was truffle weekend and they had truffle-dog demonstrations and special menus. One man was buying some truffle while we were there—twenty grams cost him sixty dollars! I hope he enjoyed it.

Anyway that’s about it—sorry for foisting such a long post on you after a bit of a drought. More knitting news soon!