Posts Tagged ‘canberra’

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.

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Canberra can be very pretty at certain times of the year

May 3, 2010

On the ANZAC day public holiday we escaped the house to walk by the lake, enjoying the afternoon sunshine, and the mild weather which could vanish at any moment.

We walked around the Carillon island—the first time I’ve done that in fourteen years—and along the lake’s edge to Regatta Point. Perhaps it was the long weekend tinting everything with the golden light of pleasure, but I thought Canberra was looking particularly well.

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.

Markets

December 7, 2009

It seems to be market season here at the moment—both in the sense of there being more markets around than usual, and also that it’s a good time of year to go to the markets. I love finding one-of-a-kind Christmas gifts for my special people, especially if I can buy local and support a crafter. I’m not going to kid you though, it doesn’t matter how many gifts I say I’m going to buy, I always come home with a few things for myself too.

On Saturday I met Amanda, Emily and Devika at the Gorman House Markets. These markets are held in the buildings and courtyards of Gorman House, near the centre of Canberra. Gorman House was originally built as accommodation for public servants in the early days of Canberra (1924, we are a very young city) but these days hosts arts and community groups and a fantastic restaurant, as well as the markets on Saturdays.

image by lars1942 on flickr

I love these markets. They boast a good mix of art and craft, antiques, secondhand clothing, jewellery and food. There’s always a relaxed vibe and plenty of people sitting in the sun in the grassy courtyard, enjoying coffee and cake or a plate of Gozleme. There are usually buskers. Best of all, the prices are always reasonable.

This is a good example of the sort of lovely people the Gorman House markets attracts: Saturday was Amanda’s birthday and after we all found each other, we decided to start with coffee and some raspberry coconut cake. Unbeknownst to Amanda, we had organised to bring a candle and a lighter (knowing cake would be available) and so we stuck the candle in her cake, lit it and sang ‘happy birthday’ at our table in the middle of the courtyard. The whole time we were sitting there after that, people kept walking past and saying ‘Happy birthday!’ to her. Sweet, huh?

It was the perfect weather for markets and we had a great time advising each other on the suitability of secondhand dresses, discovering new crafts, meeting other friends and chatting with stallholders. We had lunch next to the chook stall, where one chook sat peacefully on the table the whole time. I bought some lovely gifts, and managed (predictably) to come home with a few things for me:

the top one is a tiny canvas covered with lovely horse-printed fabric, the bottom one is a delicate black papercut I’ve mounted against white paper. It’s so intricate, I’ll never know how they do the trees without it ripping.

I also picked up a kilo of the most beautiful cherries I’ve had in ages.

It was definitely a successful outing and I only wish I could show you more of the beautiful things I bought—but they’re gifts, and I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise :)

Dust

September 23, 2009

dust storm

This is what Canberra looked like on Tuesday. We spent the whole day in the midst of a dust storm that seriously reduced visibility (there are normally lots of mountains in the view above). It was strange and eerie and surprisingly a lot less windy than Canberra is capable of. We were all a bit weirded out (you’d think we’d get more of these in such a dry country) but it seems like nothing compared to what Sydney’s been experiencing today. From the pictures I’ve seen, it seems the storm really built up some power by the time it got there. It looks waaaaay dustier than this does.

Ironically, we had a proper storm last night which settled the dust for us, so today was clear. Australia is a country of extremes and Canberra is good at them. We hardly ever get dust storms, and we hardly ever get thunderstorms and lots of rain, but we got both in the space of twenty-four hours yesterday. Seriously, I think it rained for about twelve hours straight. It must be a record or something.