Alongside Canberra's classic cafés, pubs and restaurants, meet the new eateries that mix youthful creativity with small-city friendliness.
By Jennifer Pinkerton
Over the past five years Canberra's reputation as a foodie haven has snowballed. Fresh produce abounds here, as do award-winning coffee roasters, beer brewers and cool-climate winemakers. Delicious regional food doesn't need to drain your wallet, however, as this local line-up attests.
Once a women-only venue, Tilley's receives big love from Canberra locals. It's hard to find a cosier café and Tilley's unique atmosphere will transport you to another world. Imagine an older-style piano bar with wooden booths, staff dressed in suspenders, Ella Fitzgerald ebbing through the speakers and large indoor plants dotted around scarlet carpets. Breakfasts here are the standout meal, especially the English Lot (cooked breakfast with bacon, sausages, eggs, grilled vegetables and a hash brown), the Vegetarian Lot and the homemade baked beans. Tilley's serves a tempting array of cakes and brews a tasty, strong coffee, too.
With a personality the size of Australia's Parliament House (just four kilometres, or 2.5 miles, down the road), Mr Tan welcomes diners to his pared back, bustling Griffith Vietnamese Restaurant in Canberra's inner south. White walls are plastered with handwritten testimonials singing the praises of the food on offer, and of Mr Tan himself, who will create a menu for you to enjoy after a few careful questions about your preference – without you so much as having to glimpse the printed menu. If you'd prefer to order a la carte, try the braised calamari with ginger onion or the vegetarian stir-fry with black bean sauce.
For a city that's just over 100 years old, this 150-year-old pub is a prized, rustic local gem. Built in 1857, the Old Canberra Inn started life as a private home before its owners acquired a liquor licence. Today, it's a top spot for sampling gourmet burgers, as well as beers produced from Canberra's rising microbrewery scene – the Indian pale ales and alcoholic "hard" lemonade are highlights. The inn houses vintage furniture, live music, a kids' play area and a dining room clad in kookaburra wallpaper.
Transport an American-style diner to Canberra's old-meets-new Kingston Foreshore area and the result is Brodburger – a hip and hugely popular casual eatery with glass walls and an infectious energy. The diner sprung from a single food truck, originally parked on the edge of the lake in the middle of Canberra, Lake Burley Griffin. Long queues and word-of-mouth hype morphed the van into a bricks and mortar restaurant. Brodburger's namesake burger, the Brodburger, is a fail-safe pick. It's a flame-grilled beef patty topped with tomato, Spanish onion and homemade aioli, plus a choice of blue, brie, Swiss or cheddar cheese.
A large, illuminated glass box on the northern side of the Canberra Centre shopping complex, the Dumpling House pulses with people most nights of the week. Sizzling sounds and trails of steam rise from its open kitchen, while ceilings are adorned with hanging lanterns. Service is fast and the food is fresh and simple. Dumplings come served on white plates, undressed with additional extras. Opt for the crispy chilli beef, the prawn and pumpkin dumplings, and for dessert, choose the silken tofu with ginger. Note that this venue can get noisy.
Local coffee roasting house Two Before Ten resides at a set of revamped suburban shops in the city's inner north. This hipster den serves excellent coffee, and crafts quintessentially "new Canberra" meals: creatively conceived and thoughtfully presented – in this case, on heavy stoneware. Two Before Ten's bubble and squeak dish and black rice pudding are two such examples. The former comprises potato and herb medallions, poached eggs and bacon topped with brown butter hollandaise. The latter blends black rice in coconut milk with banana, lemon and passionfruit syrup.
Enter a world of retro Japanese and Korean pop culture at Lazy Su, situated in Canberra’s inner north. This fast and loud Asian eatery is decked out with neon signs and funky wallpaper, but it’s not the décor that brings the masses. The menu at Lazy Su has managed to introduce out-of-the-ordinary Asian flavours while staying true to the cuisine. Try the likes of Wagyu cheesesteak springrolls, Korean buffalo wings, and “bao-gers” made with fresh and fluffy bao buns. Lazy Su even offers a vegan banquet, making sure that every diet is welcome.