Showcasing Canberra’s best chefs and culinary enticements »
In Stefan Posthuma-Grbic's Australia’s Capital Cookbook II
By Robyn Lewis
On a visit to Parliament House in Canberra for a ‘roundtable’ about wine and food tourism, I chanced upon this gem of a book in the Parliamentary gift store, whose books are otherwise mostly of the history and government type. It stood out just waiting to be taken home.
Canberra is becoming increasingly known as a food and wine destination, no doubt in part thanks to its residents having the highest average income in Australia, which combined with their low average mortgage repayments, means that disposable income for dining out, travel etc is also the highest in the country. (They also have excellent education, public transport, childcare and other facilities – thinking of moving there, anyone?)
With many politicians, staff, lobbyists etc also residing in Canberra on a regular basis, the ACT’s dining scene has taken off, both in the city and surrounding areas of NSW, aka ‘Capital Country’. Combine this with a burgeoning local wine industry, specialising in cool climate varieties including riesling, plus acclaimed shiraz, and the local residents and visitors are on a culinary winner.
About the author Stefan Posthuma-Grbic
The author and landscape photographer of The Capital Cookbook II is Stefan Posthuma-Grbic, a Canberra resident and son of the late Zorana Grbic, who authored and published the first Canberra Cookbook in 2004. “A successful Canberra businesswomen, she had many connections in the Canberra hospitality industry, and felt Canberra deserved something tangible that would give an insight into the city’s lively food scene.
The book was greatly received and sold out quickly. Readers enjoyed feeling connected to the great restaurants they frequented, whilst also being able to re-create some of the food they loved in their kitchens at home.”
Sadly, Zorana developed ovarian cancer ($2 from every copy of this updated edition sold goes to Ovarian Cancer Australia for research into this ‘silent killer’ disease) and passed away in 2008, just after the publication of The South Coast Cookbook, a similarly successful tribute to the food of NSW’s South Coast region, which was co-written and published with Stefan and his sister Sasha.
After a year of international travel to recover, Stefan returned with the idea of a new edition, to continue the legacy of his mother but also to acquaint a new generation of foodies with the developing Canberra culinary lifestyle.
Changes in the Canberra culinary scene
And change there has been. There are 30 restaurants, provedores, food markets, vineyards and cafés in The Capital Cookbook II, many of them new, although with some perennial faves that have stood the test of time by remaining relevant to changing tastes and expectations. And no doubt Canberra has more.
On my visit I was taken to one of the perennials, Ottoman Cuisine (coincidentally featured in this book, along with one of the dishes I ate, Tuna Carpaccio), and found it better than ever, with excellent service, good food and wine (a significant percentage of it local) and fabulous value – their prices for mains were equal to a second-tier Thai in Hobart or Melbourne. (If this is indicative of others, I wonder if Canberra residents realise how lucky they have it?!)
The ‘eat local’ ethos that has evolved over the last decade has benefitted Canberra, being surrounded by farmland and with many growers nearby producing a wide array of fruit, vegetables, lamb and beef. The Capital Region Farmers’ Markets are now a regular Saturday morning feature, and even seafood is not far away, being trucked in from the south coast only a few hours away.
What else is on in Canberra?
So, with great food, wine and chefs, Canberra should now be on your culinary escape itinerary. There are all the usual things to do and see of course, like Parliament House with its fabulous woodwork, portraits and only one of two copies of the Magna Carta outside Britain (800 years old in 2015). Plus the theatre of Parliament if you are there at sitting time.
Then there are the National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, National Library, Australian War Memorial, Questacon, Sports Institute, the observatory, arboretum and other must dos – they’re not just for school children.
Lake Burley Griffin is an attractive centrepiece for the city and in summer must provide a beautiful location for rowing and other boating activities.
Canberra food and wine producers
Food and wine lovers are looking to connect with producers, and this is now so much more possible, not only due to the markets, but an increasing number of producers opening their doors. The Poacher’s Pantry at nearby Hall is another old favourite, as is La Barra Olive Oils and Vinegars, whose first harvest was in the late 1990s – they now supply a lot of local restaurants with their high quality oils, some blended from their eight varieties of olives for year-round consistency.
As Charlie de Nanteuil, Founder and Head Grower explains “Canberrans are motivated to buy local produce at markets…. They like the market experience and meeting the farmers… (and) are really conscious of what they buy… eat, where it comes from and the quality…. The food culture here is great. Canberrans take their lifestyle seriously here and food is a big part of that.”
He also says that markets are a great place to listen and get feedback, and new products such as blood plum vinegar have come about because of the markets.
Other producers featured in The Capital Cookbook II are French Black Truffles of Canberra, and for wine the internationally acclaimed Clonakilla Wines and Pialligo with their smokehouse, Farmhouse Restaurant and new cellar door (Pialligo is also the name of a region of orchards and nurseries close to Canberra Airport, where many residents spend weekend time. There’s even a redwood forest!). Producer, food and chefs are beautifully photographed by Tess Godkin, adding to the book’s appeal.
Tim Kirk, Chief Winemaker at Clonakilla has this to say about the region: “20-30 years ago people were a bit suspicious about Canberra wines. There was a time when we exported much more… but that’s changed. There has been an upswing of interest in the local community … customers are … interested in what we’re doing and very proud of it… people are now looking for more elegant wines (that are) more adaptable for food.”
Capital Wines has become a social media legend, with wines featured on many Canberra restaurant wine lists and in the Parliamentary gift store. Their cellar door is at Grazing restaurant, whose Head Chef Kurt Neumann contributes two recipes to The Capital Cookbook II (Cauliflower Risotto with Hazelnut Burnt Butter and Fresh Truffle; Sticky Ginger Pudding with Poached Nashi Pears, Soy Milk Sorbet and Cardamom Anglaise). VisitVineyards.com lists around 100 other wine producers in the Capital Country wine region (plus craft breweries and more), here »
The recipes and restaurants
And so to the recipes. Some others I’m keen to try out (with contributing restaurant names) include:
- Organic Mixed Beetroot Salad with Feta and Macadamias (The Conservatory Restaurant)
- Tomato Tart Tatin with Spanish Onion Jam and Goat’s Cheese (Urban Pantry)
- Blue Mackerel Wrapped in Prosciutto with Artichoke Purée and Pappardelle (Flint in the Vines)
- Aromatic Thai Quail with Chilli Relish (Mork’s)
- Roasted Guinea Fowl (if I can get some!) with Baked Bramley Apples and Juniper Berry Games Jus (The Conservatory Restaurant)
- Smoked Lamb Cutlets with Winter Vegetables, Potato Dumplings and Red Wine Jus (Poacher’s Pantry)
- Italian Slow-cooked Lamb Shoulder (Mezzalira)
- Lamb Loin with Braised Lamb Belly and Salt-baked Turnips (Pulp Kitchen)
- Celeriac Ravioli with Oxtail Ragu
- Venison Loin with Chickpea Puree, Beetroot Marshmallow and Beetroot Hazelnut Dressing (Courgette)
- Zorana Grbic’s own Osso Bucco with Pappardelle and Gremolata
- Fig Frangipane Tart with Sweet Potato Ice Cream and White Chocolate Almonds (On Red)
- Quince Frangipane Pudding with Honey Whisky Ice Cream (Rubicon)
Working it off in the Canberra surrounds
After all this delicious food, there’s another activity that surrounds the ‘bush capital’ in necessary abundance – walks in the bush and countryside. An hour west of the city lies the Brindabella Ranges – snowcapped in winter, concealing trout in its streams and rivers for some relaxing summer fishing – and even closer is Tidbinbilla nature reserve on the edge of Namadgi National Park, where you can get out and enjoy nature at any time of year. (See our review of Best Bush, Town and Village Walks in and around the ACT)
Skiing is not far away in winter, and in spring there are garden festivals too.
Canberra is easy to get about, with the best roads in the country too – it’s so easy to hire a car and go exploring (and within the city, public transport is reportedly excellent). Accommodation options seem plentiful online, to suit all budgets. I was there in a Parliamentary sitting week and had no trouble at all – again at prices that were refreshing after Sydney, Melbourne and even Hobart. Apparently the shopping is also excellent – I wasn’t there long enough to find out.
So next time you are thinking of a wine and food getaway, with some culture and countryside thrown in, look no further than Australia’s national capital – you might be surprised at how far it’s come in the food, wine and hospitality scene. Thanks to Stefan for opening our eyes and tempting the nation’s tastebuds! His book is a great introduction to Canberra's culinary temptations.
The Capital Cookbook II by Stefan Posthuma-Grbic is published by Quicksand Publishing (Broulee, NSW, 2013; hc 180 pp) and retails in Australia for RRP $49.95. It is available in various Canberra bookstores and restaurants, or online from the National Library of Australia bookstore here »
$2 from the sale of each book is donated to Ovarian Cancer Research.
- Canberra (ACT)
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