Bar Rochford opened in March last year on the top floor of the historic Melbourne Building in the central suburb of Civic
Credit: Courtesy of Bar Rochford

If Canberra’s greatest irony is that, for a city largely comprised of public servants, you often can’t get good service to save your life then surely its saving grace is that there are some ‘hot’ and ‘cool’ places in which to escape the bracing cold and stifling heat that envelops the city during the winter and summer months.

Now that Spring has well and truly sprung and temperatures – which dropped to as low as minus 8.7 degrees this past winter – have achieved a perfect balnce, now is the perfect time to plan a visit to the nation’s capital and those cafés, bars and restaurants that are singlehandedly raising the bar. So much so that they’ve landed the city in third place on Lonely Planet’s 2018 ‘Best in Travel: Top Cities’ list, revealed earlier today. Here’s a necessary drinking and dining hit list for your next weekend away.

The Cupping Room are quick to signpost that they are not in any way affiliated with Canberra’s infamous after dark trade. A preamble written across both the chalkboards adorning the bright interior and the menus alike at this Civic establishment declares as much. They need not worry. The near faultless offering at this concept café from the team behind the award-winning Ona Coffee – Canberra’s largest specialty coffee roaster; there’s another Ona outpost in the southern suburb of Manuka – more than speaks for itself, with a winter menu that runs a gamut from virtuous chia puddings to indulgent morcilla, charred leek and twice cooked potato cradled in a bed of velveteen celeriac purée. The coffee too is as good as anything you’d find in certain other cities who pride themselves on endless permutations of the brew (Ona’s head barista recently placed second at the World Brewers Championship).

Likewise at Barrio, one of many holes in the redeveloped walls lining Lonsdale Street in Braddon – an artisanal enclave immediately north of Canberra’s city centre – where you’ll make like many do each day and take comfort in warming toasties prepared using Canberra’s ubiquitous Three Mills sourdough. They’re almost as good as the dog watching which, par for the course, is excellent.

Also try
A. Baker, where you should come for the takeaway baked goods or dine in on the slow eggs, provided you’re willing to wait for a hen to lay them; Silo, a Canberran institution whose pastries are unanimously adored, and served (sometimes begrudgingly) with a smile.

A dish of morcilla and fried egg on brioche with seasonal winter vegetables at The Cupping Room
Credit: Shot on iPhone

It would be impossible to address Canberra’s newfound status as an epicurean destination without invoking the name New Acton. The inner city precinct anchored by both Hotel Hotel and the local iteration of the QT hotel brand has become inseparable from the well-trod narrative that is the city’s cultural renaissance. Two venues, both alike in greenery, in fair New Action are worthy of your attention here. The first, the café come bar come restaurant at the heart of the verdant Hotel Hotel, is Monster; the other is Mocan and Green Grout, a corner café that could easily be mistaken for the nearby community garden were it not for the beautiful plates of fresh, local produce-driven food (they’re made by local ceramicists) coming out of its kitchen.

Both have known the touch of chef Sean McConnell in the past; the chef famously took his yabby jaffle to the hotel’s kitchen and quickly garnered a reputation nationwide for elevating the hotel sandwich to godlike status with its buttery combination of yabby flesh, horseradish, crème fraîche and Gruyère cheese. This winter, Terra Preta truffles from nearby Braidwood and sharp parmesan custard have taken over the toastie – a hard to beat combination when paired with a spot by the many in-the-round fireplaces and a glass of wine from the region, perhaps the Mada pinot gris or a Clonakilla shiraz from neighbouring Murrumbateman. And as of last month, Mocan and Green Grout are the proud owners of a brand new alcohol license, promising “a beautiful wine list to match our menu.” More to come.

Also try
XO, a vibey neighbourhood take on South East Asian with all the right kitsch inflections and an excellent ‘Asian bolognese’; and Lazy Su, another recent, atmospheric addition to Lonsdale Street with interiors redolent of Supernormal and a drinks-friendly menu that brings together the best of Korean, American and Japanese share plates.

Mocan and Green Grout’s all day dining is worth seeking out, whatever the weather
Credit: Shot on iPhone 

Bar Rochford is dangerously good. It’s tempting to draw parallels between the bar, which opened in March last year in the historic Melbourne Building, and the best of those in the city from which the building takes its name. To do so, however, would be a disservice to a bar that’s international in its scope and distinctly Canberran at heart. A globetrotting wine list is best paired with a spot by the fireplace or in the beautiful arch window – both will beautifully illuminate whatever you choose to order from a concise menu of bar snacks that could easily transition into a comfortable dinner for two or more in the booths that line the far wall. Whichever seasonal variation on haloumi that the kitchen is dishing up will place you in good stead with whatever’s going by the glass on the specials board, be it a Georgian orange wine made in terracotta pots using the traditional methods of the oldest wine producing region in the world or something decidedly more local. If choosing proves too difficult, place yourself in the capable hands of the exceptionally friendly and well-versed staff. You can’t lose.

Some of those staff have popped up at the recently-opened second iteration of Pulp Kitchen, which was recently given a new lease on life by the (intimidatingly young) team behind eightysix. Expect European bistro fare with an Australian twist: don’t miss the perfectly pearlescent “small risotto” made with pipi juice and dashi; or the moreish foie gras parfait with brioche and cumquats. Then there’s Saskia Beer’s organic roast chicken with kale and anchovy – it’s like a winning haute take on the classic weeknight chicken dinner. Winner, winner.

Also try
Otis, with its dark wood and daring dishes, is a very welcome successor to its beer hall past (stay for the exceptional desserts); Temporada, the sister venue to the consistently top-ranking Aubergine, for its pan-European small plates and determined service intent on selling you a magnum, whether you’d like one or not.

Pulp Kitchen’s risotto may be small by name but it delivers big on flavour, its arborio rice cooked perfectly in a combination of pipi juice and dashi broth
Credit: Instagram/Courtesy of Pulp Kitchen

Tile and cover image: Courtesy of Bar Rochford