Eating out in Canberra
Christmas in July at Contentious Character – Passionate, warm and personalStandard
My favourite foodie events are those where I glimpse the passion of the makers. But Christmas in July at Contentious Character Winery last weekend, was so much more.
Packed with passion, the night was the clearly the culmination of a huge effort from Tony, Ross, Ben and Jeremy, the team behind Contentious Character…..
….and Felicity whose Executive Events Solutions, pulled it all together.
The wine flowed generously, matched to three fine courses from the kitchen of Chef Tom Stoneham…
A glass of Pinot Gris 2009 on arrival (my favourite of the night) was followed by..
Entrée: Parsnip and local chestnut soup (delicious) paired Glass of Riesling 2005 or the Whisky cured salmon with chive hollandaise with Chardonnay 2016 or the 2016 Pinot Gris…
Main: Roast Turkey with all the trimmings (and Union 2008), Terrine of local nuts and mushrooms (with 2004 Chardoannay (very nice!) or 2006 Pinot Noir) or Fresh market fish, baked with vegetables and lemon verbena butter, with a glass Chardonnay 2016…
Dessert: Christmas pudding with brandy custard or Classic sherry trifle paired Glass of 2010 Sweet Patch…
…with lovely mulled white of red wine also on hand!
Mike of the Christmas Emporium had decked out the newly refreshed venue….
…. and live entertainment (with carols) roamed the tables.
It was professional and well done, but very personal and relaxed.
Picked up at the door, we were transported to Wamboin but the warm and freindly Kayne, supporting his partner Felicity also delivering her handwritten welcome note and goodie bag.
Most, I enjoyed the conversations and meeting both creators and the partners who support them. Like Kayne, again, who quickly changed from bus driver to wine waiter.
Passionate people have such inspiring stories like Mike’s whose love of Christmas is grounded in deeply meaningful childhood experiences.
And speaking of inspiring stories, Can who is the passion behind Canberra Instagram photo project, The Embassy of Kindness shared his great story and treated me to an Embassy interview! I was very impressed by how a few thoughtful questions and some careful listening can not only discover a complete stranger’s meaningful story but also leave them blessed by a few minutes of self-reflection and self-kindness.
Thanks Can for the photo!
Great to catch up with fellow food bloggers on the So Frank table it was just a very lovely night, well priced at $135 for everything including the door to door service. Perfect on a cold mid-winter Canberra night.
If you missed this opportunity do keep an eye out for other events that Executive Events Solutions or Contentious Character offer, or drop by the Winery for brunch or lunch on the weekends.
Bringing the Tastes of Two Regions to Canberra! 11-13 AugustStandard
A foodie weekend exploring the wineries and produce of the Rutherglen and King Valley regions is right up there on my wishlist! So I’m very excited that those lovely wines and foods are coming to me in Canberra!
Last year’s Taste of Two Regions was brilliant! And this year I am invited again!!
I loved the wines last year, but it was meeting the people behind the wines that was really special! The stories of these passionate families was inspiring. Wendy Killeen and her daughter Natasha (the seventh generation of Stanton & Killeen wine makers) brought along their wonderful range of Muscats….
…. and Tanya from Brown Brothers Wines introduced us to the King Valley Prosecco market leaders in this wine.
This year Taste of Two Regions is promising more than 200 wines and dozens of local foods from more than 25 regional artisans at their expo at Pialligo Estate on Sunday 13th of August. There’s two sessions 10-1pm and 2-5pm. Masterclasses run all day, but these are filling fast.
There’s also a King Valley Prosecco Breakfast, an Italian Family Lunch and Dinner with the wine makers (also very popular).
My favourite wines through life have always come from the Rutherglen of King Valley regions. I can remember the first time I tasted a Durif, from Campbell’s Winery, and a time when my favourite wine was Brown Brothers’ Crouchen Riesling and how I loved All Saints Moscato.
So my expectations are high and I’m looking forward to discovering what my new favourites will be and enjoying a gorgeous relaxed day of fine wine, foods and inspiring wine-makers and producers….a taster for that long awaited foodie weekend!!!
For a quick look check the Brochure Tastes of Two Regions 2017. All the details are on the website.
Program of Events
Tastes of Two Regions Exhibition
Sunday 13 August, Pialligo Estate
Alternative Varieties Dinner with Winemakers of Rutherglen (Booked out sadly)
Saturday 12 August, Otis Dining Hall
King Valley Prosecco Breakfast
Sunday 13 August, Pialligo Estate Farmhouse Restaurant
King Valley Italian Family Lunch
Saturday 13 August, Yarralumla Woolshed
Tickets $85pp, children play and eat free
Monster Kitchen – deserves Canberra’s top spotStandard
Monster Kitchen is Good Food’s number one Canberra restaurant – and it’s not hard to see why.
Quirky and welcoming, the eclectic decor is engaging.
But it’s the food that is the real star.
Our lunch dishes were perfect! Beautiful, well priced and a unique combination of ingredients and textures.
The two of us first shared the:
Fried tofu with pickled shitake, boito soy, spring onion oil and sesame $18
Eggplant, smoked goat’s curd, katsuobushi and sesame $20
Pulled lamb shoulder with pistachio, yogurt, vine leaf, pomegranate and brik $30
I especially liked the pairing of the goat’s curd with the eggplant and the yogurt with the lamb shoulder. Thses gave the dishes a delightful creamy highlight. But I also loved the salty elements of the soy with the tofu and the katsuobushi with the eggplant.
The textured coating on the tofu had a lovely light crunch. I loved the colour and crunch of the pistachios and pomegranate with the lamb’s shoulder and the gorgeous green tinge on the tofu.
We finished with a dessert of Soft chocolate with mandarin, almond and rosemary $20.
This was also a perfect balance of textures and flavours, especially the ice-cream that came with it. The crisp garnish was excellent as was the puree garnish but the fresh mandarin would be better preserved.
Still on my wish list for another time is the Yabby Waffle $20, the Boxgum grazing beef tartare $23 and the Green tea dessert with coconut, raspberry and mille feuille $18.
I also want to try the Monster Light Lunch that offers specials like Spagetti with wagyu tongue, peas, capers, reggiano and chilli $17, Baby beet salad with wild rice, pear, walnut $16, Pork belly banh mi $13 or Boxgum grazing ham, pyengana cheddar and green tomato pickle $15 sered 12-5pm daily.
Jugiong – Canberra’s new destination dining spot?Standard
The Southern Highlands is popular for getaways from Canberra. But head west down the Hume instead and you’ll come to Jugiong, a small country town reinventing itself as a boutique foodie day trip destination.
Kim has arrived from Western Australia to open up The Sir George – country charm with style and fun.
Bringing his artisan baking secrets with him, he serves up the most wonderful Bakers Lane sourdough bread that you can team with delicious share plates and tapas.
WARM LOCAL & ITALIAN OLIVES $8
HOUSE TERRINE $16 & DUCK LIVER PARFAIT $15
KIM’S CHEESE SELECTION $18
ANCHOVY BOARD TO SHARE $40 (spanish whites, rizzoli in extra virgin & salsa picante) – as Kim promised, bread dipped in the tin was divine.
Team this with an excellent bottle of $30 Italian prosseco or some hill tops wine by the glass very reasonably priced from $7.
Or perhaps choose a main dish like the great looking fish and chips $19.
Enjoy the tables outside ….
….or one of the gorgeous heritage nooks inside.
Open 10am until late, Sir George is closed Mondays.
Then there’s also the famous Long Track Pantry next door open 8-4 every day except Tuesday and serving an interesting and varied menu.
Browse the giftwares while you’re there.
Or around the corner are a couple of lovely home decorating shops including Tillia’s brand new The Yard full of gorgeous art and flowers.
If you’d like to make a weekend of it there’s some good Airbnb options.
Also, Sir George has exciting plans for boutique accommodation which I can’t wait to see.
I have a feeling Jugiong will just go from strength to strength. It’s a great discovery for those looking for something new which is close enough to Canberra for a spontaneous country lunch or weekend getaway.
Treated to amazing Pakistani cuisine at Cooking Circles CanberraStandard
Last Sunday Cooking Circles hosted a small in-home lunch when Hina introduced us to her passion for Pakistani cuisine and treated us to a delicious lunch of dishes lovingly and delicately prepared.
Hina is originally from Pakistan where she grew up. She first learned cooking from her mother and now continues to learn from cooking shows, recipe books, the internet and shared recipes from others. Cooking is her passion and her we would say…her gift!
As Hina created and chatted we enjoyed wine and canapés and often jumped in to work along side her.
She started on the Rasmalai dessert as it needed to chill in the fridge. It is a dough of full cream milk powder, ghee and egg rolled and flattened into small discs and poached in milk and sugar reduced and infused with cardamom.
Next Hina started of the Beef Seekh Kabab, roasting and grinding spices and chickpeas to add to the mince, chill and shape for frying.
Lastly the complex dum style Chicken Biryani. Rice boiled with spices is layered with chicken and potatoes (first boiled with spices) cooked in a fragrant spiced yogurt and tomato gravy, along with crisp onion and other flavourings.
It is topped with a special essence and some orange food colour (in lieu of the expensive saffron). Lastly it goes back on the stove with the lid for all the flavours to infuse through.
Wow! What a feast we enjoyed.
And as Hina said “I can’t believe I made that”!
How lucky were we that Cathy introduced her friend Hina to Cooking Ciricles. Can’t wait for Hina to cook for us again!
Many thanks to Ruth Ellison who generously shared her photos!
Canberra’s best breakfast – Pod Food Pialligo!Standard
I’ve enjoyed the hospitality of Pod Food a couple of lovely times lately, but now, after trying their breakfast, I’m a total fan! It must be the very best spot for breakfast in Canberra!
Even in this chilly weather, the garden setting is gorgeous and beautiful from the cosy verandah.
It was just perfect on a winter Canberra weekend.
To be honest, I’d only ever heard about the $40 four course breakfast degustation which I’d flagged as a special occasion event. But now I know that there’s a whole other a la carte menu with average Canberra prices, but way beyond average dishes……in such a lovely setting, served by Sam’s top class team, I wouldn’t ever want to go anywhere else!
Hard as it was to choose just one dish (hence the allure of the degustation) I was very pleased with my Field mushroom bruschetta with miso, smoked ricotta (so good), baby spinach and sourdough $19.
But the Srambled eggs with Jamon, fennel and herb salad and Three Mills seeded sourdough $19 also looked very good.
Those who chose the Potato and bacon wrapped egg with salt baked potato, pecorino and capsicum relish were delighted, $20.
And for those times that you just want something light, the $12 Three Mills seeded sourdough toast with Pialligo honey, preservatives and whipped butter was perfect.
Even though we were just coming for breakfast, Sam called to check special diet needs and confirm the booking. There’s nothing ordinary about breakfast at Pod!
And, you won’t believe this, if you have the Canberra Entertainment Book, there’s even a 25% discount!
This is fine dining standard at mid range prices!
Pialligo Estate – excellent for lunch in the Garden PavillionsStandard
Pialligo Estate is one of my three favourite Canberra spots for fine dining.
It is blessed by the most gorgeous setting, so close to town.
And Pialligo Estate does food and wine so well, enjoying it’s own vineyard, winery and smokehouse.
I especially love the Garden Pavillions that truly make the most of Pialligo Estate’s assets.
So I was especially pleased to be there to try a group set menu lunch, a new experience for me at Pialligo.
Our delicious meal began with…
Three Mills Sourdough, Pialligo Estate Olive Oil
Pialligo Salmon Gravlax, Dill Pickles
Burrata, Early Season Tomatoes & Rocket Pesto
Smokehouse Meats, Condiments
Spit Holmbrae Chicken, Pazanella
Whole Roasted Lamb Shoulder & Chickpeas
Potatoes in Olive Oil, Rosemary
Leaves in Aged Vinegar
…..and finished with….
Cheese Platter & Condiments
Vanilla Panacotta with Coffee & Chocolate
This pannacotta was the most lovely I’ve ever had and the star of the meal.
I will need to enjoy that again!
The set menu we enjoyed is excellent value at $70 per person for three courses with sides and cheese platter
This was beautifully complimented by a great selection of wines
I do love all the innovative things Pialligo Estate gets up to.
They are currently renovating the Farmhuse Restaurant and Rohan has more plans in mind.
The new Masterclasses are on my wish list.
So exciting to see the offerings from Pialligo Estate constantly evolving with new delights.
Unpacking the Indian Lunchbox with Cooking Circles Canberra and Joy Indian RestaurantStandard
This week Cooking Circles Canberra‘s hosted their biggest ever event at Joy Indian Restaurant – Unpacking the Indian Lunchbox.
Shafique and his lovely wife Farhana, proud owners of the recently opened Joy Indian Restaurant, generously welcomed over 50 Canberra women and taught and prepared some of the dishes that go into the Indian lunchbox.
Some had come along last year to Shafique’s Cooking Circles Bangladeshi workshop at Taste of Bangladesh in Manuka. Last year it was delicious so Cooking Circles regulars were expecting equally wonderful food from Shafique this time.
But before we started cooking, we needed to know the amazing story of the Indian Lunchbox….
Mumbai has an incredibly efficient and economical lunch delivery system that is over 125 years old.
Six days a week, 5,000 Dabbawallahs collect over 200,000 home cooked meals, deliver them to offices and then return the lunchbox or dabba to the cook at home charging only $10 a month.
It all started in 1890 when Mahadeo, like many others, arrived in Bombay seeking to make his fortune.
Mahadeo quickly realised that those who did have work, found it particularly tricky to eat the kind of home cooked lunch they wanted.
It was hard for the home cook to have the rice, bread and curry ready by 7am when their menfolk left for work and if they did get up super early, it would all be cold by lunch time.
So Mahadeo recruited 100 men and started the now famous Bombay lunch delivery system.
This is how it works. Office workers leave home around around 7 o’clock…
….when their wives, sisters and mothers are busy cooking.
Then the Dabbawallahs start work around 8:30 after a quick road side Chai with their mates.
They are easily recognisable by their white cotton Kurta pyjamas and their Gandhi style cap.
Dabbawallahs are organised into groups of 25 who work together all their working lives.
If someone leaves, they recruit a friend of relative, which means that most Dabbawallahs are from the town of Pune. It also means they are great friends!
About 9 o’clock each Dabba wallah picks up around 30 different lunches from home cooks and then by bike takes them to the nearest train station….
…. where they get coded and sorted by another Dabbawallah who loads them onto the train.
Then they are taken by another Dabbawallah to the end point station.
The lunch delivery system all depends on Mumbais amazing railways, and timing is tight to fit with the train timetable.
There’s about 30 seconds to load or unload at stations.
Needless to say, no Dabbawallah gets to eat his own lunch until well after everyone else.
The lunchboxes are often carried in wooden crates on Dabbawallahs heads.
The coding system uses colours shapes and numbers.
The code identifies the Dabbawallahs at each stage of the process, the collection neighbourhood, office building and floor. The colour of the bag identifies the office worker.
At the end station, a local Dabbawallahs collects the lunchbox and delivers it to the right person in the right office by 12:30. Mistakes are incredibly rare, 1 in 8,000.
The office worker enjoys a lovingly cooked home made meal just the way his wife, mother or sister knows he likes it!
Then at 5pm it all happens in reverse. And the dabba or Lunchbox gets safely delivered back to the home cook.
The dabba wallahs also have started a system where any uneaten food can be identified by a sticker and taken to feed those in need, all at no cost to the client. This is a service to the community by the Dabbawallahs.
Dabbawallahs consider their work to be worthy and noble. They are serving God by delivering healthy, nourishing food and will be blessed.
And to it was to Shafique who told us more about the foods that go into the Dabba!
We tried our hand at rolling roti and learnt to cook it in our home frypan.
We also learnt to cook lentil vegetable rice….
….and Chicken Kadai all typical dishes that might be found in many an Indian lunchbox!
And finally we all sat down to enjoy a fabulous meal together.
We all left a great evening with new friendships, new recipes and new experiences!
Many thanks to Kirsty Young for her photos.
Check out this 3-minute video that explains everything about these amazing lunch boxes
Catch ‘The Lunchbox’ movie free to watch on SBS On Demand.
Photo sources http://sonyclassics.com/thelunchbox/dates/ and
Darbar, Braddon – My new top pick for Indian food in Canberra!Standard
When owner Vinay invited me to come and road test Darbar’s food I was skeptical.
So I asked Vinay to tell me – what makes Darbar different and why would people choose Darbar ahead of the many other Indian restaurants in Canberra?
But, Vinay kept telling me to let the food speak for itself. And he also mentioned that I might want to call in some friends as he wanted me to taste a whole feast of Darbar’s dishes.
I’m so glad I did (and so were my lucky friends) as we were quickly transported from this unassuming Lonsdale Street eatery to a bliss of sophisticated, complex flavours wrapped around, stuffed and infused through tender, succulent meats and carried by creamy, rich and full flavoured sauces. As Glenn, a local Braddonite told me, he dines at Darbar several times a week and could happily just enjoy the sauces and breads they are so wonderful.
It’s actually very hard to pick favourites from our feast. For the first time ever, I can say, every dish is a true winner. And very happily, the menu is extensive, so trying something different each visit is definitely the way to go.
Darbar’s specialty is modern Indian fusion style so the menu features some very special unique dishes like Stuffed Zucchini Flowers, a spice marinated Tasmanian salmon fillet, Bamboo charcoal Tuna Fish , Beetroot Bonda, Prawn Vepadu and slow cooked,spiced Desi Lamb Shanks.
But Vinay also wants to do the favourites like Butter Chicken, Chicken 65 and Marsala Dosa better than anyone else – and he does!!
Then there are also the famous regional dishes that reflect Vinay’s heritage like the Gutti Vankai -baby stuffed eggplants in a dreamy cashew nut sauce and the Bezawada Railway Goat Curry (more about that later).
But let me share our amazingly delicious journey with you.
We started with the Spicy Potato Salad served complimentary to diners along with mint sauce and pappadoms.
This was my first inkling that this was no ordinary Indian restaurant. The mint sauce was thick and rich like none before and the garam marsala spicing of the potato salad had a depth and complexity that I just wasn’t expecting from this simple first course.
Then came the vegetarian entrees, first the Indo-Italian fusion Stuffed Zucchini Flowers, filled with spiced vegetables and a touch of cheese – I really did enjoy these – $13 for a serve of 4.
Followed by Darbar’s signature entree dish – Darbar Chaat, crispy spinach pakora on rice with sweet yogurt, which was the best version of Palak Papdi Chaat I’ve enjoyed and beautifully decorated with with tamarind, mint and tomato sauces – $12
Next came the Masala Dosai – a thin crisp, golden brown rice pancake rolled with spiced potato masala & served with coconut and tomato chutneys and sambar.
Now I’ve eaten many Marsala Dosas, both in Australia and India, but I can’t remember one better than this! The spicing again was careful and wonderful! I loved this too especially the fresh curry leaves $16.
Then came the non-vegetarian entrees – my favourite (and most of our table’s) was the Bamboo charcoal Tuna Fish – fresh tuna, simmered with mustard seed, pepper, garam masala, mint leaf and methi and fried with bamboo charcoal infused corn starch – just so delicious $15
Then Prawn Vepudu – King Sized prawns pan fried in spicy lentil powder, curry leaves, garam masala, cracked pepper, onions and fresh coriander – yummy – three pieces for $17
And Darbar’s Chicken 65 – (traditionally a 65 day old chicken) marinated in exotic spices, lemon juice and deep fried, tossed with curry leaf, fenugreek powder and coriander served with lemon and Spanish onion. Just as Viany promised this was the most tender, succulent and full spiced version of this dish I’ve had – $14
I loved darbar’s version of Butter Chicken – Tandoori Grilled chicken simmered in spiced butter fenugreek and kasoori methi leaves masala gravy with honey and pepper. Again this was tender, beautifully and deeply spiced and just the best! $19
The Bezawada Railway Goat Curry is named after Vinay’s home town near Hyderabad, a large railway junction and one of the many famous for serving Goat Curry. The diced goat is slowly cooked in an unusual but smooth and medium spiced garam masala flavoured with onion, cumin, fenugreek seeds and fresh curry leaves – very excellent! $21
We were wowed by the Hyderabadi Chicken Biryani – basmati rice cooked dum style with chicken, herbs and spices in a poppy seed gravy and covered in the traditional way with pastry to seal the natural flavours along with coconut milk, mint, saffron and rose water $21
The Lamb Chops were also truly beautifully tender lamb cutlets marinated in Kashmiri spices, roasted in Tandoor Oven $22 for a serve of 5.
Also very delicious was the secret recipe Desi Lamb Shanks – 8 hours slow cooked lamb shanks with whole spices, shallots, carrot, garlic cloves and tomatoes, served on a bed of potato mash $22
Another favourite of our table and a traditional regional dish was the Gutti Vankai – stuffed whole baby eggplant (Brinjal) in a ground paste of cashew, peanut, sesame and coconut cooked in the Hyderabadi style $18
I loved the Laccha Paratha bread – soft and flakey $4.50..
…but the Cheese Naan $5 was excellent too.
Vinay has done his research well, wanting to offer competitive prices that are great value for generous serve sizes (great for sharing) and even a better deal with the 15-20% discounts offered on the website.
BYO wine corkage is $3.50 per person but there’s also an extensive wine list with wine by the glass thoughtfully starting at $7
So there’s everything here from a ‘Just Feed Me’ gourmet banquet like we had, to a budget friendly under $20 dinner for two (share an entree, main, bread and rice, BYO your wine and use the discount), to a group menu for twelve under $20 a person including corkage….
3 x Stuffed Zucchini Flowers (12 pieces)
3 x Gutti Vankai
3 x Desi Lamb Shanks
3 x Butter Chicken
6 x Saffron Basmati rice
6 x Laccha Paratha
Do check out the amazing catering packages on the website that are excellent value, starting at $15 per person for three courses with sides.
And the Banquet menu looks good too…
And also consider the Tuesday to Friday lunch specials, equally great value.
The team are a warm and friendly bunch who have come together from various parts of the world with great pride and quiet dedication to serving Canberra these consistently gorgeous dishes.
Vinay from Bezawada, also owns the well regarded Darbar Restaurant in Glebe and more casual Swagath in Wentworthville. His favourites are the Bezawada Goat Curry, Chicken 65, Chicken Biriyani, Lamb Chops and Garlic Naan.
Hari is from Hyderabad so he loves the Chicken Biriyani, but also the Chicken 65, Goat Curry and Peshwari (fruit and nut stuffed) Naan.
Suraj from Nepal is head chef and his favourites are the Jal Pari Hariyali and Chicken Chat Pat.
Raja from Sri Lanka likes the Bamboo Charcoal Tuna Fish best.
Nina has joined the team from Germany and Vamsi (who missed the photo) is also from Bezawada enjoys the Gutti Vanaki – stuffed eggplant, best.
And Glenn’s favourite dish is the Prawn & Scallop Lababdar – King size prawns and scallops cooked to perfection in a delicate sauce based on fresh tomatoes, ginger and shallots, flavoured with coriander and fenugreek $21 (Glenn just gets all prawns, but you can also just have all scallops).
Everything Vinay told me was true! He has every reason to claim Darbar as the best Indian food in Canberra!
I arrived as a skeptic, but left a true believer!
Parking is easy after 6pm either in the lane behind the restaurant (also great for picking up takeway) or underneath.
Open 7 Days:
Dinner: 5:30PM to 10:00PM
Tuesday to Sunday
Lunch: 12:00PM to 2:30PM
Dinner: 5:30PM to 10:00PM
Friday & Saturday
Dinner served up to 11:00PM