Spanning classic Italian, Japanese omakase and hometown hero wineries, the capital’s vibrant dining scene is challenging its political pomp. Larissa Dubecki and Faith Campbell highlight the best restaurants in Canberra to put on your radar.
The capital hasn’t always been a gourmet getaway. It’s the seat of our government and home to great cultural institutions but finding a good cup of coffee? That wasn’t so easy. In recent years, however, a host of talented locals have opened up cafés, breweries, restaurants and small bars in that could easily compete in bigger cities.
Surrounded by farmland and with a growing multicultural population, the ACT is today home to eateries that celebrate local, seasonal and regional fare and now it’s winning hearts – as well as hats. Whether you’re in town for a weekend away or an extended stay, here’s where to have your fill at the best restaurants in Canberra.
For coffee: Cupping Room
Perched on the edge of NewActon in Civic, the flagship café for the city’s largest specialty roasters Ona Coffee is a place to please even the most serious caffeine nerd. The broad Scandi-styled coffee shop serves the A-Z of bean-based brews - you can even try cascara tea, made with the cherry from the coffee tree – while an all-day brunch menu of comfort-driven classics including avo on toast and hotcakes keeps energy levels pinging. The Canberra coffee diaspora should also put on their radar Ona’s Highroad café in Dickson, plus city centre newcomer ARC, Intra in Campbell and Redbrick in Fyshwick for a quality cuppa.
1/1-13 University Avenue, Canberra
For brunch: Muse
Sophisticated yet homey, this hotel diner has perfected the lazy mid-morning meal. Settle on the leather bench along one wall or out on the deck and order a local Red Brick espresso – or a glass of bubbles – with the baked breakfast soufflé. The attached bookshop also hosts literary events.
69 Canberra Avenue, Griffith
For all day dining: Rebel Rebel
This eatery from chef Sean McConnell (ex Monster Kitchen and Bar) is all salvaged timber, raw concrete and matt black finishes – but the stripped-back interiors contrast with a jam-packed menu. From cacao pops (the restaurant’s take on Coco Pops) in the morning to croqueta, conift duck and cider at dinner, the food is flavoursome, creative and best shared.
23 Marcus Clarke Street, New Acton
Best sushi: Mu Omakase
The influential restaurant group behind Canberra stalwarts Chairman & Yip and Lanterne Rooms is aiming surprisingly small with its latest salvo, a refined omakase restaurant with seats for just 10 diners at a time around its glossy L-shaped counter. From this stage set, sushi master Shinya Nakano deftly prepares an 18-course menu that might include delicacies such as Hokkaido scallop brushed with shiso garlic butter and sake-poached WA scampi with finger lime and salted cod roe.
Constitution Place, 1 Constitution Avenue, Canberra
For pre-dinner drinks: Bar Rochford
Follow the sound of cheerful chatter upstairs to this cosy local with one hat and you’ll find the bright young things of the city working their way through the red, white, orange, pink and sparkling wine list. Kick back in a booth or nab a bar stool and sip a classic cocktail while a David Bowie record spins.
65 London Circuit, Canberra
Best water views: The Boat House
There’s just a footpath between this elegant pavilion-styled dining room and Lake Burley Griffin. A wraparound deck further exploits the setting but chef John Leverink’s menu does an admirable job of drawing attention back to the plate with his imaginative spin on fine dining: think black pepper barramundi with mushroom XO, followed by a nitro lemon meringue with fennel pollen.
Grevillea Park, Menindee Drive, Barton
Best hotel dining: Monster Kitchen and Bar
At hipper-than-hip hotel Ovolo Nishi, this all-day eatery and bar has become a compelling reason to visit – even when you’re not checking in. Terrazzo-crazy paving, quirky objects d’art and a soundtrack of pop classics are a worthy backdrop to a plant-based menu that showcases seasonal ACT produce, including ancient-grain ragu and the visually splendid purple cauliflower with shiitake and oyster mushrooms fried in miso butter.
Ovolo Nishi, 25 Edinburgh Avenue, Canberra
Best Euro bistro: Otis Dining Hall
There’s no better spot when you have a hankering for the classics. The aptly named dining hall sports a fit-out worthy of Habsburg royalty – all glossy wainscoting, plush leather banquettes and lighting set to moody – while the menu and wine list are proudly local yet conjure the Old World. The signature pepper steak is the go-to move, while cauliflower velouté, Pyrenees-style lamb and Basque cheesecake will transport you to the other side of the globe.
29 Jardine Street, Kingston
Best for a special occasion: Aubergine
Chef Ben Willis is a big cheese in Canberra’s restaurant world – he also operates casual diner Temporada – but his two-hatted flagship is the city’s celebration stalwart. The five-course set menu lures glitterati and politerati with its keen translation of local produce, whether that’s the minimalist charry sugarloaf cabbage with spanner crab and pomelo or a rib eye with leek, burnt onion mustard and the citrus curveball of yuzu. Throw in an award-winning wine list and sleek modern fit-out and the capital boasts none better.
18 Barker Street, Griffith
For family dining: Snapper on the Lake
If it feels like an impossible feat to keep little ones contained at a restaurant, head to this popular lakeside spot for lunch or dinner. With its crowd-pleasing menu of crumbed, grilled or battered fish and burgers and chips, as well as outdoor seating, a zero-judgement atmosphere and wine and beer list, everyone can relax.
Mariner Place, Yarralumla
Best classic Italian: Italian and Sons
When you can’t jump on a plane to Italy, a visit to this Braddon stayer is among the next best things. The warm-hearted bistro bursting with Latin brio is Canberra’s go-to for woodfired pizza and pasta that would please the most discerning nonna (potato and pecorino cappellacci with broad beans and rocket passes with flying colours). And don’t forget the cannoli. Pro tip: arrive early to celebrate aperitivo hour with an Aperol Spritz and cicchetti at Bacaro, the rear laneway bar.
7 Lonsdale Street, Braddon
Best variety: Verity Lane Market
Forget what you think of when you hear the term “food hall”. With magazine-worthy design across its indoor and outdoor seating areas, this gastro emporium opened late last year in the central heritage-listed Sydney Building. Of the six separate kitchens there’s Naples-style woodfired pizza at Pizza Artigiana, Asian street food at Ramen Daddy and Super Bao, and stylish Asian-Mod-Oz-Portuguese fusion at My Sabor. As for drinks? They’re covered at the early-1900s-styled Verity Bar.
50 Northbourne Avenue, Canberra
Best winery restaurant: Pialligo Estate
Only 15 minutes’ drive from the city centre, this jewel of the ACT’s winery scene has the restaurant to match its vineyard setting. A timber-beamed pavilion frames the bucolic views and the menu follows suit by sticking to the rustic delivery of time-honoured flavour combinations. Duck saddles up with beetroot and quince, while smoked beef-fat onions make very good sense with flank steak. There’s also a kids’ menu to keep young gourmands happy.
18 Kallaroo Road, Pialligo
Best Asian: XO
It’s a little bit Vietnamese and a little bit Malaysian, with a healthy whack of Cantonese thrown in for good measure. What this acclaimed restaurant lacks in regional focus it makes up for with full-throttle imagination: think Thai yellow curry-fried squid with the extra richness of egg yolk, a play on risotto made with shredded duck, lap cheong, goji berries and porcini mushroom ash. Or just the straight-up comfort of slow-roasted lamb ribs with a sticky plum sauce. A surprise package in a suburban shopping strip, this sleek venue is the kind of place any big city would be proud to claim as its own.
16 Iluka Street, Narrabundah
Best Japanese: Lilotang
Tokyo cool meets Canberra chic at this upmarket izakaya where interiors are all Zen minimalism meets neon meets manga-style art. Food covers the gamut, from a raw selection (Wagyu tartare gets its groove on with gochujang sauce and onion chips), to fried bar snacks (popcorn shrimp with chilli mayonnaise) and skewers from the robata charcoal grill. After dinner, head to the dedicated bar for the weekly-changing Sake-Tini and other Japanese-themed cocktails.
Burbury Hotel, 1 Burbury Close, Barton
Best wine bar: Corella Restaurant & Bar
This elegant newcomer sits opposite its older sibling, mod-pub Assembly but flaunts an intimate vibe that’s a world removed from its bustling alma mater. The archways and soft blue-green wainscoting are reminiscent of a Parisian salon, while the modern menu with its signature use of local native ingredients will bring you back to Australia. Think Jerusalem artichoke spaghetti with coral mushroom and saltbush or spatchcock with prunes and desert lime.
14 Lonsdale Street, Braddon
For a classic dinner: Pilot
Whether reframing classics (cabbage e pepe) or rewriting the book (potato bacon balls), every dish at this on-trend yet chilled-out diner with one hat is as delicious as it is innovative. An all-Australian wine list welcomes regular international guest producers and the daily changing chef’s menu helps cure any option anxiety.
1 Wakefield Gardens, Ainslie
For something special: Temporada
Chef Ben Willis has won two hats at his fine diner Aubergine, a 15-minute drive away, so it’s no surprise that the food at this relaxed one-hatted spin-off is sublime. Proudly championing regional produce, Temporada boasts a Spanish vibe, from the wine list to the dinner set menu – think prawn croquetas and chargrilled seafood - or hit it for lunch for a superior cheeseburger that features the pride of the territory: bacon from the smokehouse at Pialligo Estate.
15 Moore Street, Canberra
For craft beer: BentSpoke Brewing Co
As urban as an urban brewery gets, this shrine to craft beer is in the heart of buzzing Braddon. Pouring up to 18 frothies on any given day – almost all made on site – this brew pub presents you with the challenge of choosing between a Barley Griffin pale ale or the hoppy Sprocket. Family friendly, it has mac-and-cheese balls or chicken and chips for the tykes.
38 Mort Street, Braddon
For ice cream: Spilt Milk Bar
There’s no crying over spilt milk with the Canberra outpost of the all-conquering gelateria from Orange in NSW, which opened in Dickson at the end of last year. Classic milk bar stylings make the perfect canvas for the all-natural artisan ice cream that see local produce and a whole lot of flair combine in flavour combinations including brown bread and jam, milk and raspberry and the crowd-pleasing salted caramel. One ice cream is never enough, so take your tastebuds on a city-wide whirl to the award winning Pure Gelato in Mitchell and the dairy free-friendly Gelatissimo in the city centre.
Unit 70/2 Cape Street, Dickson