Top cafes in the capital

Everywhere you look there seems to be a new cafe opening up, tucked into a back alley or in the bottom floor of new apartment blocks.

The thing that's different about the recent crop is that many are owner-run enterprises, and in some cases they represent a long-held dream to run a casual but really good eatery, that stays well away from tablecloths and hushed service.

This growth is a very visible part of the recent evolution of Canberra, and displays the fantastic diversity of the people who live here, and an increasing range of options about the way we eat and drink and live our lives.

Loading Zone

22 Odgers Lane, city
6248 6400

After three years of negotiation Loading Zone kicked off laneway dining in Canberra when it opened in Odgers Lane earlier this year. And what a relief that someone, in this case the Cataldo family of hairdressing fame, finally pushed this through so we can all enjoy the urban piazza that Loading Zone inhabits. What started as a hole in the wall with a few tables now has a tent arrangement with heaters, and the kind of enthusiasm and great, simple food that you could eat every day. Grab a croissant or Portuguese tart to go, or sit down and scoop up every mouthful of the spectacular stirred eggs with salmon. Fresh pasta and home-made Italian pork sausages are menu ballast, and pasta is available with salad and bread for a few extra dollars. The Italian menu changes frequently (check the Facebook page) but don't miss the slow-simmered lamb for dinner.


21 Lonsdale Street, Braddon
62626 8819

White tiles as far as you can see and an open kitchen and bakery that runs almost the length of the place are the central features of this terrific new bakery cafe. Depending when you visit you might see loaves being weighed and kneaded or savoury pastries being rolled up. You'll certainly see your lunch being made. Perhaps a smoked trout salad, or a warming bowl of leek soup, served, you guessed it, with a great hunk of hyper crusty bread. And they bake all day, so a fresh loaf can be grabbed on the way home.

Lonsdale Street Roasters

3/7 and 23 Lonsdale Street, Braddon (and soon at the Kingston foreshore)
6156 0975

Who can say no to a baby toasted Elvis (banana and Nutella) or a stack of waffles with a house-roasted coffee. Add serious paninis - pulled pork with two kinds of chilli relish and lime are sensational and huge - and you'll understand why this happening cafe is all the rage. Stroll up to 23 and you can see the roasting underway. As it heats up, grab a true iced coffee, proper strong but not bitter coffee over ice, with a twist of orange, and a little bottle of cold milk to add, cinnamon or hazelnut syrup to sweeten. Lonsdale Street is spreading around the city, also into the new waterfront promenades of the Kingston Foreshore. You'd have to credit these guys with changing the face of coffee in Canberra.


Two Before Ten

40 Marcus Clarke Street, city
6162 1260

Getting a table on a weekend morning can be competitive as Two before Ten pulls in locals attracted by the friendly vibe, good coffee and decent eats. At $6.50, a "bear" is a lovely little boiled egg, skinned and sitting on a good toasted rye muffin and avocado. Juices are made fresh, and fruit salad is big, good and creamy with a dollop of citrus mascarpone. Tunisian baked eggs are lovely in a rich tomato, eggplant and zucchini base, served in an individual, and wiped clean with the slice of good toast. These guys are also behind the Walt and Mazz shipping container bar that you'll find popping up around the place.

Paydirt Eatery

108 Wallace Street, Braidwood, NSW
0404 026 616

Paydirt was opened in a tiny historic space in Braidwood's main street last year by Zac Kadri, who lives across the road above the Albion Hotel and gardens out the back. It is a great all-day place for lunch or dinner. You don't get a whole lot of choice in the Asian-inspired menu, with usually no more than one or two things on offer from the tiny kitchen at the end of the room. Ginger and mushroom dumplings with cracked egg on rice, the dumplings freshly made, with a runny egg, coriander and a pile of rice is a very satisfying lunch dish, or there's crispy lamb dumplings done the same way with yoghurt and chilli oil; and chicken and corn soup, loaded with chicken from nearby Araluen, plus cabbage, bean sprouts and coriander and sweet spice.


Canberra Glassworks, 11 Wentworth Avenue, Kingston
6162 0793

The best burger place in town, Brodburger has a smart American diner look about it and wisely keeps things super simple - just a few burgers, generous in size, with good simple ingredients and no attempt at "gourmet" additions. The standard burger is a half-pound beef patty, flame-grilled, with lettuce, tomato, onion, and homemade aioli and tomato relish, your choice of brie, blue, Swiss or cheddar. You can order salmon, or bacon and eggs, or a vegetarian option instead and that's about it. Grab a beer or a glass of wine from just a couple of basic options, or bring your own, and enjoy the vibe here as you look out on a frenzy of activity on the Kingston Foreshore. Brodburger might have been here first, but the rest of town is moving in fast.

Sweet Bones

Lonsdale Street, Traders Mall, 27 Lonsdale Street, Braddon
0413 067 890

Sweet Bones is a tiny vegan cafe in the back of Traders Mall in Lonsdale Street, run by a young couple who live this lifestyle: he is a serious BMXer, she is an American chef, both vegan and sharing what they love about their diet in this cafe set up last year with the help of crowd-funding. It's primarily a day-time cafe, but open also on Friday nights for early dinner, with just one dish each night. You might find roast vegies, with quinoa salad, miso-glazed tofu and seaweed salad. Or sweet potato and almond tacos with tempeh, guacamole, and black bean salsa. You'll fine green smoothies, raw cheesecake, and other food for rawists. Daytime, vegan cupcakes, brownies, sandwiches and wraps.

Good Brother

1/20 Challis Street, Dickson
6162 0817

Adding a much-needed cool and friendly cafe tucked behind Dickson's Asian strip has paid off as this lovely local eatery gains in popularity and range. Open at 6.30am each week day, it catches all the locals with smooth Campos coffee, great egg and bacon rolls, and, at the fancier end, salmon frittata with chive creme fresh. A small range of rolls are stuffed full of good quality ingredients, and make sure you grab a homemade lamington if there are any left.

>> Catriona Jackson is chief executive of peak lobby group Science and Technology Australia and a food writer.

>> With additional reporting from Kirsten Lawson.