The Good Food Guide 2019: Chefs hats for Canberra restaurants

Karen Hardy
Spiced cauliflower with pomegranate and goat curd at Eightysix in Braddon
Spiced cauliflower with pomegranate and goat curd at Eightysix in Braddon Photo: Jamila Toderas

There’s been plenty of movements in the Canberra listings in this year’s Good Food Guide and while the nation’s capital is back to only one two-hatted restaurant - Ben Willis’s Aubergine - three new venues have each picked up one hat.

Funky Thai eatery Morks has been awarded one hat, as have James Mussillon’s Courgette and the popular city destination Bar Rochford.

Fairfax’s national food and drink writer Callan Boys, who led the Canberra review team, says Canberra continues its rise as one of the most exciting places to eat in the country.

“I could eat at Bar Rochford every night and never become bored, with Louis Couttoupes’s hyper-seasonal cooking and its ever-changing selection of natural wine,” Boys says.

While the “politician-baiting dinosaurs are still around, shilling frozen steaks and overpriced plonk”, he says there is a vibrancy to Canberra’s dining scene that becomes brighter each year.

The Good Food Guide Awards 2018

The best of Australian food is celebrated at the second national Good Food Guide Awards in Melbourne.

“The region is a resource of incredible produce and chefs understand that less manipulation can lead to greater deliciousness. There’s not much that can be done to enhance a beautiful cool climate carrot or mushroom.”

Venues which retain their one-hat status include Braddon’s Eightysix and Italian and Sons, and Ben Willis’s city venue Temporada.

Ottoman Cuisine in Barton lost a hat, and now has one. Other restaurants to lose hats from 2018 include Chairman and Yip, Lilotang, Monster Kitchen and Bar and Otis Dining Hall but all still get a special mention in the guide along with East Hotel's colourful Italian restaurant Agostini's. Pulp Kitchen had one hat in 2018 but closed down in July.

Advertisement

Boys says while the food in Canberra restaurants is the best it’s ever been, across the board the level of service was down.

“Italian and Sons, Aubergine, Temporada, and Rochford were all en pointe, but many restaurateurs could do well to invest in better staff training on the floor,” he says.

“A knocked glass of wine here and there is excusable - accidents happen - but customers should never have to wait more than two minutes to be acknowledged by staff when they enter a venue, an occurrence I witnessed on more than one occasion.”

Over the past six months, senior members of the Good Food Guide reviewing team have flown to every capital city in Australia and anonymously visited hundreds of restaurants.

Over the past 40 years, annual guides in Sydney and Melbourne (and more recently Brisbane) have celebrated the city's finest restaurants, awarding iconic hats to the chefs leading the way in establishing Australia as one of the great food locations of the world.

Canberra’s hatted restaurants - what the guide says:

Two hats

Aubergine, Griffith

Destination dining spotlighting the region’s best produce.

Aubergine owner Ben Willis.

Aubergine owner Ben Willis. Photo: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Dramatic sheer black curtains, Scandi-style furniture and wine service that never misses a beat make this much-loved fine diner the sleekest spot for a big night out in the capital.

Wildflowers bring warmth to the room and owner/chef Ben Willis brings comfort to the table with a refined four-course menu that’s high on flavour and low on gimmicks.

One hat

Bar Rochford, city

A smart, handsome bar for dinner and dancing.

Bar Rochford, Canberra.

Bar Rochford, Canberra. Photo: Jamila Toderas

"Zibibbo upstairs" touts a blackboard outside this bar walking a line between elegance and grunge. It’s a direction worth following for the wine, of course, but also to find Bob Dylan vinyl, bottle-green booths and a fireplace made for drinking vermouth near. Assured cooking makes this a dining destination, too – at least until 10pm, when the soul music starts thumping.

Courgette, city

Modern European fine dining with a sense of occasion.

Courgette owner and chef James Mussillon.

Courgette owner and chef James Mussillon. Photo: Rohan Thomson

Chef James Mussillon has sold his second venue to put all his focus and energy into this city fine diner, where it’s all about relaxed comfort. Charming young waitstaff know their way around the menu and are eager to please with a wine match.

Eightysix, Braddon

Smart, social, casual, confident: a go-to eatery for those in the know.

Eightysix owner Gus Armstrong, right.

Eightysix owner Gus Armstrong, right. Photo: Supplied

Five years on and Eightysix’s number still comes up. Address? In on-the-rise Braddon. Architecture? Timelessly modern (timber chair legs on polished concrete, tan leather banquette, louvred glass, undressed black tables). Ambience? Think designer handbags under the bar, swinging among an inner-city crowd who get the clever, snappy menu (salt and vinegar potato scallops, say) that still pops and sizzles.

Italian and Sons, Braddon

A buzzy, well-oiled trattoria in the heart of Braddon.

Pasquale Trimboli, owner of Italian and Sons, Braddon has retained his one hat.

Pasquale Trimboli, owner of Italian and Sons, Braddon has retained his one hat. Photo: Melissa Adams

Braddon was a sleepy part of the city before this chic tratt opened a decade ago and jolted Lonsdale Street to life. Date-nighters, birthday revellers and Canberra’s social elite still can’t

get enough of the joint, meaning you’ll absolutely need a reservation to experience its classic Italian cooking at the weekend.

Morks, Kingston

Modern Thai that doesn’t take itself too seriously

Morks 0wners, Benn, left and Mork Ratanakosol.

Morks owners, Benn, left and Mork Ratanakosol. Photo: Graham Tidy

There’s a wall of wine at the entrance, a mural up the back and not much else when it comes to interiors at this mod-Thai restaurant. Instead, the food does all the talking at the lively Foreshore eatery. Brothers Mork and Benn Ratanakosol have put their second-generation restaurateur spin on a menu that’s to-the-point and doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Ottoman Cuisine, Barton

Expect old-fashioned hospitality and new-fashioned Turkish food.

Ottoman Cuisine owner Serif Kaya.

Ottoman Cuisine owner Serif Kaya. Photo: Elesa Kurtz

The banquet trade is strong at this powerbroker favourite in the Parliamentary Triangle, where private rooms might facilitate a leadership challenge by day and birthday celebration in the evening. A sprawling dining room with views to an ornate courtyard and water lilies makes Ottoman a popular choice for date-nighters too, and knowledgeable staff are ready to rise to any occasion and tailor menus on request.

Temporada, city

Refined everyday eating in a chic, relaxed setting

Ben Willis and Dave Young at Temporada.

Ben Willis and Dave Young at Temporada. Photo: Karleen Minney

From the team behind fine diner Aubergine, this come-as-you-are bar and restaurant provides dishes than never trade substance for style. A plaid-clad waiter hangs jackets and suggests cocktails, and the central bar is a perfect perch for margaritas and crumbed oysters on a bun with kohlrabi remoulade.

The national Good Food Guide 2019, in partnership with Citi and Vittoria, is available from newsagencies, bookstores and via thestore.com.au/goodfood, $29.99.