It’s astonishing how much eating and sightseeing you can fit into just a couple of days if you really set your mind to it – and the folks at Canberra Tourism had really set their mind to it! Now – despite the fact that I’m a food blogger I can generally only fit in one main meal a day, but I knew I was going to need to go the extra mile on this weekend and I’m not one to wilt in the face of a challenge. After our magnificent feed at lunchtime – and a wee lie down in the afternoon – the food and wine stream of the Human Brochure was ready to hit the plates again.
One thing I remember quite strongly about our last family visit to Canberra was the difficulty we had finding somewhere decent to eat. The children were well catered for in any number of establishments, but the chap and I like to treat ourselves at mealtimes when on holiday. (To look at us, you’d think we were on holiday very frequently.) We were staying in a very flash hotel so resigned ourselves to eating there each evening as we had no idea how to find anywhere else nearby. This issue has now been largely resolved with lots of new development in the centre of the city and it is easy to find any number of great eating establishments centrally located around the Manuka area, instead of being tucked away in some obscure (to me at least) suburb.
As it turned out, we didn’t even have to go that far and were gently led across the road from Hotel Realm, to Malamay. This restaurant is the newest venture from the Chairman restaurant group, who have three establishments in Canberra and a Michelin-starred restaurant in Hong Kong. Being somewhat chilli-phobic, I was quite alarmed to read that their focus was on Sichuan food – a Chinese cuisine noted for its abundant use of chillies. I needn’t have been concerned as the chilli use seemed quite subdued, perhaps a little too much so actually, and I’m sure that those amongst us who like a little kick to their food would have been somewhat disappointed.
Pan-fried Shrimp Cake with Scallop, Spanner Crab & Cucumber Jelly
We were treated to a six course meal accompanied by some splendid wines – all locally produced from the Canberra Wine Region. The service was excellent and the meal was well presented and enjoyable, but I have to say it really didn’t kick any huge goals. The shrimp cake was a winner and the Cape Grim fillet and abalone congee was perfection, but the slow-cooked eggplant was nowhere near slow-cooked enough, and some of the other dishes lacked the promised flavour punch. I do think the Malamay might need to do just a wee bit of navel-gazing – the basics are great, but if it were to lift the bar just a little it could be fabulous.
Char Grilled Prawns with Three Chilli Relish & Hand-Made Noodles
Pork & Prawn Tortellini with Paprika, Cumin & Chilli
Slow-cooked Eggplant with Kombu & Chilli Oil Dressing
Char-grilled Cape Grim Fillet with Abalone Congee & Prawn Head Oil
Chocolate Chilli Charcoal & Yoghurt Ice Cream and Pistachio Crumbs
Our final morning in Canberra saw us head out to the lawns of Old Parliament House, which now houses the Museum of Australian Democracy, for a brilliant picnic brunch. Once again all the various Human Brochure streams were gathered and we were fed splendidly while listening to Adelaide’s own Robyn Archer – the creative mind behind our weekend – address us, followed by some remarkably witty entertainment which strangely featured, among other things, one section of our constitution set to music and sung! We had some time to wander through the halls of old Parliament House before we assembled on those famous front steps for a big group photo before splitting up again for our last jaunt for the weekend.
The Members dining room, which leads into …
the magnificently wood-panelled Members bar
Once back on our bus we headed off for the perfect end to a wonderful weekend – a trip to Jeir Creek Winery. Canberra is developing a reputation for it’s wines and now boasts over 120 wineries in the Canberra Wine Region, with 80 cellar doors. To be perfectly honest, one could argue that this is reason enough alone to warrant a visit to the nation’s capital – but of course, I’m not that shallow.
The wide, rolling view from the Jeir Creek vineyard
2013 marks the Centenary of Canberra and, to help lubricate the celebrations, the local wineries have joined forces to produce excellent example of three wine styles, a Riesling, Shiraz and a Sparkling Chardonnay Pinot Noir, that reflect the quality of the local wines. I was surprised to learn that there is a history of winemaking in the Canberra region that goes back 100 years and the three chosen styles are excellent examples of the cool climate wines produced in the region. We were treated to a tour of the winery and met some of the local winemakers, all of whom had a hand in the development of the Centenary wines which they very generously shared with us. I’m exrtraordinarily fond of a Riesling and the Shiraz was great too, but the delightful Sparkling Chardonnay Pinot Noir was the stand-out variety as far as I was concerned and perfect for birthday celebrations.
The jolly Canberra winemakers
In the past Canberra has suffered from a reputation for being dull. While that may have been the case in times gone by, I can assure you there is now plenty in this Centenary city to see, do – and eat. It’s our national capital and as such is an important place for all Australians. It is the seat of our government, the repository of much of our history and home to significant cultural collections – and the perfect place for a holiday!