We went to Canberra to celebrate, and for a whole week we did just that. We were there for a graduation and to catch up with Joe’s old work colleagues. And for the eight days we were in residence at this delightful B’nB which was in a great location (in Dickson), had plenty of space, a comfortable bed and good shower. Very satisfactory.
We ate in lots of great places. At the fine dining end of the spectrum we enjoyed Aubergine in Griffith. It was our second experience of this restaurant and I do recommend it for a special celebration; like a graduation. Small, plenty of space between tables, carpeted; the atmosphere is muted which lets you concentrate on the food and wine. There’s a limited menu on offer, but all of the dishes are interesting and the cooking is of a very high order. You might need help selecting a balanced meal. The dishes can be very rich, so it’s worth asking how to choose the right mix of entree and main. Our appetisers were outstanding. Our party of four had a mix of fish, duck, beef, lamb and vegetarian dishes. And then dessert. We enjoyed them all. The sommelier on both occasions (each time a different person) was also a highlight; well informed and entertaining. It’s worth having the matching wines for the experience. Here is a picture of the graduand, now graduate, and me; blending in with the decor!
At the other end of the scale atmosphere wise was Eighty Six in Braddon. This is a very hip place; all blond wood, tiles and glass; so very noisy! But great atmosphere. Innovative options for selecting your food. You can have dishes delivered for a set price (around the $80 mark). Which, as a large party of eleven, is what we did. Thereby avoiding the tricking business of getting everyone to agree on what to eat. You can identify any foods that you can’t eat or don’t want. It worked well. All of the dishes served up to us were exceptional. They are designed for sharing: from bite sized morsels, middling sized serves to be divided up and finally quite substantial chicken and lamb dishes. By the time the latter came out I was full! The red wine from Eden Road winery was great. I’d like to go back with a smaller party and choose my own, more modest number of courses. The only glitch in the evening was having to sign up for either a 6pm or 8pm sitting. Having chosen the latter, we were not seated until closer to nine and waiting at the bar is not enjoyable as the place is too full and noisy and we felt very much in the way of the waiting staff going to and fro. So pin them down about when you are likely to be seated and have a drink somewhere else in the meantime. But really worth a visit. Here is our whole party enjoying the evening (by now it was nearly midnight).
Braddon is clearly the place to eat in Canberra these days. We had a great meal at Italian and Sons on our first night. Traditional Italian food with a focus on good, seasonal ingredients and solid cooking. I had tagliatelle with truffles; simple and superb. Also rich! It has a very authentic Italian feel to the place. Really good service. We accompanied the food with Clonakilla shiraz which was perfect.
We were back in the same neighbourhood to have a French meal later in the week at Les Bistronomes. This time traditional French food cooked well. I had black pudding for starters and chicken for main. I was impressed when my chicken was delayed rather than served under-cooked. I know the timing should have been right, but it takes confidence to admit you’ve made a mistake. The waiter was apologetic and I was given a complimentary dessert wine to accompany the spectacular tart tatin that we enjoyed. When it came, the chicken was delicious. If you’re interested in going, you should check out the menu on-line, because some things that require long cooking times (Boeuf En Croute, Beef Chateaubriand, Ash Crusted Duck A L’Orange) need to be ordered in advance, and be shared. Certainly worth doing because the ones we saw being delivered to other tables looked spectacular. I see from the website that the Tart Tatin also needs to be pre-ordered so this was either done for us, or we received special treatment. We also drank Clonakilla here.
We were also eating out for breakfast and lunch. Here we are at breakfast in Lonsdale Street, Braddon at Elk & Pea Eating House. The love heart is courtesy of the then graduand. The The Barrio Collective is a favourite of our long time Canberra Restaurant, it’s a cute little place in Lonsdale Street. We also had nice lunches at the Arboretum and at the National Library. The latter is clearly a favourite with locals. In Dickson we ate a few times, both breakfast and lunch, at Good Brother. And picked up take-away coffee at KickStart Expresso also in Dickson; an old favourite of Joe’s when he worked in Canberra and regularly picked one up on his way to work. He was welcomed back effusively.
When in Canberra we always take our nephew to Blue Ginger in Civic. He’s a vegetarian and there are lots of options in this Indian restaurant. The food is really good and that’s the focus here not the wine although Joe and I, the only ones drinking, managed a bottle between the two of us. Here are the cousins enjoying themselves.
Later, on the night we thought we might eat at home, we ended up going out to Kinn Thai in Civic because Dickson was too far for their take away delivery. The food was delivered quickly, we had wine by the glass and the place was buzzing with young people and half way through our meal we discovered the graduand was also there, further along the restaurant behind a screen. So it was a fun night instead of our one quiet night at home.
As well as eating and drinking we managed to do some of the usual touristy things one does in Canberra. First up, we visited the Arboretum which I’ve not been to before. It is good now, and is going to be great. Such is its scale it is hard to get a picture to reflect its impact. here is a part of it – hard to say what percentage of the whole. You can see the young plantations. Here is what it looks like inside one of the newer plantings of some sort of conifer. If I have one complaint about the whole enterprise it’s that there’s not enough information about the trees themselves easily accessible. On some we could clearly see what they were, but I didn’t see any sign regarding these while we were walking through them. You can probably pick up a pamphlet but we didn’t see any. I really liked the artwork pictured below of the bird and its nest. It is enormous and sits atop a hill which is very windy, and accordingly and freezing cold. on our way up here we saw some small birds swooping and circling in the wind; apparently enjoying it hugely. As I said, it was freezing up there! We went for a very long walk in search of the cork tree plantation. Another small complaint, the signage is not quite what it could be. We kept being told the plantation was near at hand, which proved not to be the case. The distances signposted seemed out of whack. Still the walk was invigorating. This was said to be planted by Walter Burley Griffin, but I am reliably informed that it was really the work of his wife, Marion Mahoney Griffin. Either way it’s a wonderfully serene experience to wander amongst these amazing trees. The texture of the cork bark is amazing and the trees are in fact harvested for their cork. They do small sections of the plantation at one time. I don’t know whether that explains the black lower parts of the trees.
We had a lovely walk around the lake on a beautiful, quintessentially Canberra day; cold but with a brilliant blue sky. The fountain was on full display, though you can see there was not much wind as there’s no lovely curtain of spray across the lake (better walkers). Here’s the lake and fountain with the National Library and the High Court in the distance. We had a good brisk walk which was good for us ‘midst all the eating and drinking we were doing. And I managed to get the traditional tourist shot of the two Parliament Houses – old and new.
At the National Art Gallery we were fortunate to catch the third National Indigenous Art Triennial, Defying Empire. Some fantastic art. I really enjoyed two takes on the flag that were not capable of being captured on camera. One, called Reclaiming Our Stars had what looked like, it was hard to tell as it was hung very high, embroidered black stars dotted across the Australian flag along with bits of the white stars being torn or partially pulled off. There was another which was a light box, with the rest of the flag apart from the Union Jack (which I despise) made up of iconic photos of Indigenous Australians; the men in chains, Nicky Widmar pulling up his football jumper and others that are familiar alongside others that are not, ordinary family photos. Beautiful. I was also struck by this work. This is Assimilated Warriors II by the New South Wales artist Karla Dickens and is in honor of the campaigners for the ‘Yes’ campaign for the 1967 referendum. According to the accompanying blurb the suits speak of the humanness of each struggle and each soul invested in the ongoing resistance and recognition of Aboriginal rights, the bundle of dog muzzles imply the unshackling of restrictions that oppressed Aboriginal people at the time. And I liked this one below which is called Battleground and is by another NSW artist, Jason Wing. The shields are made of steel which has been rusted in Sydney Harbour to create a wood-like surface. Amazing. Beautiful. There was a single shield up to the left of this arrangement which he calls Encounter. It had a single red dot on it. I was also impressed by a wall of decorated masks, of which this is one. They are made of old fencing masks. This work is also by Karla Dickens and is also called Assimilated Warriors. Each mask is decorated with different material; feathers, leather, bone, metal, shell and deliberately resemble traditional ceremonial headdresses. Again it is a tribute to the campaigners for equality in the referendum. They were very pretty, and thought provoking. There were other great works on display. If you’re in Canberra I recommend a visit.
We also got to see an exhibition of Japanese prints at the National Library. I had no expectations of this, but the prints on display were truly beautiful. Hard to photograph, but this gives a flavour of the exhibition.
We also managed to find time for another Canberra tradition; a walk up to Mount Ainslie. We only got to the bottom, but it was a lovely walk on another lovely Canberra day. Proximity to bushland like this makes Canberra a real bush capital. We followed a walking track, and after I took a picture of this gum tree, another walker asked me if there was anything interesting in its branches! I had to confess that there was not. Although we did see some lovely birds like this one and lots of others; cockatoos, galahs, magpies and lots more. Canberra birds are a thing!
Of course, I also managed a bit of shopping and my loved ones surprised me with a photo. Is that a guilty look? In fact I was quite restrained; only purchasing a brooch and a jumper in two shopping expeditions. Very modest. Plus some things for the graduand.
We made a pilgrimage to an historical family site in Manuka. On New Years Eve in the year 1999 (when he was 7 years old) Patrick managed to break his arm doing exactly this. Irresponsible parents that we were we travelled on to Sydney immediately after, having purchased panadeine at the chemist, so that we wouldn’t miss the historic year 2000 fireworks on the harbour to which we had been invited. He had his arm put in plaster at the Royal Albert hospital. He wasn’t impressed with this re-enactment, unlike the participants.
We got to see a Canberra sunset. Not the most spectacular; but pretty impressive just the same. And I managed to get the Telstra tower in the shot, even if it’s ever so slightly askew. And while we waited for it Joe took Eleanor through some of his Kung Fu moves which was fun. Its quite strenuous, which was good because it was freezing cold by the lake at sunset.
I finally got to visit the Canberra wineries, something I’ve been keen to do for a long time. We went to three. First up Shaw Vineyard Estate where it was recommended we have lunch; but the restaurant was closed. Never mind we liked the wine and purchased a couple of bottles. So we had lunch at the Murrumbateman Hotel; plenty of atmosphere, lots of people, good service, good food – I had the lamb burger and Joe had fish and chips. After an abortive attempt to visit Helms, we proceeded on our way to Clonakilla. Beautiful setting. As well as a beautiful tasting room which we were told was new. Very stylish. And, of course, beautiful wine and a very nice young man serving it. We were pleased to discover they deliver but decided to take the one small bottle of a rare port in the car. Finally we popped into Eden Road winery. This, along with Clonakilla of course, hd been recommended by our sommelier at Aubergine. There was a nice view of the vineyards coming out of the winery itself. A friendly fellow overseeing the tasting; another delivery organised.
Of course we were in Canberra for Eleanor’s graduation and this was the highlight of the week. The ceremony was simple and efficiently organised. ANU organises them by faculty so they are quite small, and therefore more intimate for students and families. It was fun seeing my daughter receive her degrees from my former law lecturer (many years ago) and Labor comrade in arms Gareth Evans. He looked quite at home in the academic world, in his ceremonial robes. And it was nice to catch up with him afterwards. The guest speaker was Brendan Nelson. The graduand, to whom his speech was directed, was unimpressed but I didn’t think was too bad. He lost Eleanor when he included chivalry in the list of virtues to which the graduates should aspire! And I agree with her that it was somewhat inappropriate. His presence gave Gareth the opportunity to make a political comment bemoaning the current state of the Liberal Party, venturing to suggest that it could use someone like Brendan in its current parlous state. I’m not sure Brendan could help. The audience tittered away. It was a lovely day for pictures of family afterwards, including Nick who was there to see his girlfriend graduate at the same time as Eleanor. And after that we traipsed around the University grounds taking pictures of Eleanor in spots that were meaningful for her. I used her camera so she could Instagram them; it’s not done until its been posted you know! But here are a couple of later ones. We are very proud of our graduate!