These are the hottest places to eat in Canberra, according to our 2023 Restaurant Guide.
Mar 31, 2023 4:30am
GT‘s 2023 ACT Restaurant of the Year
Your journey at Pilot starts with an unexpected cup of tea – a palate-awakening mix of oolong, mango and papaya – and every step of the multi-course expedition gets increasingly unpredictable from there. You might be handed an intricate coil of roasted carrot adorned with house-made za’atar, and have it followed by a plate of glazed chicken wings stuffed with kimchi fried rice or a bowl of chips and dip. The unifier is chef Malcolm Hanslow’s clever interplay between familiarity and surprise, like tortellini filled with dehydrated cherry tomatoes, submerged in a bewitching sourdough consommé that manages to be both nostalgic and new. Or a cold-smoked spear of wagyu sirloin finished over charcoal that happily reimagines the classic pub pepper steak with its sauce of green peppercorns and Aleppo pepper. It’s playful stuff, made even more so by sommelier James Dickson-Hoyle’s wine list and beverage matching skills. Effortless, but also staggeringly considered.
Between the spirits swirling around tall mixing glasses, the dexterous staff flitting back and forth pouring minimal-intervention wines, and the turntable spinning a riot of groove, jazz and soul, the bar at the heart of Bar Rochford is in perpetual motion. There’s some world-class drinking going down here, but there’s just as much to love in co-chefs Josh Lundy and Belinda Smith’s punchy food offering. A tidy menu of snacky wine bar classics – white anchovy and caper-rich gribiche toasts; crisp potato galettes heaped with steak tartare – easily transforms a quiet drink into a party. More substantial shared plates, meanwhile, like stunning koji-rubbed pork chop with gochujang caramel, turn any visit into a proper night out. Bar Rochford might be the perfect place to drop into for a quick tipple, but few rooms in Canberra, let alone the whole country, are quite as difficult to leave.
Corella might be the kind of sunny wine bar/restaurant hybrid that would feel at home anywhere in the country. Its position in the capital, however, along with the liberal use of Indigenous flavours and references to iconic Australian foods, give it the sense of something more important. These elements, together with the stacked wine list and cocktails spotlighting spirits from across the land, turn what could easily have been a by-the-numbers outing into a blisteringly relevant experience. Be it the “buttermite” accompanying toasty saltbush focaccia, pepperberry-dotted sauerkraut on a rosella taco, or a ponzu spiked with lemon myrtle, chef Leon Pan incorporates ingredients playfully, but without a heavy hand. Factor in a few hints of nostalgia – like the taco-kit-style native spice rub that adorns the pork chop – and this could well be the foremost exponent of our national cuisine right now.
Kingston might not quite match the happening vibe of Paris’s 11th arrondissement, after which Onzieme is named. And yet, there’s an electric hustle to the comings and goings at this restaurant with wine-bar cred, which has quickly enlivened the inner-east pocket of Canberra. Chef-owner Louis Couttoupes has his ex-Bar Rochford fingerprints all over the menu, which is scrawled daily across the room’s glass panels and often features produce grown for him by friends nearby. Whether it’s gentle whey caramel spooned over grilled haloumi or crisp, bite-sized potato galettes dusted with powdered nori and cured egg-yolk shavings, this is a line-up that begs for solid drinks. To that end, manager and sommelier Tom Blakely’s list offers a breakdown of “fun” and “classic” drops, making it easy to choose the best bottle or glass for your mood. And if Onzieme has one mission, it’s to make sure that mood is a good one.
Canberra’s appetite for contemporary Asian-inspired food seems unquenchable, with glitzy Wilma joining the ranks of established hotspots plying updates on classic Chinese dishes and familiar flavours from the rest of the continent. With Biota’s James Viles having overseen the opening, it’s now Brendan Hill (ex-Aria) supervising the wok, grill and offset smoker from which the signature char siu pork belly and wood-smoked Peking duck emerge. The generous menu is designed for a good time. Ditto the two-storey, booth-filled dining room, with dramatic lighting and an ’80s and ’90s soundtrack providing an ideal mise-en-scène for crisp egg noodles and battered Balmain bugs in a pool of chilli oil, or fried mantou-like prawn buns with sweet and sour sauce sharpened by Davidson’s plum. Add a comprehensive range of cocktails and a neat Oz-heavy wine selection, and Wilma guarantees a cracking night, be it an intimate dinner for two or a feast with friends.