Ox Eatery is both fine dining and a perfect Friday night, splash out, dress up, see and be seen feed. Photo: Melissa Adams
You've finally arrived in Canberra, been through your security briefing and induction and you're just starting to get used to that lanyard around your neck. You might even have scored a place to live. But now you have to start spending your hard-earned cash. And Canberra has plenty of places to spend your money on dining out - here are some of the best.
The problem with being a grad is that you don't exactly have tons of money to spend. Although everyone you meet assures you that you'll soon be on an execrably comfortable salary (or assumes that you're already in clover) you aren't really earning the big dollars yet. So these are your cheapest decent eats. The literally-named Burmese Curry Place on Alinga Street in Civic offers a selection of curries and rice - all generously crammed into a plastic tub - for less than $10. At the opposite end of the naming spectrum, the tiny Global Cafe on Northbourne Avenue next to the Jolimont bus centre produces excellent fare from exactly one country - Ethiopia. For a more upmarket experience there's the Blue Olive Cafe across Northbourne Avenue which offers a huge array of very large baguette sandwiches for under $10. In the triangle there's the legendary caravan in the car park behind PM&C, from which a rambunctious South American man dishes out burgers, chips and gravy to the faithful. The pleasingly-alliterative Kabul Kebab House (Manuka Terrace) offers massive pide and spectacular kebabs for under $10 while the queue at Mee's Sushi (Flinders Way) is the best place to run into everyone from pollies to tradies to Brumbies.
Malamay restaurant offers top class eating but can be a little suit-heavy.
You also need a tranche of casual dining places. These are useful to take the parents when they descend on Canberra to see the fruits of their labour; to go out on dates with other grads once you've sussed out the singles over a few drinks; and to put on a brave face while celebrating yet another birthday in Canberra with friends.
The Thai wine bar and restaurant Thirst (20 West Row, Civic) has one of the best dishes in the city - a crispy fish salad that explodes in the mouth with flavour. Share a jug of Pimms or the Thai sangria or go next door to Muddle Bar for post-work drinks. Fekerte's in Dickson (74/2 Cape Street) is unpretentious and serves excellent Ethiopian food whilst allowing you to maintain a student vibe. The spicy red-dusted kita bread is particularly messy and delicious. Portia's Place (11 Kennedy Street) is decent for both pan-Asian dishes and politician-spotting. If you're in pretentious company, just hint smugly that you also like the place where the real Portia has gone (the cafe in the old Rolls Choice building in Fyshwick - no, don't Google it, just say it). Me and Mrs Jones (corner of Kennedy and Giles streets) or Silo (Giles Street) are good for taking a date on a casual but highly-planned weekend brekkie or brunch. Bookplate Cafe at the National Library (Parkes Place) is the best place to meet mum for brunch before or after she drags dad to the Toulouse-Lautrec exhibition at the National Gallery. If you're ready to go further afield in search of brunch, book ahead at Poachers Pantry at Murrumbateman (431 Nanima Road). Or venture into Belconnen or Bruce - HaHa Bar (102 Emu Bank Road) and Ellacure (2/21 Battye Street) both do good brunches.
Poachers Pantry is a great place for brunch if you're prepared to travel that extra mile. Photo: Glen McCurtayne
The slick, moodily-lit Malamay in the Hotel Realm complex (1 Burbury Close) does innovative degustations which riff on a fusion South-East Asian theme. The decor is a sort of industrial meets Malay village that partitions the dining room into semi-private spaces, which can mean it's heavy on suits having high-level meetings. But the food tests boundaries and is of a high standard. For an extra challenge, try to find the entrance first go. Courgette (54 Marcus Clarke Street) is a little more traditional but produces elegant, complex dishes. At the moment they're doing a four-course meal for $75 so line up your date quick. Where Courgette and Malamay are distinctly fine dining, Ox Eatery is perfect Friday night, pay-week grad cool - splash out, dress up, see and be seen, renew your passion for rotisserie. Hot tip: you can actually go there in daylight, too (for Saturday lunch).
It may seem odd to put someone in charge of booking farewell lunches when they've only just arrived in Canberra and are so new they haven't even realised there are actually two bridges. But that's the APS way. You're the grad. You'll have to book them. Chances are the first one you'll have to book is your own farewell as you rotate out of your first section. Congratulations. Your grad project was excellent.
You need a place that can handle a crowd, allows BYO, has a vegie option and offers some kind of set menu or banquet. The rule of thumb, if pressed for time, is to go to your local Indian or Chinese restaurant. But if you venture further afield you'll be rewarded. D'Browes in Narrabundah (59 Boolimba Crescent) has a separate wing for groups, cheerful staff, a good menu and startlingly large portions. The set menu model works perfectly and you can BYO wine. Griffith Vietnamese (6 Barker Street) is cheap and cheerful and the chef will often just sort you out if you're lucky. Asian Cafe (32 West Row) is in a similar vein in Civic. Legends in Manuka (Upstairs, 17 Franklin Street) offers tapas and dishes to share and Tosung Charcoal BBQ (15 Flinders Way) does Korean barbecue and bulgogi.