It was a strong year for newcomers - Kokomo's, Lazy Su, Pulp Kitchen and RAKU jumped straight through to our favourites list. Here are the 10 others that caught our attention this year, in alphabetical order:
With its light-up dancefloor, speakers pumping out hit after hit of eighties tunes, karaoke rooms and its colourful cocktails on tap, what's not to love about this dedicated eighties bar? Owned by Ant Arena, Lorenzo Focarile and Dean Brown (Molly, Black Market, The Highball Express), the bar is hidden underground in Hobart Place in Civic. It only opened last month but already the lines have been long and it's been a favourite for Christmas parties.
Basement 8/10 Hobart Pl, Canberra. 88mph.bar.
East Hotel owners Dan and Dion Bisa replaced the former Ox Eatery and Bar with Agostinis back in April. The big, bustling, shiny Italian joint is a nod to their mother Marisa who grew up in northern Italy. Named after her maiden name, the venue is fitted out beautifully with creatively incorporated personal touches, and plenty of pink. The menu is well thought out and food is fresh and exciting. Chef Francesco Balestrieri is an exuberant fixture in the venue, leading a team in the large open kitchen with the theatrics of preparation on full display. Kids are also not only welcome, but well looked after here.
East Hotel, 69 Canberra Avenue, Kingston. 6178 0048. agostinis.com.au.
Canberra's newest food trademark is the Bragel - a cross bagel and brioche. It's the signature item at Baked, the new-ish bakery slash French patisserie from Les Bistronomes' Clement Chauvin and Abel Bariller on Mort Street in Braddon. As well as bragels, they cook up bread, pastries, and a menu of brunch classics, plus bragels with creative toppings. They've had to battle with some intense construction and a footpath closure out the front, but they're pushing ahead with a new lunch and soon-to-come dinner menu.
38 Mort Street, Braddon. bakedonmort.com.au.
Capital Brewing Co
Leading the way at Canberra's new creative hotspot Dairy Road is Capital Brewing Co. The brewery and taproom is the first permanent spot for Capital Brewing, who had been 'gypsy brewing' at several sites in Sydney for a year. The large taproom is unlike anywhere else in Canberra, with plenty of seating, a large outdoor grassed area, lawn games, and cubby house, with the brewery on full display in the middle. And food is from Brodburger, with the original red van having moved in permanently from The Hamlet.
Building 3/1 Dairy Rd, Fyshwick. 5104 0915. capitalbrewing.co.
Late-night venue Highgate House took over the former Little Brooklyn space in May, with a relaxed Venice beach vibe and great cocktails. Owners Sophie Olsen, Natalie Weber, Alexi Dascarolis, Ania Sienko came up with the concept after a girls' night out, and brought chef Matthew Ouwerkerk from Sydney down to make it happen. Food is fresh, flavoursome and healthy, and there have had plenty of exciting things going on throughout the year, from events and dinner takeovers, to recent a recent pop-up outdoor cinema.
44 Jardine St, Kingston. 6239 6891. highgatebar.com.au.
When the team behind The Cupping Room announced a new venue was in the works, plenty of people paid attention, and when Highroad finally opened in the former Sub Urban spot in Dickson, it didn't disappoint. It's impressive for its fit out alone - a blend of raw materials and exposed surfaces, with more refined fittings, and sweeping bench seating that imitates the curves of the mountains surrounding Canberra. Owned by a whole group from ONA Coffee's team - Jack Scheeren, Sasa Sestic, Hugh Kelly, Sam Corra, Caity Reynolds, and Jerome Felix - it's no surprise the coffee is good. Food incorporates a lot of native Australian ingredients. Brunch has been the most popular early on, but if you haven't yet, dinner is well worth checking out.
1 Woolley St, Dickson. 6181 7799. highrd.com.au.
This spot also wins the award for tiniest new venue. Wedged in between Pulp Kitchen and a hairdresser at Ainslie Shops, Mama Dough pizza shop opened in November. Owned by Frank Condi, the popular new fixture boasts an impressive imported pizza oven, which takes up much of the venue. Pizza chef Giovanni Auzino cooks up wood-fired pizzas, made from a 'mama dough' created at Provini years ago, with a menu that mixes classic and creative toppings. There's only limited seating, and the emphasis is on takeaway, but the pizzas are also available to order through Edgar's a few doors up.
1 Wakefield Gardens, Ainslie. 6248 0591. mamadough.com.au.
At just a few weeks old, this one just snuck in. Meadow is a new cafe with a focus on sustainability and good times, which has brought new life to Odger's Lane in the Melbourne Building. The short menu is vegetarian but is what they call, "a form of vegetarian where you don't miss the meat", and there is a big focus on getting produce as locally and sustainably as possible. The spot is surprisingly tranquil, and there are plans for lots of events in the future, like pay-as-you-feel dinners and laneway yoga.
Odgers Lane, Canberra. meadowlife.com.au.
Natural Nine actually opened at Casino Canberra last year, but this year it had a complete makeover - or more a make-under. The former fine dining eatery converted into a casual, upbeat Chinese restaurant, with a modern Australian twist. The food is exciting, while at the same time being very honest and fresh, and the kind of Chinese you won't find elsewhere in town. Wine is locally focussed and staff know their stuff. For a bit of fun, add the real dehydrated ants to the ants climbing trees noodle dish.
21 Binara St, Canberra. 6257 7074. natural9.com.au.
The former Schnitzel Haus on Lonsdale Street got a rapid makeover in February into Tipsy Bull; a casual and breezy restaurant slash bar. Food is share plates designed to be crowd-pleasing with plenty of flavour, and service is friendly and caring. With a more up-market indoor eating area and a more relaxed outdoors, Tipsy Bull manages to successfully balance the bar and restaurant side really well. And if you want to experiment with gin, this is the place to do it - there are more than 100 of them on offer and they're served deconstructed with specially chosen accompaniments.
2/5 Lonsdale St, Braddon. 6248 7999. tipsybull.com.au.