To round out the year, the Canberra Good Food team has put together our top 21 favourite restaurants. Here is the list in reverse-alphabetical order:
It's been just over two years since this Narrabundah eatery opened with its shantung bao and "Asian bolognaise". The young owners have kept the energy going, with a menu that manages to be both playful and seriously good. Eating should be fun, and everything about XO is, from the service, by a team who is clearly passionate about food, to the particularly enjoyable, predominantly '90s playlist that isn't in-your-face, but could be the soundtrack to a ripper party.
16 Iluka St, Narrabundah. 6295 9696. xo-restaurant.com.au.
Something about this wine-bar-meets-restaurant felt just that bit more polished to us this year. Its set up is unique - a long black bar weaves and flows around the whole venue, with diners sitting on one side and staff on the other - but it works very well, with service really adding to the dining experience rather than interrupting it. The minimalist set up is sophisticated, and very cool, the food and wine offering is concise but considered. The team is young, including owners Oliver Ryrie and chef Ute Pikler. They're working hard and it shows.
48 Macquarie St, Barton. 6273 7773. vincentrestaurant.com.au.
The more casual eatery from Aubergine's Ben Willis and co-owner Chris Darragh again picked up one hat in the Good Food Guide this year, and there continues to be a lot to like about this city fringe restaurant whether for breakfast, lunch or dinner - from its funky staff, to a sophisticated-yet-relaxed menu, the adventurous wine list and even right down to the cutlery.
15 Moore St, Canberra. 6249 6683. temporada.com.au.
It may be located in a shopping mall, and only be a couple of months old, but RAKU has already impressed us with its immaculate fit out and very good food. The theatrics of Japanese cooking are on full display from the open sushi bar, with the flaming robata grill flickering in the background. Facing Bunda Street in the Canberra Centre, the restaurant has brought a new style of Japanese dining to the capital, with chef Hao San from Tokonoma Sydney at the helm in the kitchen.
148 Bunda St, Canberra. 6248 6869. rakudining.com.au.
It seemed like Ainslie's residents held their collective breath when much-loved local Pulp Kitchen was sold in February. New owner Gus Armstong's (eightysix) Pulp is more of a gentle disruption of bistro tradition rather than revolution. And the change was rewarded with Pulp picking up a chef's hat in the Good Food Guide. It's a celebratory blending of tradition and neighbourliness with youth and energy - and we like it.
1 Wakefield Gardens, Ainslie. 6257 4334. pulp-kitchen.com.au.
Farmhouse Restaurant, Pialligo Estate
It's been a big year for the picturesque Pialligo property. The main Farmhouse restaurant was closed for months for refurbishment, and reopened with a more accessible pasta-and-steak menu. Far from downmarket, the new menu is sophisticated and the food cooked with care, but the focus is now on simplicity and the food bistro-style, still with a great wine list. In October the newly revamped restaurant was destroyed by fire. For now, the Farmhouse menu is available in the Garden Pavilions, but we look forward to seeing the Farmhouse to be rebuilt.
1/18 Kallaroo Rd, Pialligo. 6247 6060. thepialligoestate.com.au.
The restaurant market is flooded these days with bright, young ventures loudly bursting onto the scene, but Ottoman Cuisine is proof longevity doesn't necessarily mean a diminishing in relevance. The elegant Barton restaurant became Canberra's second to be awarded two hats this year in the Good Food Guide (alongside Aubergine). Ottoman is still top of its game with food that's bright, sharp and cooked by someone who clearly loves food.
9 Broughton St, Barton. 6273 6111. ottomancuisine.com.au.
Otis Dining Hall
Damian Brabender's Otis Dining Hall in Kingston brought a new dimension of dining to Canberra, with its clever, contemporary cooking matched to an easy, relaxed vibe. The restaurant was awarded a chef's hat on debut in this year's Good Food Guide and it's not hard to see why. The food looks as good as it tastes - the inherent drama of each dish is underscored by poise, restraint and some lovely flavour balances - service is keen and the wine list is great.
29 Jardine St, Kingston. 6260 6066. thisisotis.com.au
Like the super-cool living space of an arts collective, Monster, in the lobby of Hotel Hotel, still ticks all the boxes.The vibe is mixed up old and new, cheap and luxe, the lighting is a triumph with some very beautiful crazy chandelier lights in green and pink. The food aims for a breezy sophistication, and the wine list pushes the boundaries, rewarding the lesser known drops. Helpful staff, a good pace and great atmosphere.
25 Edinburgh Ave, Canberra. 6287 6287. monsterkitchen.com.au.
The Trimboli family's Mezzalira has been around for two decades, and has been through some moribund times, but in the past few years, things have really picked up. There's a grandness about its Melbourne Building setting and influential corner location, and an undoubted special occasion feel about the place, but it avoids being stuffy and formal, and feels, in fact, airy, relaxed and lovely. For an elegant and special meal, Mezzalira really feels on top of its game and right up there with the best in Canberra.
55 London Circuit, Canberra. 6230 0025. mezzalira.com.au.
Barton's Lilotang is very much its own beast, a bit whacky, uncompromising and experimental, deeply committed to what it does. The food is eclectic and immaculate, the service personable and professional, and the set up is Tokyo cool. This is an eatery that stands up in any company. There's a measure of precision here that Canberra really doesn't demand or even expect, which makes it rare at best.
Burbury Hotel, 1 Burbury Cl, Barton. 6273 1424. chairmangroup.com.au.
Sitting in a louder part of Braddon, just slightly off the main drag of Lonsdale Street, upmarket French bistro Les Bistronomes keeps marching to the beat of its own drum. Chef Clement Chauvin's food is refined yet precise, with a menu of French classics, and co-owner and sommelier Abel Bariller keeps things interesting in the drinks department. Bariller and Chauvin have also stepped out with new casual cafe Baked across the road on Mort Street this year.
Cnr of Mort and Elouera Street, Braddon. 6248 8119. lesbistronomes.net.
You don't get this combo often - one of this year's Lonsdale Street newcomers, Lazy Su is cool, exciting, and healthy all at the same time. It's Korean meets Japanese with a side of American diner and cool cocktail bar, with food that's clean and fresh, combining big flavours, high protein and sticky grilled things with spicy condiments. The impressive fit out mixes different nooks, bar seats, booths and a striking back of bar. The casual vibe gets a little louder as the night goes on, and sharing extends to double-sized cocktails with two straws.
1/9 Lonsdale St, Braddon. 5105 3812. lazy-su.com.au.
One of three venues from The Chairman Group, Lanterne Rooms sits out by itself at Campbell shops. While the food from chef Daniel Mark continues to deliver, the restaurant particularly impressed us with its service this year - attentive and thoughtful from knowledgeable staff who clearly love what they do. An elegant, relaxed and intimate gem in the burbs.
3/16 Blamey Pl, Campbell. 6249 6889. chairmangroup.com.au.
Kokomo's burst onto the scene with a bang this year, at the former Tongue and Groove spot on the corner of Bunda and Genge Streets. Peter and Mike Harrington's (Akiba, Sage) $4.5 million transformation of the space is like a tropical paradise, with a lush jungle feel, and they even secured Boy George for the opening. With its energetic atmosphere, it's an entertaining place just for a drink, but the food is very good, both for a bar snack or settling in for a full meal in the more formal dining area.
1 Genge St, Canberra. 6171 2092. kokomos.com.au.
Italian and Sons
Its end of Lonsdale Street has really filled out this year with coffee shops and restaurants, yet Italian and Sons continues to set a solid and sophisticated pace. Owned by Canberra restaurant family the Trimbolis, the restaurant is never dull, bringing together the best traditions of Italian cooking: clean, sophisticated dishes with an emphasis on ingredients, balance and the kind of simplicity borne of real skill, and years and years in the kitchen. We are also big fans of Bacaro out the back, their more casual pizza and wine bar, perfect to pop into when you can't score a table in the restaurant.
7 Lonsdale St, Braddon. 6162 4888. italianandsons.com.au.
More than four years after opening with a rebel yell on Lonsdale Street, eightysix has established itself as more than a one-hit wonder. The restaurant had to share the attention of owner Gus Armstrong with his new venue Pulp Kitchen, as well as losing some kitchen staff to the same, but eightysix is still very popular, and rightly so, with up-to-date food and wine, good service and relaxed feel. Still one of the most fun places to eat out.
Cnr Elouera and Lonsdale Street, Braddon. 6161 8686. eightysix.com.au.
Chairman and Yip
Since its move to the former Malamay spot in Barton early last year, Chairman and Yip has settled in nicely, with a pared back, more accessible and casual feel. Chairman and Yip brought smart Asian fusion to Canberra, and while the market is far more saturated these days, Chairman is still leading the way with its smart western drinks list, excellent service and quirky mixed-up take on Chinese food.
1 Burbury Cl, Barton. 6162 1220. chairmangroup.com.au.
The Melbourne Building watering hole keeps producing its delicious mix of bar snacks and mains, despite its tiny kitchen, with a number of interesting chef takeovers and collaborations thrown in throughout the year. The venue boasts a seriously good wine list, and this year they got their takeaway license, offering a selection of wines, vermouths, and ciders were also available to take home. But why take away when you can settle into a cosy booth or enjoy it by Rochford's roaring fireplace.
65 London Circuit, Canberra. 6230 6222. barrochford.com.
Aubergine continues to produce outstanding food, a fact confirmed by the restaurant again being awarded two chef's hat in the Good Food Guide. Chef Ben Willis' menu changes regularly but is always right on the mark. It's a special place to dine, without being stuffy, with a wine list like no other, and food that is intricate without being annoying, up to date and highly seasonal.
18 Barker St, Griffith. 6260 8666. aubergine.com.au.
You would think having giant sister restaurant Kokomo's opening directly across the road would have taken some of the shine off at Akiba this year, but the usual crowds have continued making a beeline for the high energy Bunda Street eatery. The menu has remained predominantly consistent over the years, but why fix what's not broken? It's unapologetically loud, with food that's all about fun and flavour.
40 Bunda Street, Civic, 6162 0602, akiba.com.au