There was a Monday night at Temporada in the city, not that long ago, where the place was half full of solo diners.
"I wondered why they didn't just all get together and share a meal with each other," said Dave Young, co-owner and head chef.
"But I guess they were out on their own and maybe they liked it that way."
It seems more and more of us feel the same way. Solo dining is on the rise in Canberra with several of our best restaurants offering menus for one, with restaurateurs recognising that the solo diner is an important part of the business model.
More than two million Australians live in lone person households, about 24 per cent of the total number of households, according to the 2016 census, and the Australian Bureau of Statistics predicts that number will rise by 65 per cent by 2036.
In Canberra, more than 35,400 people live alone, and while that doesn't necessarily mean they are dining alone, add that to the number of people who flood the city during parliament sitting weeks, or for business purposes, it's no wonder restaurants in the nation's capital are rethinking the way they do things.
Young says the solo diner is an important part of the Temporada family.
"It's quite funny, we have a few regular solo diners who work around Temporada and come in for dinner when they have been working late," he says.
"We can usually tell who they are just by their order."
He enjoys the challenge of catering to the adventurous solo diner too.
"We have some who come in on their own and ask if they can have our chef's menu for themselves.
"Usually it's a bit difficult breaking dishes down for just one person but I like to really take care of these diners, they get the most deluxe set menu we can provide."
The chef's menu is a 13-course degustation menu, oysters, grilled kingfish, slow-cooked lamb shoulder, banana mousse with hazelnut praline and a chocolate crumb. Little tastes of the house favourites.
It's the way many menus are going.
At Akiba, it would be possible to eat alone every night for a week and sample something different. Prawn and chicken dumplings, the soft shell crab bun with pickled baby gem and creamy ponzu, the kimchi and oyster pancake, a lemon tofu cheesecake.
No longer do diners have to wade through one large plate of the same thing to enjoy a restaurant meal.
"In any size group trying more things is going to produce a better result," says Michael Harrington, who runs Akiba, Kokomo's and Sage.
"For most people, unless they're old fashioned and want entree, main course and dessert, we've found the more things people try off the menu, the more they enjoy their meal.
"Smaller options have definitely become a trend. Even a solo diner can have five to 10 different things easily without having too much food."
Harrington says he's noticed the increase in solo diners for the past couple of years.
"I think a lot of people in the past have avoided dining solo because the type of venue that existed five or more years ago didn't cater for them," he says.
"There were no places like Akiba or Kokomo's where you could sit at the bar and face the bartenders, or perch on a stool at a bench.
"The style of dining has become more casual and that's far more approachable for a solo diner to come in and not feel uncomfortable sitting at a table alone."
The seat near the raw bar, where the chef's prepare the sashimi, would be one of the most coveted solo seats in town. Not only can you strike up conversations with the staff, watching them prepare the delicate fish offerings is a fascinating way to pass the time. Harrington says they talk to staff, teaching them how to gauge what experience the solo diner is after.
"Unless they're doing work or something else, like reading, people usually want to connect and find out about what we're doing," he says.
"We've got the raw bar seat, which people love, and about half a dozen seats in front of the bar where they can sit and engage with staff.
"If we see they're keen to engage, we'll definitely keep a conversation going."
The style of dining has become more casual and that's far more approachable for a solo diner to come in and not feel uncomfortable sitting at a table alone.Michael Harrington, Akiba
According to thefork.com.au, an online booking system for restaurants, solo bookings in Canberra have risen 84 per cent over the past 12 months.
According to their data, Akiba is the number one restaurant in town for solo bookings.
Also on thefork's top 10 list are: Raku, Buvette Bistro and Wine Bar, Lilotang Japanese, Breizh Cafe, Chairman and Yip, Aubergine, Agostinis, Bicicletta and Otis Dining Hall.
I'm sampling Lilotang's tasting menu for one on a Tuesday night. It's a quiet week in Canberra with everyone back in their home electorate before the vote.
Still, there are four solo diners and myself seated before 7pm, also a couple of small groups.
The instant I sit down I do feel a little uncomfortable and instinctively reach for my phone. Surely it's better to look busy and involved in something.
Perhaps the waiter can sense this and he strikes up a conversation, walking me through the menu, and happy to discuss how the restaurant looks after solo diners.
As the food starts to come out I put the phone away. Rather than looking at this night, or indeed any solo meal, as something awkward, I decide to eat mindfully and really pay attention to the food. I decide to enjoy my own company.
With no conversation to distract me, I find great pleasure in the detail of the sashimi and sushi plate, it's a work of art. There's a plate of pork belly, with a miso mustard and walnut which is so delicious I'm glad I don't have to share it.
Without anyone turning their nose up at the idea of cauliflower, I enjoy the vegetable grilled with walnut, shitake mushroom and anchovy garlic dressing. No one judges me when I order a second glass of wine.
I sneak into Chairman and Yip for dessert. I sample a mango sorbet with coconut foam, sago with kaffir lime leaf oil and puffed sticky rice and a tofu pannacotta with ginger and brown sugar syrup and sesame crumbs. The unusual dessert is a highlight of the night.
Again, a handful of seats are taken by people eating alone. One lucky diner has another coveted solo seat, near the little library that sits in a welcoming corner.
He's at the end of his meal, most of his plates have been cleared, there's a full glass of red wine on the table and a book. The diner sits there for a good 40 minutes or so, reading, sipping the wine.
Food and wine is best shared, but sometimes the best person to share that with is yourself.
The best Canberra restaurants for solo diners
The tasting menu for one offers four courses for $48. Choose from 12-hour slow cooked pork belly, sake-lees marinated chargrill chicken and Japanese stir-fried greens. Or customise from the full menu. Quiet corners and attentive staff make solo dining a pleasure.
Joe's Bar, Kingston
Trade the hustle of Agostini's in the East Hotel for the more intimate Joe's Bar. A new winter menu is on its way with a good range of antipasti. Try the calamari and tequila, or the brioche arancini. Finish the night with the Italian hot chocolate and vanilla gelato.
Chairman and Yip, Barton
Perfect welcoming corner with a little library for solo diners. The $50 menu for one offered kingfish sashimi, slow cooked eggplant in kombu broth, Shantung lamb belly and stir-fried vegetables in ginger soy sauce. Save room for desserts too good to share.
See if you can snaffle the corner near the raw bar. The menu is perfect for cobbling together a feast for one. Start with some dumplings and the soft shell crab bao and see where it takes you.
Tuck yourself away in one of the tiny booths, which are almost too small for two, and order a meal that will remind you of home. Or try breakfast for one, from a full English breakfast with eggs, bacon, chipolatas and hash browns to a healthy grain free granola.
Grab a seat at the bar and try a few different things. Oysters for one, salt cod croquette, wood-grilled octopus with pickled fennel, black vinegar and chilli oil or a sweet onion tart. Or start with dessert, white chocolate with poached strawberries, watermelon and shiso granita.
Bar Rochford, City
Plenty of great spots to sit, with nooks and corners. But grab a seat of the bar and you might get a talkative bartender who'll keep your glass full and offer food matching suggestions. All the plates are a good size for one.
Monster Kitchen and Bar
No one seems to notice if you're by yourself in a hotel restaurant but Monster is much more than that. Nab one of the little zig zaggy tables, or a comfy lounge chair and you'll feel right at home. Great selection of small and shared plates for a bit of variety.
The menu is designed to share with friends and family, but works for one as well. If you're game try the chef's selection of sashimi or nigiri, which you can curate yourself.
- Where you do enjoy dining alone? Have any more recommendations for us? Email email@example.com