Ainslie gets a bit of a ribbing by the rest of Canberra. It has an air of smug self-satisfaction about it combined with a burgeoning hipster vibe which leaches across Limestone Avenue from Braddon. Where once it was considered slumming it to reside in a beaten weatherboard worker's cottage, it has now become the subject of urbane domestic longing – if you can afford it, that is.
But for all the jokes about the People's Republic, or of the rest of the city's jealousy over those who reside "within the goat's cheese belt", there are few suburbs which can boast such beautiful heritage, country town streetscapes adjacent to the CBD, street tree canopies, Mount Ainslie vantage points, and a thriving local shopping strip with some of the best eating in town.
So let's begin with a tour, shall we?
Rolling from Civic to the base of Mount Ainslie, and hemmed between Hackett and Campbell, Ainslie has some of the prettiest streets for a quiet stroll. Pastel-painted cottages abound, with Corroborree Park providing one of the shadiest and oldest picnic/tree-climbing destinations in the city.
These houses have history and stories to tell – protected for the most part from demolition and renovations which mar their quaint frontages and enclosed verandahs.
Of course, most of the out-of-suburb traffic heads straight to the Ainslie shops, which have become something of a local attraction since restaurant Pulp Kitchen started getting stars and Edgars Inn showed how a community could be lured to a corner pub with comforting regularity despite Canberra's anti-pub tendencies. The big screen sporting events lead to crowds on the pavement outside.
Drive by most nights and it feels like everyone has amassed at the shops. If a candlelit French-inspired dinner at Pulp Kitchen seems a little too formal and the throngs at Edgars make it impossible to wait for a bite, Theo's Takeaway joint for an old-fashioned hamburger with the lot never disappoints.
Or head into the Ainslie IGA which has a reputation worthy of drawing customers from all over Canberra. I have already waxed lyrical about its cheese selection, which features 150 varieties taking over an entire wall. But it cannily caters to inner-north hunger pangs with a range of fresh organic fruit and veggies and local gourmet success stories including Frugii icecream, Lindsay and Edmunds chocolates and local olive oils. The Ainslie IGA also takes bread seriously. From Autolyse to Dojo to the Bread Nerd, you need never rely on those commercial brands again.
Just over Christmas another reason to visit opened up with Breizh (pronounced Braze), a Brittanic creperie and patisserie which offers a mix of sweet and savoury creations whipped up by chef Bruno Paressant. And if the rich melted Brie cheese encased in a golden crepe is too much, try washing it down with an impressive array of French ciders or aperitifs lined up behind the counter.
Of course, all this eating may require a brisk constitutional.
Walking the streets of Ainslie will bring you into contact with a host of characters, from academics en route to the ANU, to alcoholics drying out at Ainslie Village, and a preponderance of ABC journalists.
It's all part of the rich tapestry of the suburb. No visit would be complete without a moderately challenging walk up Mount Ainslie. Dodge native wildlife as you scramble up cross country, or talk the beautifully paved walking track. The views are nothing short of spectacular, and the jog down takes less than half the time to ascend. It must be one of the most perfect ways to start or end a day in Canberra.