Saturday Lunch at Poachers Pantry

September 19, 2011 in Canberra, Food, Reviews, Travel by pacejmiller

Our last meal in Canberra turned out to not be in Canberra. My local resident friend recommended a gourmet smokehouse 25 minutes away from Canberra’s CBD called Poachers Pantry. Yummy fresh produce was promised, so we made a booking, set the GPS and away we went after checking out from the hotel.

We essentially took a scenic drive and veered off the main road onto a small country road, then took another turn into a tiny, gravel-filled path. If we didn’t pay attention we might have missed the sign. We were literally in woop woop, which was exciting because the food must be fantastic for people to make the trip out to this place.

The gravel road felt long, and for a while we wondered if we were heading the wrong way, especially when dozens of sheep suddenly appeared on the hills surrounding us.

I admit, being surrounded by sheep was a freaky experience

Eventually, we arrived at our destination, the ‘Smokehouse Cafe’ of Poachers Pantry. It was a little wooden cottage where the front part is a cafe and the back part is a shop that sells jams, condiments and cold smoked meats and poultry. Everything looked incredibly fresh.

We weren’t particularly hungry since we had a light breakfast at the hotel, so we only ordered one meal each. I went with the traditional carbonara with prosciutto and cracked pepper pappardelle. My wife went with the chicken and corn pie, with the pastry on top and some crunchy crisps on the side. It was a cold day so the order was perfect!

I loved this pasta dish -- not too heavy, not too light

The chicken and corn inside this pie was thick and creamy...mmm...

Unfortunately, it would have been great to order some of Poachers’ famous smoked meat platters, but it was way too much so we decided to purchase some from the store to take home. We ended up buying a tub of garlic jam, some classic prosciutto, the Poachers’ little ham, and the Sicilian chicken breast. We also bought a little freezer bag to keep the food cold on our way back to Sydney. There were lots of other things we could have gotten though, including lamb, kangaroo, sirloins and sausages. I believe they had wine too.

Inside the Smokehouse Cafe. To the left is the store.

I don’t know when we’ll be able to visit Poachers Pantry again but I’m glad we had the opportunity to visit such a delightful little place. The food was warm, hearty, and oozing with fresh country goodness. The flavours weren’t overly complex and they were not fussy about presentation, but it was perfect for a lazy weekend breakfast/lunch in the countryside. We were lucky we booked as many customers were turned away (imagine making the drive down only to be denied!).

8.5 out of 10!

Poachers Pantry
431 Nanima Road, Hall, ACT 2618
Phone: (02) 6230 2487
Smokehouse Cafe opening hours:
Brunch – Saturday & Sunday: 10am-11:30am
Lunch – Friday to Sunday: 12pm-3pm
Dinner – Friday & Saturday: 6pm-10pm

Canberra’s Best: Aubergine

September 14, 2011 in Canberra, Food, Reviews, Travel by pacejmiller

Sydney has plenty of fine dining restaurants that have delightful food, but the majority of them cost a leg, an arm, and two balls, especially if you are having wine.

Canberra, being the tiny town that it is, doesn’t have nearly as many, so we did our research before going.  And according to that research, the best fine dining restaurant around is Aubergine, which could be described as modern Australian with strong French and European overtones.  The Chef is Ben Willis, who had previously worked at Michelin-starred restaurants overseas.

The best part?  Two course meals are only $60.  Three course meals are $70.

We went for the three course set, chose six different dishes, and shared.  Here is what we had.

First up…well, we didn’t order this appetiser — almonds and olives — surprisingly good!

The first course, roast quail, scallops wrapped in bacon, braised lentils and soubise (like an onion puree sauce).  I’m not a big fan of lentils but this was deluxe.  That thing on top is a quail egg.

The alternate first course, the saute of sand whiting, chorizo, south coast squid and smoked rice.  When I first saw it I didn’t think much of it, but I think this turned out to be my favourite dish.  That black stuff mixed in with the lightly flavoured whiting and the salty chorizo was phenomenal.

Then the first main course: mustard crust pork loin, black pudding, pork croquette and braised fennel.  Ohh…I loved this one.  Big fan of mustard crust and the croquette, and the sauces mixed in together was simply sensational.  Even the black pudding was pretty good.

The alternate main course: white river veal fillet, veal sweetbreads, creamed potatoes, glazed shallots and salsa verde.

Dessert was very nice too.  The chocolate fondant with praline parfait.  Interesting array of textures with the soft fondant and the creamy parfait was a great combination.

Lastly, crepe suzette with mango ice cream.  A little disappointed with this one as the crepe got a bit soggy, but it was probably because they left this out while waiting for the fondant to bake.

In all, still an exquisite meal that would have cost twice as much back in Sydney.  Definitely one of the highlights of the trip!

8.5 out of 10!

18 Barker Street, Griffith, ACT, 2603
Phone: +61 2 6260 8666
Lunch: Tuesday-Saturday from 12pm
Dinner: Monday-Saturday from 6pm
Note: Book online in advance!

View of Canberra from Mount Ainslie Lookout

September 5, 2011 in Canberra, Travel by pacejmiller

The Parliamentary Triangle - Parliament House in the centre, the Defense Headquarters on the left and City Hill on the right (near the water fountain). The Australian War Memorial is down the bottom.

Don’t have much time today so here’s a Canberra quickie.

The friendly volunteer lady at the Information Office told us that if we wanted to get a great view of Canberra from afar, in particular the uniquely famous ‘Parliamentary Triangle’ (comprising Parliament House, Defence Headquarters and City Hill — I believe it is isosceles), we had two options: the revolving restaurant Alto at Telstra Tower at Black Mountain to the West, or Mount Ainslie Lookout to the East.

Option one most likely involved a massive and pricey meal, something we weren’t interested in after stuffing ourselves at Brodburger and with an exquisite meal lined up that evening at Aubergine (to be reviewed), so we went with option two — the free and unfilling one.

Mount Ainslie was a short drive from our previous destination, the Australian War Memorial.  Mostly mountainous terrain but it was a leisurely cruise with little traffic.

When we arrived, the lookout point was not particularly busy, with plenty of parking spaces available.  There were a group of noisy kids and a couple of adults doing nothing to stop them from running amok, but just about everyone else was there to take in the beautiful scenery.  There was even an old couple working on their paintings.

Anyway, here are two more photos.

The zoomed out view from Mount Ainslie Lookout. There really isn't much in Canberra, is there?

Most of these buildings to the right of the triangle belong to ANU, Australia's top university, and the building with the little loopy thing at the peak of the strip of land is the Australian National Museum

Two Canberra Museums in Half a Day

August 31, 2011 in Canberra, Travel by pacejmiller


The Australian War Memorial

Canberra has some great free museums, and two of the best are the Australian War Memorial and the National Museum of Australia.  After spending the morning at my personal favourite, the science museum Questacon (which imposes an entry fee), we decided to blitz through both the War Memorial and National Museum in the next four hours.

It had been more than a decade since I last visited the War Memorial, considered one of the great war museums in the world.  Everything from the design to the layout to the collections are all top notch and you don’t have to be a war or history buff to enjoy looking through the massive collection of Australian war memorabilia throughout the ages, from the colonial period all the way to present day.  And it’s not just photos, videos, medals, letters, clothes and weapons.  The museum is huge enough to house planes, tanks, submarines.  The incredibly detailed dioramas with all those little toy soldiers were my favourite.

The view from the front of the memorial

On the outside, you can get a fantastic view of Parliament House from the front entrance, and apart from the museum there’s also the marvellous Commemorative Area, which includes the Hall of Memory and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The Commemorative Area

It’s the type of place that can take you a whole day or more if you want to look at everything slowly and take it all in (as you would), but given the time constraints we did the ‘short tour’ that barely traversed all the highlights.  It was good enough.

After the War Memorial we drove down to the other side of town, where the National Museum of Australia is situated.  I attended a conference there a few years back (lamest thing ever — a bunch of young lawyers pretending they knew something about the law) but didn’t get the opportunity to look through the the exhibits.

The kind of weird stuff you'll see outside the National Museum of Australia

The National Museum definitely has one of the more unique designs of any museum I’ve been to, though the inside is more standard.  We sat through a rotating theatre and checked out the numerous exhibits through a strangely confusing circular path.  It’s not as exciting as say the British Museum or the Louvre, but considering the short history of colonised Australia (there is of course a section on indigenous history), the National Museum actually has a lot of stuff to offer (including a pretty cool gift shop).

Like the War Memorial, you’d probably need close to a full day to enjoy all the exhibits at the National Museum, so again we did the speedy tour and skipped a few sections.

Both museums are fantastic because they are well maintained and have a wealth of information.  Perfect for children and those who would like to learn a little more about Australia.

Check out the websites (click on the links above) for more information.

Brodburger: Freaking Delicious Burgers!

August 24, 2011 in Best Of, Canberra, Food, Reviews, Travel by pacejmiller

The Brodburger food caravan

I like my burgers, and few places make burgers like Brodburger in Canberra.  I was sceptical at first, considering that Brodburger is served out of a dodgy looking ‘food caravan’ in the parking lot of Bowen Park.

But we were on a high after Questacon and in need of a good feed, so we drove down by Bowen Park in search of the conspicuous red caravan.  And there it was, right at the edge of the parking lot, a perfect spot for nearby workers who want to enjoy a burger down on the grass overlooking Lake Burley Griffin.

It was 11:45am and Brodburger doesn’t open until 12 noon, but there was already a line of about 10 to 15 people, some regulars, others tourists, and all with a ravenous hunger plastered on their faces.  The clock ticked over to 12, and the line increased to about two dozen, and yet the owner of the van was nowhere to be seen.  At around 12:10, stomachs started grumbling and patient customers were wondering whether the delicious burger would elude them on this sunny day.

If you want to eat a Brodburger you have to get there early!

At 12:15, some rumblings could be heard behind the van, but less astute customers hadn’t noticed.  Fortunately for us, a group of about five decided it wasn’t worth the wait and departed, moving us up the queue just in time for the van to open up.

On this day, Brodburger was run by two friendly, carefree dudes — one serves and the other cooks.  Their menu is displayed outside on a wooden board, and contains an assortment of burgers, including beef, chicken, fish and vegetarian, as well as fries.  The prices are reasonable and bottles of water are given for free (if you ask nicely).

Finally! Open for business!

After a short wait we reached the front of the queue and went with the classic Brodburger (according to the website: A grade gourmet beef patty, flame grilled. Fresh lettuce, tomatoes, and Spanish onions. Includes homemade aioli and tomato relish) and a BrodChicken Burger (Succulent chicken breast in a secret marinate, flame grilled. Topped with bacon, avocado, fresh lettuce, tomatoes and Spanish onions. Includes homemade chilli aioli).  A lot of people went with the Brodburger Deluxe (which contains an extra patty, egg and bacon), but it looked like a coronary waiting to happen, so we passed.

The great thing about Brodburger is that their burgers are made fresh to order, but because of a shortage of facilities and staff, you almost certainly have to endure an agonising wait before you can devour your burger.  There weren’t that many people before us, but some of them ordered entire boxes of burgers and fries to take back to the office, and consequently we ended up waiting a further 30 minutes or so before our two burgers were ready.  And trust me, when you’re already starving, waiting for 30 minutes while surrounded by tempting burger fumes borders on torture.

Eventually, the burgers were ready, nice and hot in our little hands, and we took them down like prized jewels to a cozy spot by the lake.  A few birds looked like they were eager to be friends, but I barked at them for the safety of the burgers.

You know, photos rarely ever do burgers justice. This is the BrodChicken.

The Brodburger

So how was it?  You know I don’t like to exaggerate, but the burgers at Brodburger must be amongst the best I have ever tasted.  The buns are so soft and fluffy, and the meat is fresh, juicy and full of flavour.  The lettuce and tomato balance out the saltiness perfectly, but it is the generous amounts of the insanely delicious, tangy tomato relish and home-made aioli that elevated the burgers to a whole new level.  The Brodburger featured the green chive aioli and the BrodChicken featured the pink chilli aioli — both were to die for.

The half-eaten burger usually isn't a good look, but I simply couldn't resist

Bloody hell, just writing this post is making me super hungry.  I’m going to get some food.

10 out of 10!

 Bowen Park Carpark, Bowen Drive/Wentworth Av, Barton ACT
Opening Hours:
Tuesday: Dinner: 5:30 pm – 10:00 pm
Wednesday: Lunch: 12:00 pm – 2:00 pm; Dinner: 5:30 pm – 10:00 pm
Thursday: Lunch: 12:00 pm – 2:00 pm; Dinner: 5:30 pm – 12:00 am
Friday: Lunch: 12:00 pm – 2:00 pm; Dinner: 5:30 pm – 12:00 am
Saturday: Lunch: 12:00 pm – 2:00 pm; Dinner: 5:30 pm – 12:00 am
Sunday: Lunch: 12:00 pm – 3:00 pm

PS: Apparently the Brodburger van is not situated in a legally approved location and the council has been trying to get them to move, but petitions from customers have managed to keep them there, for now.