The Human Brochure weekend was paid for by Australian Capital Tourism.
I have seen the sprawling lights of Manhattan at night from the top of the Empire State Building. I have stared at the organic, winding towers of la Sagrada Familia. I have climbed Uluru, walked the length of the Champs-Elysees, and seen the warped version of myself in the sliver surface of the Bean.
I have been a tourist in many places. Not as many as I would like to, but still a fair few. And yet, like most of us, I often forget to be a tourist in my own backyard.
Here in Canberra we may not have the Eiffel Tower or the Taj Mahal, but like any city, there are great experiences to have here. This was something that I and my fellow Humans got find out.
Of course, we are all humans. But only a select 500 of us got the chance to be Humans. Chosen from many thousands of applicants for our social media acumen, we got to be part of the Human Brochure. Through a free weekend on the tab of Australian Capital Tourism we were given a guided tour of the cream of Canberra, in the hope that we would tell everyone in the wider internet land all about it, particularly hoping that we’d say good things.
For those of us in the “Foodies” group, our hosts understood the secret to making us happy.
Wine. And lots of it.
From toasting the new Arboretum with a glass of local sparkling at 10:30 am, to the bottle of Lark Hill Sangiovese found in our rooms as a gift, we were kept on a steady buzz for most of the weekend.
Their is no doubt that many people went away from the capital with a greater appreciation of the remarkable winemakers that surround this territory, many of whom we had the chance to meet. Clonakilla shiraz, Gallagher sparklings, and of course the spectacular rieslings of Ken Helm particularly impressed, but the whole region showed itself worth exploration.
Excellent and copious though the wine was, drinking was not the only activity we took part in. We visited some of the city’s major attractions, such as the War Memorial and Old Parliament House. Both were great venues, and full of exhibitions that we only got a a glimpse of, but which deserve a revisit.
Though for me, this weekend was meant to be about the food, and much of what was served at these two places were not worth much mention. The finger food served under classic planes in ANZAC Hall were serviceable but unexceptional catering fare, and brunch at OPH was equally uninspiring.
The meals that were specially for us ‘Foodies’, however, were a little more exciting. For Saturday lunch we headed out to Poacher’s Pantry, that home of smoked meats surrounded by vineyards. We started under the sun with yet more Canberra sparkling and a few canapes, including some silken pastrami with a touch of sharp yellow pickle that particularly impressed.
Moving inside for the meal, and more wine, we started with a platter of their smoked meats. Smoked hams, beef and chicken showed why Poachers have the reputation they did, although it was sad that they didn’t include the kangaroo pastrami.
Mains were rather hefty, meaty affairs. Panfried pieces of Blue Eye Cod were served on some avocado and corn. Sticky beef ribs were sweet and rich, but a little dry for my tastes. Smoked chicken was made into saltimbocca, balancing the smoke and salt well, but cooking the already smoked meat made it decidedly dense. This was an unfortunate trend across the three dishes, with great flavours but textures slightly off. The vegetable portions were also a touch small.
A fennel blossom pannacotta for dessert split opinions. For me, the gentle and slightly odd flavour of the fennel blossom worked beautifully with a tart lime syrup, but a number of half-finished plates showed that not everyone was as happy with this unusual combination.
With a sleepy bus ride and a three hour break before dinner, I took advantage of my very lush Hotel Realm room to relax. There’s something exciting about a hotel room. Even if it’s only a short distance from where you live, there’s the feeling of a holiday that comes from staying in such well looked after digs. With a big soft bed, and very deep bath, I made sure to make the best of it.
Dragging myself away from that luxury was tough, but it was time for a short wander across the road for dinner at Malamay (and more wine). The latest restaurant from the mighty Chairman Group, this is meant to be Sichuan-inspired food, and it’s really quite good. I was my second visit (I paid for the first one), and both times a lot of Malamay impressed.
Seated towards the back of the bluestone, black and red restaurant, we fell into the sort of expansive conversations that comes from like minded food lovers with lots of wine, where the only lulls where as the food was being served. When the waiters started dishing out cold, meaty noodles with chilli-topped prawns from a deep birds-nest like bowl, the guests stopped and watched the performance.
As with any meal there were ups and downs. The definite high point was slab of eggplant, which was cooked slowly sous vide before being put under a salamander and covered with sesame, served with a kombu and chilli oil dressing and rice. While strangely Japanese for a Sichuan inspired restaurant, this was delightfully nutty with a hit of umami.
Even the less exciting dishes had good aspects, such as a dish of char grilled beef fillet s and abalone congee, where the beef seemed to distract from the pungency of the congee.
Service was knowledgable and, again, the local wines were spectacular. Which is why we kept drinking them well into the evening.
Back when they were deciding the location of the Australian capital, King O’Malley, the Minister for Home Affairs and head of the search, spoke of creating a city with “the population of London, the beauty of Paris, the culture of Athens, and the industry of Chicago”. Canberra may never have quite reached those heights, but it is not a city to be discounted.
As I and my fellow Humans found, there is more to Canberra than many people think. So come and visit, and to those here in Canberra, take some time to rediscover the place.
Or, at the very least, drink some of our wine.