Human Brochure weekend – a review by Jane

11 Nov

If you’ve ever wondered what 48 hours in Canberra with me as your (eating) tour guide looks like, this is it. Before the Human Brochure weekend began, I gave you a sneak peek of what I expected our experience to look like. I’ll let my best friend, guest human and superb writer Jane take you on that 48 hour ride:

The Human Brochure weekend couldn’t be more beautifully timed, for me at least. A manic period of work and study come to an end at midday on 31 October: my personal ghouls to be left on the tarmac as I flee south.

The last time I flew into Canberra airport (too long ago), it was in the late stages of expansion. This time, it looks glossy and complete and twice the size.

T1 is not the only Local Human waiting for guests at the bottom of the stairs, and I get my first real sense of how the weekend will be: the bumpings into, the welcoming curiosity, the undercurrent of not-so-secret society. Are you a Human too?

As we wait for my bags to appear (and play a low-scoring round of spot-which-politician-was-on-my-flight) T1 produces a goodie-bag of Canberra treats. This is not an official Human Brochure gift, but it’s an idea many Local Humans have made their own. There’s pride involved: not just pride in what Canberra has to offer, but pride in being one of the weekend’s 101 hosts.

Goodies!

One week on, most of the edible goodies are long gone. Some of the macarons, from Dream Cuisine and Flute, don’t even make it out of the airport carpark.

Canberra has turned on perfect weather – warm and breezy – and from Kings Avenue, Parliament House is stark against a blue evening sky: an iconic welcome.

I am a willing visitor to the capital. On my first trip, perhaps five years ago now, I came ready to embrace my best friend’s adopted hometown and to marvel at national institutions. I didn’t expect to be so infatuated, though: with the surrounding mountains and the expansive suburbs, with the wandering lakes, and with the pleasant symmetry of the city’s well-planned heart (my own responds well to order).

I’m not here to be won over, then, this weekend. The city is one of the old friends I’m here to see, a familiar companion with whom to share new experiences.

Our first stop is East Hotel in Kingston, where a beautiful one-bedroom apartment courtesy of Human Brochure is waiting. More goodies have been provided, this time by the hotel: wine from Eden Road, moleskin notepads, Little Monster chocolate and handwritten welcome notes.

After checking in, we head to Belconnen to be reunited with Cooper the whippet, who inspects and approves my goodie bag. We open a bottle of Professor Brian Schmidt’s Maipenrai 2012 Pinot Noir on the deck (every sip improves my IQ) and I think un-Queensland-like thoughts about the benefits of daylight saving.

Professor Schmidt’s Pinot

T1 and Boyfriend have made a late reservation at Les Bistronomes in Braddon, in the hope that their other visiting Human will have time to arrive from Sydney. We make a pre-dinner stop at BentSpoke Brewing Co. where, being a non-beer-drinking heathen, I sample the one (excellent) cider on their menu. Although I’m perhaps not their target market, I can see the appeal: the modestly sized space is made welcoming by the long street frontage, and the cheerful bar staff add to the friendly atmosphere (some of them sporting seriously good Halloween makeup).

Les Bistronomes is surprisingly quiet after 9pm. I’ve already scoped out the menu online and am ready to place an order of salade niçoise, goat cheese soufflé and vanilla crème brulée. Even before the food arrives, the authenticity of the place is evident; although some of the staff have Australian accents, they switch effortlessly between French and English when taking orders around the table. The food is just as impressive: beautifully presented, perfectly cooked, and generously sized (somehow it already feels like a long time since the macarons).

Vanilla creme brulee

Late-night catching up over more wine means that on Saturday morning we scale back our outdoor plans from climbing a mountain to a leisurely walk at Palmerville Heritage Park in Giralang. Cooper leads us along unkempt trails and beneath trees heavy with pink flowers. There’s a touch of wildness about Palmerville that I like: this is a place that the city has collaborated with, not created.

 

The walk is a strategic move, because the day ahead is one of serious eating. Our first destination is the Capital Region Farmers Market at EPIC, where I meet the delightful Mr Frugii and sample roughly 90% of his icecreams, before deciding on a cone of salted butter caramel to start the day. My fellow market-goers eye me dubiously – I’m aware I look like a six-foot-tall toddler – but they’re secretly wishing they were eating icecream before 10am, too.

Next we head to Chatterbox in Belconnen for our official first meal of the day. Momentarily forgetting that we have a midday reservation at Sage Dining Rooms, I order smashed avocado with eggs (the kitchen is happy to swap poached for scrambled as per my picky request) and it’s too good not to eat in its entirety.

Scrambled eggs with smashed avocado

After breakfast, we – ahem – get ready to go to lunch at Sage. This is one of the things I’m most looking forward to, being a devoted reader of In The Taratory and having frequently drooled over T1’s Taste and Test reviews in particular. It seems this is something of a Human Brochure mecca: one group is having drinks in the Mint Garden Bar while another is beginning a degustation when we take our table inside. This meal is not our VIP experience, but the staff treat us to a complimentary plate of oysters all the same.

This is another menu I’ve had a peek at in advance (it’s been a tough week) and a stomach still somewhat full of breakfast doesn’t dampen my enthusiasm for garlic soup, green pea risotto, and passionfruit and raspberry mousse.

Garlic soup

Dessert

It’s easy to see why this place has become a Canberra institution. The service is great – I especially like the brief introductions that come with each dish – and the food is beautiful. If anything, the servings are too generous (and I don’t think I just say that as someone midway through a day of gluttony); my soup entrée could easily have been a main. I’m full before dessert arrives but somehow find room for it anyway.

Our Human Brochure VIP experience, a two-hour whisky tasting, is scheduled for 3pm, at Ox Eatery at East Hotel, so we waddle back to our room and fall into a brief digestive stupor (some of us, who will remain anonymous, actually nap).

Just after 3 we settle into a booth in Ox, excited by the neat row of whisky bottles set out nearby. I’m the kind of redneck whose previous Scotch experiences have also involved cola (sacrilege, I’m sure), so I am particularly attentive when our host explains each glass to us, indicating on our maps of Scotland where it originated and telling us a little about how it was made.

The experience has been well planned: the six whiskies are presented in order from smoothest and easiest to drink through to those with the smokiest and most intense flavours (the last, surprisingly for me, being from Japan), and the chef brings out finger food with recommendations of what to eat when – pretzels, bread, Serrano ham, air-cured beef and jerky. We eye these uncertainly, given we’re still recovering from lunch, but the first taste magically makes us hungry for more.

Both our waiter and the chef are clearly passionate about whisky (they even sneak us a couple of extra tastes) and make the time to chat to us about their own preferences and experiences. There’s a sense of informality to it which is appealing.

As we’re wrapping up, the chef is preparing to serve one of Ox’s signature dishes: a spit-roasted suckling pig. He invites us to watch the preparation, which is something of an art. Despite our day of eating, we look on a little wistfully as the resulting platter is carried away (it’s a two-man job) to be served: the pig, roughly cut and laid out with additional pieces of pork belly, vegetables, slightly incongruous potato gems, and topped off with homemade applesauce and crackling. It’s a vegetarian’s worst nightmare, and would probably be too much even for carnivores who prefer to distance themselves from the origins of their food, but I, unapologetic about my place in the food chain, am very impressed (and almost hungry again).

Radiating whisky warmth, we meander down to the Kingston Foreshore for a drink at The Rum Bar, a favourite of mine from a previous visit, but our day of eating and drinking is starting to catch up with us and after an hour we’re ready to retreat to the comfort of our hotel room.

A quiet drink at rum bar

The next morning I bounce out of bed, in part because I’ve had 11 hours of sleep, but also because T1 has promised to take me paddleboating. Canberra has turned on a perfectly cloudless day. Saturday’s wind has dropped to a light breeze and the prospect of being out on the water is life-affirming.

We arrive at Lake Burley Griffin Boat Hire in Acton before their scheduled opening time of 8:30, so we go for a walk and befriend some ducklings by the lake to fill in the time.

After 9, there’s still no sign of any movement. Disappointed but not willing to miss our 9:30 breakfast reservation at Elk and Pea, we head to Braddon.

As I’m something of a breakfast lover, Elk and Pea is another place I’ve been looking forward to visiting. While briefly tempted by the alcoholic ‘hair of the elk’ drinks menu, I settle for the grande vego breakfast, having learned nothing from my overindulgence the day before. It is a feast and I regret nothing.

Grande vego breakfast at Elk and Pea

T1’s go to: spiced paprika eggs

Our next stop is the Old Bus Depot Markets in Kingston, where I promptly lose my companions in a world of homewares, jewellery, secondhand books and, yes, more food. I buy a delicious cupcake from Veganarchy for reasons I can’t quite understand.

Reunited, we make a spontaneous trip to the Capital Public Golf Course in Narrabundah to try our hand at the driving range, before returning to Lake Burley Griffin Boat Hire.

This time we’re in luck, and within a few minutes T1 and I are peddling our way towards the National Museum. It’s lucky LBG is a big place, and there’s very little traffic in our corner of it; our steering capabilities are elementary at best but we happily zigzag our way across the West Basin, applauding ourselves when we’re going with the current and bemoaning the state of our leg muscles when we turn back against it.

30 minutes on the water is enough for my calves but far too short for the rest of me. It’s the perfect activity for a perfect Territory day.

Heading towards the National Museum

After a bit of downtime in Belco (nonstop eating is exhausting) we head to our last stop of the weekend: the Sunday sesh at La De Da, overlooking Lake Ginninderra. It’s a fitting way to wrap up a weekend in the ACT: sitting out on the deck in the sun, taking in the views, listening to live local music and (of course) talking a little politics. By far the most divisive topic of discussion is T1’s cocktail, which involves Maker’s Mark and bacon fat.

(Sadly none of these is said cocktail!)

All too soon it’s time for the airport and a flight back to reality; back to being just a lowercase human. It’s been an absolute privilege to be part of the Human Brochure concept, and I’m so grateful for T1 (and Boyfriend, and Cooper) for sharing it with me.

Until next time, Canberra.

 

Note from Tara: thanks very much to Visit Canberra for this weekend, hosting us at East Hotel and putting together our VIP experience of whisky tasting at Ox Eatery. All other activities were paid by us. For more experiences, head to http://www.humanbrochure.com.au.

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3 Responses to “Human Brochure weekend – a review by Jane”

  1. whisperinggums November 11, 2014 at 5:52 pm #

    Well done T1, you did Canberra proud.

  2. Deb November 11, 2014 at 9:53 pm #

    Beautifully written by Jane

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Chatterbox Espresso Bar – Redux | In The Taratory - January 26, 2015

    […] It’s easy to see why a cafe has so many regulars, being friendly and so accommodating, with consistent and flavoursome dishes. (Boyfriend’s asked me to stress his opinion in full: “It’s the best breakfast anywhere in Canberra”). It’s our go to for visitors and catch-ups – from my parents (who had never had sushi train before, remember), to Boyfriend’s, to Belco friends and coffee dates – and was a non-negotiable stop for our Human Brochure weekend. […]

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