Three reasons Canberra is made for delectable dining

We arrive late on Friday night at the East Hotel Canberra after making the drive from Sydney. We’re hungry and keen to make the most of what’s left of the night. So, we decide to check out Joe’s Bar which is conveniently located on the hotel lobby level. The bar wastes absolutely no space with its funky interiors. A pink textured feature wall with mix-match furnishings and oversized chandeliers, it really leans into the art deco mantra that’s carried throughout the East Hotel.

The vibe in Joe's Bar
The funky vibe in Joe’s Bar © East Hotel Canberra

Bar bites and beats

We order a cocktail and watch the bar staff whip it up in front of us. Joe’s has a mini food menu to snack on including woodfire pizza and a selection of sides for those who want something a little lighter. We go for the Gamberi Pizza Rossa where the dough is made fresh onsite daily and generously dotted with freshly cooked prawns, cherry tomatoes, and a touch of chilli.

House-made focaccia with prosciutto and cheese
House-made focaccia with prosciutto and cheese
Pizza Rossa, Gamberi with prawns, cherry tomatoes and chilli
Gamberi Pizza Rossa © Samantha Rowntree

A taste of Italy in Canberra

We arrive aptly for our 6:30pm booking the next night at Agostinis and it’s buzzing with families for the earlier time slot. The restaurant is bigger than you’d expect, it’s 200 seats divided up between three areas: outdoor, main dining and their latest addition, Il Camino, a room ideal for private functions or larger groups. We’re seated in the main dining area with the pink neon lights that playfully read ‘you had me a pizza’ with their signature pink hues following through into the wallpaper and bench chairs. We are ushered to our leopard print booth in the corner then waiter goes through the menu offering his personal favourites to try.

Drinks at Joe's Bar
Drinks at Joe’s Bar © East Hotel Canberra

The menu is curated by Executive Chef Francesco Balestrieri who brings a taste of Italy to the capital of Australia. We start with cocktails that are off the menu with the bar staff more than accommodating whipping up one of the best Amaretto Sours I’ve ever had, along with a Tommy’s Margarita. The smell of pizza wafts around us, which takes me back to last night’s pizza at Joe’s Bar. As tempting as it is to order the pizza two nights in a row, we try something different at Agostinis.

Agostini's signature pink
Agostinis signature pink interiors © East Hotel Canberra

We take some of the recommendations given to us by our waiter and order the freshly baked focaccia which is lightly herbed and served with olive oil and the lightest whipped garlic butter. I honestly could’ve eaten this dish just by itself. The staff are super attentive and as we come to the last bites of our focaccia they ask if we’re ready for the chef to get started on our mains. Stuffed ravioli with goat’s cheese, pumpkin, and amaretto drizzled with butter and sage. Risotto with prawns, fresh zucchini, cherry tomatoes with saffron, rich with flavour, each bite better than the next.

The goat cheese ravioli and the prawn risotto
Goat cheese ravioli and the prawn risotto

Time for wine

East Hotel and Agostinis have partnered up with the local winery at Lark Hill, which is about a 35-minute drive out of Canberra. The vineyard was established in 1978 by owners Sue and Dave who still manage it to this day with the help of their son Chris who came onboard in 2002. It boasts some of the best organic, biodynamic, and sustainable wines in Canberra, including Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Gruner Veltliner.

The vineyard at Lark Hill
The vineyard at Lark Hill

The sunlit restaurant has an elevated view of the vines. It’s a beautiful warm spring day so we choose to sit on the patio and enjoy our beautiful surroundings. Agostonis at Lark Hill offers lunch Friday, Saturday and Sunday with a $65 two-course menu which includes bread to start with. I’m no wine connoisseur, so I appreciate that under each dish it recommends the perfect glass of Lark Hill wine to pair with what you’re eating.

Salmone tartare and calamari fritti
Salmon tartare and calamari fritti
Saltimbocca and Pesce | The sirloin streak and the pan-fried Spanisch Macherel
Sirloin streak and Spanish Macherel

Lunching at Lark Hill

I choose the salmon tartare to start, it’s fresh and flavoursome while still letting the sashimi shine through. It has pieces of white radish, and eschalot mixed through. For mains, I’ve chose the pan-fried Spanish Mackerel, it’s a thick piece and still remains tender inside with crispy salted skin. It comes with a citrus salad mix of fennel, lemon, and orange – albeit a bit sour on its own, it pairs perfectly with the fish.

We finish on a sweet note and devour the cannoli as recommended by our friendly waiter. The shell is perfectly crisp while the lemon custard filling is creamy and tart with a touch of sweetness.

Locally made piccolo cannoli shells with lemon custard
Locally made piccolo cannoli with lemon custard
A lunch with a view
Lunch with a view

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