Charlotte Stevens moved to Canberra when she was 20 years old to study international relations at the Australian National University. By the time she was done, she had found another reason to stay.
“I started working in hospitality within six months of arriving, and was just introduced to this really fun, vibrant side of the city that I didn’t know existed,” she says. “There’s a perception that Canberra hasn’t changed in 20 years, but there’s rapid growth in hospitality, art and music. A lot of new venues have opened and it’s a such a close community.”
When she finished her degree, she helped launch Bar Rochford, an award-winning wine and cocktail bar worth the trip to Canberra alone. She also founded Tusk Collaborative, an initiative that helps connect women in hospitality and promote them into management roles.
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She’s in the inner circle of Canberra’s hospitality community, so she knows exactly where you should go when you’re in town. Start with these.
Chef Lucy Holm (ex-Paperbark, ex-Rebel Rebel) left the fine-dining world to do one thing and do it well: sandwiches. Her small shop Sandoochie on Canberra’s No Name Lane serves a simple menu: four sandwiches and a special, all of which change seasonally. “Lucy uses ingredients in such a creative way, she makes things that you wouldn’t think would be the star, the star,” Stevens says. Her favourite sandwich is the Celebrity Dooch, with spiced Dutch carrots, chimichurri and herbs on incredible bread from local business Under Bakery (which is by an ex-Relae chef). Zingy.
Morks is a modern Thai restaurant in Kingston run by two brothers, Mork and Benn Ratanakosol, that Stevens loves for its incredible food, service, and drinks menu. “I can’t fault this place,” she says. “It's really vibrant in both service-style and food, and Benn, who’s front of house, is just so charming.”
The menu features modern twists on Thai dishes like fishball toast with kewpie mayonnaise and smoked Yarra Valley caviar. “It’s a place you don’t get sick of,” Stevens says.
Stevens’s pit stop for caffeine is always Intra, a moody cafe in the leafy suburb of Campbell with a killer food menu – but there’s more to it than specialty coffee and kimchi jaffles. Run by two guys who also own minimal intervention bottle shop Waxtop Wine a few suburbs over, this place is a hospitality hotspot, teaming up with local businesses and pop-ups for one-night-only events. “It’s a very dynamic cafe space,” Stevens says. “There’s always something happening there.”
Chef Sean McConnell’s modern Australian restaurant Rebel Rebel is practically royalty in Canberra. It’s popular for its incredible food and warm space (the ceiling is lined with recycled timber that came from an old public housing building), but Stevens credits the success of this restaurant to its un-stuffy service style. “Sean and his team – both front of house and back of house – have some of the most refined techniques in cooking and hospitality, but they’re presented in such a neighbourhood way,” she says. “You get treated like you’re at home. It’s not stuffy, you can just relax and have a great time.”
Though there are many high profile restaurants in Canberra, Stevens says there are just as many neighbourhood spots that are off-the-beaten path and worth calling out. She loves Ramen O in Belconnen: a tiny ramen joint out the back of a shopping centre that serves a small menu of ramen and gyoza. “It’s possibly the best ramen in Australia – and I’ve eaten a lot of ramen,” she says, laughing. “It looks low-key from the outside, but what you get there is so, so superb.”
*This article was produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Visit Canberra.