Wow! I never thought that this would be such a great destination, but I am now officially adding it to my regular must-visit list. Gungahlin, as most of you know, is not a suburb but an entire district. It's the newest part of Canberra, lying north of Belconnen and west of the Federal Highway. It's rather dismal looking to my eye - not enough trees, and far too many medium density modern houses designed by architects with a disdain for the golden ratio. I suppose that time will remedy the tree problem, at least.
Anyway, Gungahlin has a town centre, which includes the big supermarkets and chain shops. There's Coles and Woolworths and Aldi and Big W, and a gigantic Magnet Mart up the hill. I've very rarely visited, except for the odd quick dash to Woollies while the bloke went to Magnet Mart. I noted with some depression that there isn't a single bookshop out there. But this time Beth and I went off for lunch and a little explore around the Gungahlin Place and Hibberson Street shops. The Gungahlin centre is not all mall, there's a lot of shops lining the street in a country town style that's unusual for Canberra. I like this more open air approach.
We went to three shops, and peered in the windows of several cafes and Asian restaurants in this area. Red Chillies Vietnamese looked rather nice; Ginger & Spice has a nice name but the menu seems pretty straight Cantonese with a tiny touch of Malaysian. There's a noodle and Chinese BBQ joint called Fortune Box. Of the shops that I actually visited, I enjoyed the Cook & Grocer, but this one place wouldn't persuade me to return. Fruitylicious, on the other hand, is totally reason in itself to go back, and if I were in any doubt, then the Hub Asian Supermarket would clinch it.
Our first stop on this dark and stormy day was a light lunch at the Cook and Grocer. At 1pm, they had sold out of most lunch dishes, but I did have a very enjoyable roast vegetable and parmesan baguette ($6.20) and a "Morgan's handcrafted coffee" ($3.50). Beth had a veggie quiche with a side of Greek salad.
We browsed around the shelves, noting that they sell a small but carefully chosen selection of fine foods. There's Homeleigh Grove olives and oils, Toby's Estate teas, a few select local wines, Lime Grove products, Whisk & Pin products. They also have their own range of interesting biscuits, including cardamom butter biscuits, cinnamon Xmas cookies and Almond, orange and cardamom biscotti. They're luxury priced, around $4-6 for a small packet. It's everything you need to make up gourmet gift hampers. They do special orders, as well - we just missed the deadline to order a Saskia Beer Black Pig ham for Xmas.
Their other main line is in takeaway dinners - as in, good food that you can take home and reheat for dinner. There wasn't much in the fridge at lunchtime, just some sticky date and chocolate puddings, and a lone beef casserole. This is because it's made fresh every day - the fridge is stocked up by about 4pm, with casseroles around $12 and veggie dishes around $7. Not supercheap again, but fresh made, and if my sandwich and biscuit is any guide, probably rather good!
Fruitylicious is at 123 Hibberson St Gungahlin, and this is the place where I gasped in amazement and decided to come back. It's a large mixed family business, combining a deli, fresh fruit & veg, a juice and smoothie bar, and a small bakery with coffee and home made pastries and cakes. There's even a small catering business, offering fruit, cake, and assorted savoury platters for parties. This place has everything! The main emphasis is Italian, with some Eastern European and Mediterranean goodies. With Christmas on the way they stock an extraordinary array of panettones. There's Italian softdrinks, and grappas and spirits. There's Australian premium lines - Maggie Beer again, and others with less memorable names. (Yeah, sorry about my poor note-taking.)
The deli at Fruitylicious boasts not just one but four different varieties of prosciutto - three Italian and a Spanish Serrano. There's a staggering range of cheese, both Australian and imported, including various kinds of provolone and parmesan, a house marinated fetta, and an aged Dutch cheese - I've never seen one that in Canberra before. There's marinated vegetables and coldcuts galore, and the friendly ladies behind the counter will give you a tiny sample and advice if you're unsure what to get.
I picked up a small semi-random selection of stuff, which will give you an idea. I have Peppe's frozen ravioli with veal, sage and white wine; a chunk of Parmigiano Reggiano; a few slices of Calypso hot salami (made in Sydney in a traditional Italian style); a hunk of aged Gouda; a bottle of Croatian Maraska Amarena sour cherry syrup for cordials; and a tin of Polish Bakalland poppy-seed filling for baked goods. I don't know what I'll do with that yet, but I'm sure google will come to my aid somehow.
Our final stop was the Hub Asian supermarket at Gungahlin Place East. This is one of a small chain: there's another in Tuggeranong, and a Belconnen one is planned. The owners seem to be smart people, aiming to expand the market for Asian groceries to people who might be nervous about shopping in tiny places with staff who have little in the way of English. They also seem to have a penchant for photos taken at odd angles. The shop is larger than many suburban supermarkets, and brightly lit with wide aisles. It's sparkling clean, with a multilingual and multinational staff who all speak English. There's a staggering array of goods, including fresh vegetables, nicely labelled in English, and takeaway Thai salads and Vietnamese rolls. There's fresh made sweets, delivered on Tuesdays and Fridays with the fresh produce.
There's fresh noodles and tofu and kimchee and chinese sausage in the fridges, and every type of dim sum you could imagine in the freezers. Also in the extensive freezer section, there's a baffling variety of meats, fish, vegetables, desserts, and vegetarian fake meats. There's aisles of Asian soft drinks, lollies and biscuits. There's curry pastes and stirfry sauces and spices; there's tinned vegetables and fruits; there's noodles and rices and, well, I don't know what there isn't. It's south east Asian in focus, with a moderate Japanese selection, and a very tiny Indian range.
I'll definitely be dropping back from time to time. I won't be changing my favourite Asian grocer: Saigon in Dickson is more convenient for me, and I'm usually happy enough with their range. I think they get some of their sweets and fresh produce from the same suppliers as the Hub. But if you don't live near Canberra's mini-Chinatown, these Hub supermarkets in our satellite town centres will be a godsend. When's Woden due, guys?
So there you are: Gungahlin proves not to be a foodie wasteland at all! I will be going back, for sure.