I know, I know, I had a request for Mawson. And I kept thinking I'd get out there soon, and I kept putting it off, and going to Fyshwick and Civic and Dickson and North Lyneham and Manuka and Kambah, and never making it to Mawson for a proper trip. And now it's well over a month since I did my last alphabet post, so it will just have to wait for another time.
So, M is for Manuka this time. I go to Manuka quite often - dinner and a movie with the Bloke, or coffee and cake with friends, or just for work reasons. It's a big area for food in Canberra - mostly as a cafe, restaurant and bar precinct. Locals know that you pronounce Manuka as MAAH-nuh-kuh. It's not Ma-NOO-ka like the tea tree plant, source of the famous honey, even though it is in fact named after the plant. Legend has it that some minor British royal declared the place open in 1920-whatever with this pronunciation, and it stuck.
I don't like grocery shopping in Manuka. There's a Coles, and a bakery and fruit shop in the newer section, but I find the supermarket poorly laid out, confusing and claustrophobic. And the prices are targetted to Canberra's rich list. I do appreciate Manuka Fine Foods, and also the Food and Wine Providore: they may be pricy, but you are paying for high quality gourmet nosh there. You know to expect it.
Restaurants and cafes come and go here. There's always something new. But some of the old favourites just keep on going - when I was a teenager in the 70s, my parents would sometimes take us out for pizza at Le Rendezvous, and Chinese at Timmy's Kitchen. Both are still there, redecorated but still going strong thirty years on. The old milk bar is still there, too, selling lots of specialty chocolates, and milkshakes in old-fashioned metal cups.
I have a few recommendations to share. There's no particular order, and missing a place may simply mean that I haven't been to it. Or not since the 80s: I must try Le Rendezvous again one day... As always, tips are most welcome in the comments.
Manuka Fine Foods: in Palmerston lane, this place has the best cheese room in town! There's also a deli and cafe, and the coffee is good. They have stock from quite a lot of regional suppliers. Some of it seems overpriced to me, especially some of the biscuits, but I suppose that depends on your priorities.
Zucchero: on the lawns, this does a decent coffee and cake, and excellent sandwiches on the house sourdough bread. It's an unpretentious spot, and serves breakfast until late.
El Torogoz: in Palmerston lane, this place has the most authentic central American food to be found in Canberra. Seriously good if you stick with the central American menu items. Try the soft tacos, and the unusual cheesecake with parmesan.
Jewel of India: upstairs, on Bougainville St, above the courtyard with Le Rendezvous. Some of the best Indian food in Canberra.
Legends: upstairs, on Franklin St cinema-side. Legends does Spanish food, including terrific tapas. They stock Spanish wines, sherries and beers. I was there with some friends in February, and we sampled a good range of the tapas. The kidneys in sherry cream sauce and the pipis were great, with generous serves. They run at about $12 per plate. One day we'll have to have a proper meal there, but if you want proper tapas, this is your place.
Mecca Bah: If you prefer mezze, here is your spot, on Manuka Terrace, Flinders Way. They do Moroccan and middle eastern food. I love the middle eastern coleslaw with pastirma. Great pides, and OMG, the icecream! Halvah, date, yoghurt, roast apple, turkish coffee ($9 for 3 scoops and they will let you mix). Must go back soon, it's been too long.
Ironbark Cafe: Australian food, using not just native meats but also fruits, spices and greens. Service is very laid back in pace. They do burgers ($18), wraps ($12), salads and cakes as well as more substantial dinner fare. The exact menu varies a bit, as availability for native ingredients tends to be sporadic. Check the specials board and watch out for the boab root felafel and the bunya nut pancakes. Fabulous.
Ginseng: good quality Chinese, on Flinders Way.
Timmy Kitchen - good quality Malay/Chinese, on Furneaux St. One of Canberra's oldest restaurants, almost an institution. Excellent value for money.
Wasabi - Japanese, teppanyaki style or a la carte. A huge sake selection and a proper sushi bar. A little pricier, but also with more upmarket dishes, than its Dickson counterpart.
The Julep Lounge: seriously good cocktails, upstairs on Franklin St.