A Weekend away in Canberra

Chances are that if you think of destinations for a weekend away from Sydney that Canberra isn’t usually one of them. We decided that we’d spend a weekend in the nation’s capital and turned out that we had such a great time I decided I should write about it.

Driving down to Canberra from Sydney
The drive from Sydney to Canberra takes about 3 hours. While we could have done that all in one go, we made a decision to make a pit stop in Bowral as there were a few places my wife wanted to check out. I was keen to do this because I haven’t been to Bowral since I was kid, and I’m always keen to explore towns. We left Sydney at 9:00am, fired up Waze and Spotify, and hit the road. I found a playlist on Spotify called “Unwind 00’s” which actually had a decent mix of songs that actually suited driving;

One the best things about road trips in NSW is the amazing scenery.

Using Waze whilst driving long distances – the best GPS app you’ll ever use.
Whilst driving long distances I have to insist you use/try Waze. It’s like if you took the GPS directions of Google Maps and gave it better features. The best part? Waze drivers give you warnings about accidents, traffic jams, and most importantly Police traps. It isn’t fool proof, and you need to be careful you have a dash-mount, but it’s amazing when you do long drives. Get it, and thank me later.


Stopping in Bowral – Scones from The Press Shop
After 1.5 hours of driving we reached Bowral. We arrived at 10:30am and both of us were hungry. Our first stop was to get some food at “The Press Shop”. This cafe is beautiful and busy. It has outstanding baked goods and tasty menu items. Neither of us wanted anything too big, so we opted to try some of their scones.

Traditional Scone with Jam & Cream
Burnt Butter, Maple, Apple and Cinnamon Scone

If you’ve ever wanted a perfect Scone, then you need to come here. The traditional one was 100% everything you’d want in a scone, light, perfect. The Apple one I had was like if you took a scone and mixed it with an apple pie with gooey maple sauce. If you want to check out The Press Shop cafe it’s located here;

Stunning store front
Dirty Jane’s (with Harry’s on the Green/Garden cafe to the left)

Bowral had lots of interesting places to see and visit. We didn’t have time to stick around as we had a massage booked at 1:45pm and it was a 2 hour drive from Bowral to Canberra. We quickly looked at a few things and jumped into the car to reach Canberra.


Arrive in Canberra – Massage at Hale Spa
After driving for 3 hours I can honestly say that I was ready for our booked massage. We were a little bit late, which meant that instead of the hour massage we had planned, we were only able to do 45 minutes. This was disappointing, but understandable. The Hale Spa is associated with the hotel we stay at (see next), and provides a wide array of options and packages. The massage was perfect, both my wife and I loved it and were super relaxed afterwards. We would like to come back and book in a proper / longer treatment.

Hale Spa

 


Staying at The Little National Hotel

There were a number of funky hotels that we wanted to stay at in Canberra, but the one that really caught our eye was The Little National. Located very close to Parliament House, this hotel has an interesting and modern interior. The layout of the room is unique with the king-sized bed being positioned right up against the full wall window with a view was too cool to pass up. The checkin was easy, the staff friendly, and everything was modern and simple. The room was narrow, but not bad. If you enjoy big hotel rooms then this place isn’t going to be your cup of tea. The top 2 levels (5/6) are hotel rooms, I have no clue if there is a level 1-3.

Unique room layout
Smart TV mounted right above the bed makes for perfect movie watching

On each of the two hotel room levels there are communal lounge areas that you can relax or work in. From 5pm, they open up a mini-bar and you can purchase drinks and some very limited nibbles. One the really great features is free movies and super fast free wifi. The movie range was good and impressive with the current titles on offer. We watched two recent movies during our stay (Passengers + The Arrival).

Level 6 Lounge
…facing back towards where we took the first photo
Spiral Stair Case

PRO:
– King-sized bed is incredible.
– View is great, and electronic blinds/block out shade is perfect.
– Outdoor parking option is really handy
– Location is 5-10 minutes from most shops, restaurants etc.
– Super fast free wifi (100-200Mbps!)
– Free (recent release) movies

CON:
– No room service option, very limited food options.
– Rooms could be too narrow for some people.
– Lack of table space within room and some basic items (no cutlery etc).

Details:
Address: 21 National Circuit, Barton ACT 2600
Phone: (02) 6188 3200
Site: http://littlenationalhotel.com.au/

MAP:


Dinner at ‘Akiba’.
Everyone knows that when you go away somewhere one of the challenges is finding somewhere good for dinner. Thankfully, a quick google of “best places for dinner in Canberra” brings up quite a few recommendations. I chose two places as options; for Japanese food ‘Akiba’, for Italian ‘Mezzalira’. My wife said that she wanted Japanese.. and we were very lucky to score a 9pm booking. The place was fantastic. So much so, I had to write a dedicated review post – “Akiba, Canberra – Home of the Best Pork Belly Bun”. I’m not going to rehash that post here, suffice it to say it was worth it and I’d highly recommend you having dinner there.


The joy of the King-Sized Bed
One thing that’s hard to convey is how amazing the king-sized bed at The Little National is. I laughed when I first saw that they provided the supplier’s contact details and the price (so people could buy it). After spending a blissful night, I understand why. So comfortable, so peaceful. The block out blind means you sleep in complete darkness. The hardest thing was hearing the alarm going off at 9am and convincing yourself you actually have to get up.


 

Brunch at The Cupping Room – The best coffee in Canberra.
After checking out, we needed to get something to eat. We both decided that we had to try “The Cupping Place” as its touted to have the best coffee in Canberra. The place was popular, but we only had to wait about 20 minutes to get a table.

Inside The Cupping Place
The BEST coffee in Canberra – could drink 8 of these!
Cured Salmon & Kataifi Egg
The “Kataifi Egg” was unique – it’s like a poached egg that is coated in very fine noodle and then fried. So it’s a crunchy poached egg.
Eggs on Toast w/ Bacon (+ their signature BBQ sauce)
The coffee was so good we needed to order Takeaways… note how comical the cup is in my hand

 


National Gallery of Australia
The one thing we planned to do before heading back was check out the National Gallery. We originally had planned to come down to see the Versailles exhibition, but that closed the weekend before we booked everything. Regardless, the NGA is an incredible place to visit. I won’t bore you with all of the photos I took, but I’ll just pick a few choice ones;

The NGA
Sidney Nolan’s “Ned Kelly”
Birds in Space – by Brancusi
“Blue Poles” by Jackson Pollock. The painting that broke world records for being purchased for $1.3 Million
“Waterlilies” by Claude Monet

 


Driving back to Sydney – slight detour for some Pho
The drive back to Sydney was reasonably unremarkable. The highlight was when my wife turned to me and said “you know, we since we are out this far, we should go to Cabramatta for Pho”. I immediate redirected the GPS for Pho Tau Bay and we had an amazing Pho dinner. What a great end to a great weekend!


Writing about Travel
One of the things I’ve always wanted to do is write up my travels and share them with people. I like writing down where I’ve been, what I saw, and taking photos… but to combine them all into a meaningful post and sharing it with people is something I’ve never managed to do. I’ve been wanting to share more ‘Editorial’ content, and travelling stories are fun to write and I hope read. This could be considered my first attempt at doing this.

 

 

Akiba, Canberra – Home of ‘The Best Pork Belly Bun’

When you search for top restaurants to eat in Canberra, the name ‘Akiba‘ keeps showing up – and for very good reason. It’s one of the best, most energetic and fun, Japanese restaurants I’ve been to. It also boasts what I’m calling “The Best Pork Belly Bun in Australia“. A big call, but I’ll explain that later…

The interior decorations are amazing. Photo Credit: @BJL_Photography (click on image to go to original)

Their website boasts that they are The #1 Top Restaurant in Australia as voted in the People’s Choice Award in 2016. Given our experience, we believe them!

Walking in on a busy Saturday night the place is buzzing with fun and excitement. Every patron is enjoying themselves. It’s hustling and bustling, the staff are laughing and having a great time, and the food is top-knotch. After a little while you realise that you could spend all evening here drinking with your friends and ordering tasty food – which is exactly what I think people do since it’s open until 3am.

Everyone is having a great time.

One thing that is really exceptional is the staff and the speed and efficiency of the kitchen. The waitstaff are very friendly, helpful, smiling and laughing the whole time. It appears less like they are all at work together, and more like they are a group of mates hanging out. The speed of the kitchen is something I wanted to highlight for a second because it was shocking how well they did. It was a packed Saturday night, and the food kept coming quickly (but not so much that you felt overwhelmed). Another little point I liked was that the waitstaff were totally eagle-eyed for when your dishes were done and deftly cleared empty dishes whilst they walked by. This may seem small to people, but I hate it when the table is cluttered with empty dishes.

A++ for service guys! (btw, both my wife and I have previously worked in hospitality, so this is legitimate and sincere praise).

Bar and Kitchen constantly churning out items for patrons. Given the number of people and orders, very very impressed at their work

Now… let us get to the food. One of the great things about Akiba is that there is literally so many good things on the menu you struggle to pick which items to order. It’s a great problem to have, as it means we’ll just have to come back to order all the stuff we didn’t get to try the first visit. Now, that being said, we did order a lot of food… but we had a great time. We love Japanese food, and we walked out of Akiba sad… sad that our dining experience was over and that we could not physically consume another delicious bite.

Mcash Tokubetsu Oysters w/ Ume Mignonette ($12.00, 4 pieces).

My wife is an oyster fanatic and upon seeing oysters as an entree option she quickly decided that was her pick. The oysters were fresh, delicious, and the ume mignonette was a perfect accompaniment. We were seated on the bar directly opposite the sushi/seafood prep station. This was great because we not only got to watch all of the sashimi being made to order… but also watch as the chef hand-shuck each oyster as the orders came through.

Sadly, this was the only dish I didn’t manage to take a photo of, so I had to go to instagram and source one.

Photo Credit: @Ryan_Kylin (click to visit original)

 

Pork belly bun, char sui, asian slaw ($8.00, per bun)

Whenever I see a Pork Bun option on a menu I’m instinctively drawn to order it. I love them so much. This is what I considered “my entree choice”, and I could not be happier I did so. I’m going to call it now; this is the best Pork Belly Bun I’ve had in Australia. I can’t really put into words how great this was, but the flavour, the melt in your mouth pork belly, the fact it had a bit of crispy crackling – oh man! First bite I immediately smiled and savoured the bite. I then had that knee-jerk reaction of “you gotta try this” as I pass it carefully over for her to try. “Damn” was the only thing she could muster. I will say this, if I came here and only ate these and drank beer all night – it would be an amazing night. I took two photos of the bun, neither of which do it justice. I’ll be back just to eat these!

This photo doesn’t do it justice…
No matter how hard I tried to take a photo (before eating), I couldn’t quite get the photo right. Trust me… it’s amazing.

 

Hapuka [sashimi], wasabi miso, sesame, shoyu dressing, tempura flake, shiso ($15.00, 6 pieces)

As I said earlier, we were sitting directly opposite the seafood/sushi/sashimi prep station. The moment I sat down after parking my wife said “we MUST order the Hapuka dish”. I never disagree with my wife when it comes to sashimi. This dish was incredible. I had to stop myself from making pleasure noises as I ate because I knew it would make the sushi chef uncomfortable. He was only 2 meters away after all. Each bite was joy – the wasabi miso et al. sauce brought a great spice, the sesame a creamy taste, and the tempura flake provided a good crunch.

Hapuka sashimi – don’t make happy eating noises.

 

Peking Duck Soup Dumplings ($14.00, 6 pieces)

We are big fans of soup dumplings (xiao long bao), and the idea of having DUCK soup dumplings was just too tempting to ignore. Unfortunately, there was a distinct mismatch between our expectations and what we ended up with. The flavour was good, the peking duck was there, but the one thing we were expecting – that gushing piping hot soup – was lacking. It had a small amount of soup, but not really what we were hoping for. Of all the things we ordered, this was the one that we would probably pass on.

Peking Duck ‘Soup’ dumplings

 

Kobe skirt [steak], teriyaki, black sesame ($33.00)

Teriyaki, kobe beef, what’s not to like? cooked perfectly and with a tasty teriyaki sauce/glaze underneath this was a great main item. The thing I liked about this was that the very edge of the beef was really well seared and BBQ’d, but the beef wasn’t overcooked or ruined. It came out medium-rare, but we didn’t specify or get given a choice… which is fine because it was good. If you don’t like pink in your beef then you might need to discuss this with the staff.

Teriyaki Kobe Beef / Steak

Agadashi fried tofu, nori, daikon, togarashi ($12.00)

Agadashi Tofu is one of our regular “must-order” dishes at any Japanese restaurant. This means that we’ve become quite critical and even come up with an “out-of-ten Agadashi rating system” (where ‘0’ is awful and ’10’ is a god-like-best-in-the-world-kill-me-now some sort of mythical dish). So far, nothing has been given a 10/10 (as that is the coveted holy grail). Akiba’s version of Agadashi Tofu ranks as 9.8/10 = which is one of the highest scores we’ve ever given. Perfect crisp, soft silken tofu, delicious sauce… all coming together into something truely exceptional.

Where did it lose 0.2 marks? 0.1 was deducted for some inperfections in bites/pieces. You can see in the photo one piece had escaped it’s coating, and not really pictured well is the huge pieces and the random “batter-only” pieces. See… we’re critical. The other 0.1 was the fact we both didn’t turn to each other and immediately state “this is it… this is the best agadashi we’ve ever eaten”.

Let’s get back to it… This is an amazing Agadashi Tofu. If you like this dish at other places, then order it. If you don’t like tofu or don’t order it, what I would recommend is that you suss out if the rest of your table will have some, and split it as a table. That way you can try a REALLY REALLY GOOD VERSION of it, and if you still don’t like it then maybe tofu isn’t for you.

Agadashi Tofu – so good, I go off rambling in my description

 

King prawn fried rice, snake beans, chilli fried egg ($21.00)

Steamed or fried rice? As if there is ever a choice… fried rice always. The waitstaff actually jokingly warned us that we might have over-ordered at this point. He said that we might find ourselves taking some home. The fried rice came out and was quite good, cutting up the fried egg with spoon and mixing ourselves reminded me of nasi goreng, or my own Kimchi Fried Rice recipe (coming soon under Recipes). Annoyingly, we did end up totally stuffed and had to take half the portion of fried rice home with us.

King Prawn Fried Rice

 

Drinks; Heiwa Shuzo Nigori Umeshu ($14.00) / Sparking Water = Free.

My wife loves Umeshu, so she ordered this for her drink. Umeshu is usually pretty sweet, and this one was sweet, but really good. For a moment I considered ordering one aswell. They have a well stocked bar and a great range of drinks, but I decided that tonight I was directing all my stomach space to food (and stuck with sparking water). I didn’t realise it, but the sparkling water was free – which was nice.


PRO:
– Best Pork Belly Bun (bao) I’ve had.
– A++ Service from staff.
– Quickest and most organised kitchen we’ve been to.
– Fun and entertaining atmosphere (better than Sydney!).

CON:
– Located in Canberra, which makes it difficult for Sydney-folk to visit.
– Cannot eat my body-weight in Pork Belly Buns and Beer without ruining my diet.
– Peking Duck Soup Dumplings didn’t have enough soup.

OVERALL:
One of the best Japanese restaurants we’ve ever been to (incredible food, atmosphere, and staff). We will 100% be coming back. My wife would also love to have her birthday party here. She doesn’t think people will travel to Canberra just to have dinner with her here, but I countered with we can promise them “incredible Japanese food” in a fun place that’s open until 3am, and see what they reckon. In the end, after eating a tonne of food, the bill came to $129.00 – which isn’t too horrendous considering it would be double that if we had the same amount of food in Potts Point. TIP: Make sure you book in advance as this place is super popular and people were being turned away at the door when we arrived at 9pm.

DETAILS:
Address: 40 Bunda St, Canberra ACT 2601
Phone: (02) 6162 0602
Website: http://www.akiba.com.au/

MAP:

 

 

 

 

Instagram Adds Collections To Help Organise Bookmarked Posts

Did you know that Instagram has recently added a feature to organise your bookmarked posts into collections? Neat. Read the article from Lifehacker for more details.

Source: Instagram Adds Collections To Help Organise Bookmarked Posts | Lifehacker Australia

Ten Immaculate Specialty Coffee Shops Worth Booking a Trip to Japan For

If anyone is going to Japan soon, review this list of 10 coffee shops to visit (link at bottom). I was very impressed that their opening image was of % ARABICA in Kyoto. Which I believe is one of the best coffees on the planet.

Here is my own photos of % Arabica from my trip to Japan in Feb 2016;

 

Article: Ten Immaculate Specialty Coffee Shops Worth Booking a Trip to Japan For | Concrete Playground Sydney

Star Wars Battlefront II Trailer

Whilst everyone is very excited about the release of the official teaser for “Star Wars Episode 8 – The Last Jedi”, there was another trailer release that should also cause Star Wars fans to be excited. A New Battlefront game! From the looks of it, it’ll span quite a few eras… and shows events right after The Return of the Jedi.