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Canberra restaurants standing the test of time

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Few industries are as notoriously cut-throat as the hospitality world.

New restaurants will often open to fanfare, but no sooner than you can say “avo on toast”, a newer, hotter restaurant opens its doors, and the crowds evaporate.

We hear that 60 percent of restaurants never make it past their first birthday, but what about the other side of the statistic—the old faithfuls?

They’re the old souls of Canberra: they’ve been around long before freakshakes, kale and #foodporn. They’ve outlived a global financial crisis, bushfires and hopefully, a global pandemic.

In our final issue of HerCanberra’s Magazine, we highlighted some of Canberra’s longest-running restaurants. So what better time is there to revisit them than now, when the hospitality industry is most in need of our support?

They’ve always been there for us, but now it’s crucial we help see them through the other side of these uncertain times.

Caphs Café Bar & Restaurant

Opening its doors in 1926—when Canberra itself was barely established—this Manuka institution is the oldest surviving café in the city, and with good reason.

Although the streets and shops that surround it are ever-changing, Caphs has largely remained the same—the dining interior is still delightfully retro and even the menu sticks to the same formula (think frothy milkshakes, thick-cut chips and hearty meals).

For Manuel Notaras, the secret to his café’s longevity is a personal touch.

“It’s always been personal service, the owners have always worked here and we make people feel special, so it’s why they keep coming back,” he says. “It’s probably pretty rare that you see generations of sons and fathers working in the one spot.”

36 Franklin Street, Manuka | caphscanberra.com

Charcoal Restaurant

With its mirrored walls, deep red chairs and low-lit lamps, this restaurant and steakhouse is a nod to the old-world brasserie—you half expect to find Frank Sinatra crooning on a piano.

Opened in 1962, Charcoal Restaurant was one of the first eateries in the Melbourne building and is still a favourite among locals (many claim it serves up the best steak in the city).

Owner David Ramege says he’s survived the competition because there will always be a place in the industry for good old-fashioned service, fine wine and a cracking steak.

“Consistency and quality are key, the way we do things is very traditional,” he says.

61 London Circuit, Canberra City | charcoalrestaurant.com.au

Mezzalira Ristorante

Boasting an award-winning wine list, fine Italian food and a sleek interior, it’s little wonder that Mezzalira has mastered the delicate balance of catering for lunchtime business meetings and romantic dinners alike.

Since opening in the iconic Melbourne Building in 1996, the Trimboli brothers have launched three other dining spots in Canberra (Italian and Sons, Da Rosario and wine bar Bacaro) but Mezzalira remains the jewel in the crown, its reputation testament to the outstanding dining experience on offer.

55 London Circuit, Canberra City | mezzalira.com.au

Happy’s Chinese Restaurant

Happy’s lays claim to being Canberra’s first Chinese Restaurant, with “Mr Happy”, as he is known, opening the doors in 1962. More than 50 years on, Mr Happy’s grandson is still serving Canberra’s community with a smile.

Despite its slightly secluded location, tucked away down a flight of stairs away from the hustle and bustle of Garema Place, it’s a restaurant that locals have never forgotten. Why? Well, as its regulars will say, it’s all about consistency.

Each time you visit, you get what you want; whether it’s comfort food, friendly atmosphere or efficient service.

1/17 Garema Place, Canberra City | happys.com.au

Dickson Asian Noodle House

For a generation of local food lovers, this Woolley street “OG” was their introduction to a wider style of Asian cuisine, with its steaming stir-fried noodles, lao and the “best laksa in Canberra and anywhere,” according to reviewers.

Since opening the doors in 1993, owners Saya and Sang Rangsi haven’t strayed from their winning formula, keeping the layout simple and the dishes anything but.

29 Woolley Street, Dickson

PHOTOGRAPHY Tim Bean

This article originally appeared in Magazine: Time (AW2020), available to read free online.

Read it here.

 

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