Food and Drink

The Best Restaurants in Canberra Right Now

The nation's capital is fast becoming a foodie mecca.

Malcolm Hanslow
Photo By Lean Timms

As chef of Canberra’s rising star restaurant, Pilot, Malcolm Hanslow is leading a new wave of dining in Australia’s capital. With an impressive resume in some of Australia’s most exciting kitchens, including Automata, Oscillate Wildly, Ester, and now Pilot, Hanslow knows good cuisine. He is known for his deceptively simple cooking and nostalgic flavours, and when it comes to spotting exciting, humble, and refined flavours, Hanslow is the one to trust. 

With that said, here are all the best restaurants in Canberra, as recommended by the expert, Hanslow.

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Ramas

Pearce
Sometimes, you will find the best restaurants beyond the borders of the city centre. This Fiji-Indian restaurant in Pearce is a must-visit, according to Hanslow. Here, experience a vast menu of Indian-Fijian-influenced dishes through dining in, takeaway or delivery options. This humble restaurant has been around since 1991, and it shows no signs of slowing down. Expect affordable eats that are big on flavours and even bigger on culture. The menu features a range of samosas, roti parcels, garlic paratha, and curries, from chicken Bombay to lamb Korma and prawn Masala. They’ve been dubbed the best curries in Canberra, and it seems like it’s a favourite of Hanslow’s.

Wilma

CBD
Wilma is exactly what Canberra needed—a funky, Asian BBQ restaurant serving seriously delicious dishes. Helmed by James Viles, Wilma is a reminder of what good cooking can do—bring people together. This progressive Asian restaurant is organised by raw snacks, salads, wok, and BBQ categories. The snacks might be small, but they’re mighty. You can’t leave without trying the Wilma snag sanga, and the melt in your mouth, tiger prawn toast. To share, order Wilma’s truffle and egg fried rice and the hot smoked char sui pork belly from the BBQ section. As you can tell, Wilma takes all the familiar flavours we’ve loved since the 1960s and takes it up a notch in a classy dim-lit restaurant. If you’re looking for a fancy restaurant to celebrate with friends and family or looking to impress on date night, Wilma is the place to be.

The Scholar

Dickson
If you’re after a great Yum Cha experience, you can’t go past The Scholar. Located on Dickson’s Asian eat street, The Scholar is a Chinese seafood restaurant best known for its variety and quality dumplings. While it might look like an average Chinese restaurant, The Scholar is anything but average, and it’s easy to see why it’s one of the best restaurants in Canberra. Everything here is done to the best, including seafood. Expect to see live lobsters in the tank, and a menu boasting popular Chinese dishes such as Mongolian lamb and crispy duck, as well as some exotic specialities including abalone and parrotfish. The restaurant is BYO and seafood is sold at market price.

Ms Ba Co

Majura Park
According to Hanslow, “their banh mi is amazing.” Located in the Majura Park Shopping Centre, Ms Ba Co serves Vietnamese street food that will transport you to the busy streets of Saigon. While the storefront doesn’t look like much, behind the counter, they’re constructing some of the best banh mi in Canberra, as well as other Vietnamese favourites including Pho, summer and spring rolls, and rice vermicelli. Ms Ba Co is perfect for when you want an affordable lunch, that’s quick and easy for on the go.

Da Rosario

Canberra Central
One of Hanslows go-to favourite Italian spots is Da Rosario, in Canberra’s city centre. Here, tables line the outside for alfresco dining or huddle inside during the colder months. The pizza is the hero here. Expect a menu featuring favourites including Margherita, pizza Bianca, four-cheese pizza, and calabrisella. Don’t forget to add a fresh, homemade pasta dish to the list too. Their housemade pasta comes in all sorts of flavours and styles from pappardelle to tagliatelle. Regardless of what you choose, the food here is straight from the motherland— humble and honest Italian at its best.

Rebel Rebel

Acton
Situated in the trendy Acton precinct, Rebel Rebel is just one example of Canberra’s ever-evolving dining scene. When you can take a sugarloaf cabbage and make it not only the main dish, but the popular choice, then you’ve got something special, and it seems Hanslow agrees. The food here is simple, refined, and bursting with flavour. The menu boasts corn and manchego croquetas with prawn head aioli, beef tartare with hot English mustard and pickles, and eggplant with nduja. Rebel Rebel is the ideal spot for a long lunch and is popular among the office crowd looking to escape after work, or between. You can’t go wrong here.

Bar Rochford

Canberra Central
“Bar Rochford has an amazing wine list and is an amazing venue,” said Hanslow. Bar Rochford is a wine and cocktail bar hidden away in the iconic Melbourne Building, focusing on fine food, and incredible wines. Open for dinner only, this little wine bar is the perfect date night, or just night out, where the food shines and the wine goes down easy. While the menu is constantly changing except, kingfish ceviche, wild mushroom pasta with chestnut casarecce, curried beetroots, and hand-cut chips with housemade ketchup. They’re masters at the fancy stuff and know how to serve up the comfort foods. The wine list spans from South Australia to France, with whites, reds, oranges, and sparkling options.

Morks

Kensington
Morks is a contemporary Thai restaurant earning acclaim for its authentic Thai flavours, with a modern twist and borrowed techniques from other cuisines. Enjoy a wide range of curries and a side of coconut rice to soak up the sauce. There is a tasting menu, which is one of the best ways to taste a little of everything, although, for groups, the a la carte option is a great way to try all different dishes, from the BBQ pork bun to the Thai noodle salad and duck larb. There’s nothing fancy about this place, but diners come back because it’s inviting, the flavours are spot on and the dining room is minimal, but excites with a mural on the wall. All in all, Morks is a winner in the eyes of Hanslow.

Temporada

Canberra Central
This casual restaurant and bar on the fringe of Canberra’s CBD focus on local produce and the charcoal grill. Whether you’re after a good spot for lunch, that’s casual but serves big flavours, or a set menu for dinner, then book a table at Temporada. The lunch menu focuses on shared dishes including steak tartare, grilled octopus, and chargrilled pork chop, whereas dinner is pointed toward croquettes to start and charcoal-grilled lamb and corn for main. According to Hanslow, the burger with onion rings is a must and always ask for the chips.

Aubergine

Griffith
Aubergine is an award-winning restaurant since 2014, earning two chef hats, and named in the top 100 restaurants for several organisations including Australian Gourmet Traveller, Financial Review, and SMH Good Food Guide, multiple years in a row. Here, treat yourself to a gastronomy adventure in the form of a five-course set menu. The dishes are inspired and presented like works of art. Expect to find yellowfin tuna and zucchini tempura, beef rib eye with burnt onion mustard, ricotta fritter, and petit fours for dessert. They also have an award-winning wine list that is sure to cater to all palates.

UNDER Bakery

Mawson
In need of a sweet treat or pastries from the bakery? Visit UNDER Bakery, a local gem, baking all kinds of goodies. Hanslow says UNDER Bakery makes good bread, but more importantly cardamom buns. Only in operation since 2019, the already cult market favourite will soon have a bakery of their own where you can go and buy their pastries and baked goods. Although, the stall at the markets is also another way to get your hands on Lachie and Matt’s creations.

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Food and Drink

Why Makrut Lime Makes a Star Ingredient in Cocktails

The Southeast Asian citrus is intensely aromatic and pairs with rum, gin, tequila, and more.

Photo courtesy of Fish Cheeks
Photo courtesy of Fish Cheeks
Photo courtesy of Fish Cheeks

I grew up with a makrut lime tree in my backyard, admiring the double leaves and dimpled citrus fruit that frequently made their way into our family dinners. Makrut limes, which are sometimes referred to kaffir limes (although the term is controversial and has been widely retired), are native to Southeast Asia, but somehow my mom willed a tree to grow in our Southern California home with great success.

To me, makrut meant savoury Thai food: steamed fish curry wrapped in banana leaves and sprinkled with chiffonade makrut, simmering tom kha gai with floating bits of the hand-torn citrus leaves, and glistening green curry accentuated by the plant’s aroma.

But to others, makrut is an ideal ingredient in cocktails and other drinks. Such is the case for Fish Cheeks, a Thai restaurant in Manhattan known for its seafood dishes and eclectic, complementary cocktail menu. Beverage director Beau Fontano knew he had to include makrut in his creations, especially because the ingredient is so prominent on the food menu. Makrut lime finds its way in several drinks, most notably as a garnish atop the Thank You Kha, a riff on the acidic coconut stew tom kha gai, and the Manao Mao, a rum-based drink that uses makrut lime bitters.

“I don’t love using the word tiki, but if you think of those tiki rum cocktails, makrut definitely works well in those,” Fontano says. “But I also love it in martinis-there’s something really clean about it. And with makrut lime, if you’re just using the leaves, you can do a lot of rapid infusions.”

Fontano only uses the leaves, because the rinds and juice of makrut limes are famously bitter. “Regular lime has a little bit more sugar content, so that’s why it’s much more approachable in cocktails. Makrut limes tend to be more dry,” he explains. “But when you use the leaves in cocktails, you just smack it to wake it up a little bit and it gets that nice citrusy, refreshing aroma which is really fun.”

The leaves are cut fresh, so each drink has the scent of makrut lime leaves wafting off of them. “I’m sure at one point I will get around to it and try to figure out how to use the juice,” he laughs.

Further north at Paper Tiger in Portland, Maine, makrut lime leaves are also prevalent in a cocktail called Something Scandalous, a tequila-based drink intended to be, in the words of bartender Nick Reevy, “crushed easily.”

Paper Tiger
Paper Tiger
Paper Tiger

“I went with tequila, specifically, because in Maine it’s 80 degrees and humid pretty much all summer,” Reevy explains. “So I made something you kick back easily. Agave has a really nice softness that elevates the makrut lime, and the main flavour in that drink is the Thai basil.”

The drink is an alluring shade of green and is rounded out by cinnamon syrup and falernum. “Makrut lime is really herbal and bright in a way no other citrus is,” Reevy adds. “It’s interchangeable with other limes, but it just adds this whole other depth of flavour.”Makrut lime has even made its way into hard seltzer, albeit a limited edition drop from Lunar. Founder Kevin Wong knew he wanted to add another citrus drink to his rotation as he witnessed the successes of hard lemonades, but already had a yuzu iteration. Makrut lime seemed like a natural follow-up.

Photo courtesy of Lunar
Photo courtesy of Lunar
Photo courtesy of Lunar

“It has a very intense citrus fragrance, almost perfumey or soapy,” Wong ponders. “Like I could see Le Labo putting out a makrut lime fragrance. It has such a commanding presence and body.”

To tamper down some of the boldness of the makrut lime, the hard seltzer uses makrut lime leaf extract, lime juice, and cane sugar. The aromatics of the lime are present without too much bitterness; instead, the seltzer is grassy, acidic, and dry. Wong recommends pairing the can with spicy foods, especially Szechuan dry pot.

The makrut lime seltzer is currently sold out, and Wong is unsure whether or not another batch is in the works. “I feel like makrut lime is the greatest secret unknown to the Western world,” he says. “It’s in medicine, candy, herbal drinks, cosmetics and aromatherapy. I think we did the seltzer too early, and I don’t know if the world is ready for us to bring it back yet. Maybe in a couple of years.”

But judging by the growing popularity of makrut lime in beverage menus, the comeback might be sooner than he expects.

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Kat Thompson is a senior staff writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @katthompsonn.

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