Good food is an important part of our lives. I am an enthusiastic home chef and our family also enjoys socialising with family and friends, enjoying good food and restaurants.

Here I intend to share some favourite recipes, plus links to favourite chefs whose recipes have influenced my cooking. In the Canberra region we have also found many good restaurants deserving of favourable recognition; their website links are also included. Favourite waterholes, there are a few, are also mentioned here. It’s all about the enjoyment of good food in good company.

INSPIRATIONAL CHEFS

Annabel Langbein, also known as the Free Range Cook, is a major inspiration to me. Her cooking emphasises use of great natural produce, herbs and spices, and bold combinations of flavours that bring the best out of fresh ingredients. So many of my favourite home recipes are based upon hers, including my Ardbeg-enhanced chocolate whisky cake topped with chocolate whisky ganache and citrus, as described in my Whisky page, which is an adaptation of her ultimate chocolate cake. Annabel has published many excellent books, including The Free Range Cook, Free Range in the City and Simple Pleasures. Her website, a free range life http://www.annabel-langbein.com has her best recipes, plus a community page where people offer their own recipes, hints and comments.

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Christine Manfield, author of Stir and Spice really appeals to my love of spicy foods and bold flavours.  It’s not just heat and one pot or one wok dishes, also some really good ideas on presentation, combining ingredients and textures in multi-element dishes.  For example, her spice-crusted salmon with mint chutney is wonderful.  Her chilli crab recipes are superb, ditto her laksas and noodle dishes, and interesting variations on spicy classics like back pepper beef.  There is sophistication and artistry in how she brings spices from all over the world into modern fusion cooking, making the best of Australian ingredients.  http://www.christinemanfield.com

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Neil Perry is a brilliant chef.  There is so much to learn from his writing and cooking style.  The Food I Love is a much used reference at home, also his Good Food – I think he does wonderful things with seafood.  Barbecued hiramasa kingfish with chilli and herb marinade and aioli is just so good!  Zucchini fritters with spicy tomato sauce, is so simple and delicious.   He is well known for the benchmark Rockpool restaurants.  I have enjoyed his Rockpool Bar and Grill in Sydney, which serves the most magnificent steaks and seafoods, and also carries an excellent range of single cask whiskies from The Scotch Malt Whisky Society.  http://www.rockpool.com/side-dishes/neil-perry-bio/

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Thai Food by David Thomson is the most comprehensive bible on Thai cooking, with superb variations, regional recipes and clear recipes to help reproduce authentic flavours.  I was put onto this book by the wonderful thai chef Mork Ratanakosol, when I attended two of his cooking classes a few years ago.  David’s book builds upon the principles and basics Mork taught me; the combinations of ingredients and layers of flavours from these recipes are really delicious and inspirational.  Classics like Beef Penang and Mussaman curry of chicken are transformed with the genuine ingredients, innovative dishes like the Thai warm grilled crayfish and tomato salad just make you smile.  The guidance on technique is also excellent.

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RESTAURANTS TO MAKE YOU SMILE

Rubicon is a small restaurant in Griffith ACT, that has always given us much pleasure with its excellent, innovative modern dishes and excellent wine list. Many special occasions have been celebrated there; we have always had great service and warm welcomes. http://rubiconrestaurant.com.au/home

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The Parlour Room in the New Acton precinct is back, better than ever.  We love the relaxed atmosphere, retro decor, great service with a smile, a brilliant modern twist on Tapas, great variety and seasonal changes in their menu, plus their excellent range of Australian and Spanish wines.  It is a real treat, a step back in time, a lovely indulgent experience.  Plus after good tapas and wine, they have a respectable collection of good whiskies to enjoy.  http://www.parlour.net.au  Good review and chef profile at http://www.goodfood.com.au/good-food/good-food-month/parlour-master-brad-warton-turns-out-the-tapas-20140825-1077em.html

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Morks is our favourite contemporary Thai restaurant, now located at the Kingston foreshore.  We first experienced Morks hospitality at their small suburban restaurant in Florey, and loved it. Their much bigger premises and cool surroundings in the snazzy Kingston foreshore restaurant precinct certainly adds to the experience.  I first met Mork Ratanakosol in Thai cooking classes in Mawson ACT.  He is a brilliant teacher and his food is just awesome, modern, fresh and inspirational.  The family runs a very friendly establishment and delivers great service.  The dishes are a great fusion of traditional and modern foods and presentation, tasty, clever and innovative.  Their degustation menu is just superb.  http://morks.com.au

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Soju Girl is a very pleasant surprise, situated in the Melbourne Building on Northbourne Avenue Canberra.  Part cocktail bar, part cafe, part restaurant, this busy place hums with life and serves great, varied and delicious food with a modern Japanese or Korean twist, visually exciting.  The decor is modern Anime, the mood upbeat and classy.   It is a great place to bring a group of friends for a party night out and relaxed, tasty dining.

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RESEARCH ESTABLISHMENTS, BARS, WINERIES AND WATERHOLES

My favourite “research establishment” is The Wig and Pen, a wonderful boutique microbrewery and pub operated by Lachie McOmish, currently located near the ANU precinct in the Canberra Centre building. See their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/wigandpen.canberra    Their range of ales and beers is excellent, I confess to favouring the Rumpole pale ale and Duckmaloi red ale at lunch. Their legendary Russian Imperial Stout, available in winter, is by far the best stout I have ever enjoyed. Food is simple, honest pub grub, great for a lunch with colleagues and friends.

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There has been some speculation about the future of The Wig and Pen, with the departure of brewer Richard Watkins to start his new establishment BentSpoke in Braddon, plus the impending redevelopment of the Canberra Centre building.   The future is actually bright: brewer Tom Lillicrap has made some great new beers and showing great skill; owner Lachie McOmish and manager Kelly are still going strong; and The Wig and Pen is moving soon to Llewellyn Hall in the ANU precinct!  The essential character of W&P will be retained, with larger and congenial premises, and better layout for production of their finest beers. Lachie and his team have recently expanded their whisky range and plan to continue this; some great drams are already available.

Molly. Wow!  Canberra’s latest greatest secret is a wonderful Speakeasy.  Check out www.molly.net.au and click on the Lat / Long coordinates and you will be directed to an inner city location named after our most southerly state capital.  Then head for an unmarked door in the corner, downstairs, and a wonderful, tasteful world awaits.  Early 1930s art deco, blues music, candlelit tables, atmosphere – and a brilliant selection of whiskies.  They make fabulous cocktails; my whisky sour was sublime!  Their range of drinks, cocktails, martinis is excellent, historically inspired and particularly well executed.  Great charcuterie, cheeses, condiments make the sensate experience richer.  The staff are knowledgeable and great ambassadors of their craft.

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Hippo Co is a wonderful, relaxed and very cool whisky bar and lounge, upstairs in Garema Place in Canberra City, overlooking the plaza restaurants and stage area.  Hippo Co has been recently refurbished and has clearly taken inspiration from my Sydney favourite Baxters (in Clarence Street Sydney).  The range of whiskies is great, with breadth as well as depth, and yes, you can nose your whisky from a proper nosing glass, rather than the traditional tumbler.  They also do a great trade in whisky cocktails.  Like music and jazz?  Or masterclasses?  Hippo Co caters for all tastes.  See http://hippoco.com.au and their Facebook page.  Well worth a visit for serious research, Wed-Sat nights.

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The Ox Eatery at Hotel East, Canberra Avenue, Kingston, opposite the “Kingo Hotel” is a great place for carnivorous consumption.  The adjoining Ox Eatery Bar is run by a very enthusiastic and knowledgeable crew, who provide an eclectic, extensive and inspiring range of whiskies, plus armagnacs, cognacs, spirits, ales and cocktails to delight any palate.  The atmosphere here is relaxed and classy, the service and staff knowledge excellent.  I like their whisky range, which includes many great drams not normally available; they have sourced widely, with some great world whiskies as well as great scotch whisky offerings.

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