Expedition To Canberra

Date of Visit:  April 18 2015

A quick pictorial post of my visit to the capital of Australia, which is not Sydney but Canberra.  I made this trip primarily to see James Turrell’s Retrospective at the National Art Gallery in Canberra (my post on his Skyspace installation here).  It was also the first time that an art tour in the buff was introduced in the NGA (here)

Unfortunately I can’t post any pictures from the exhibition because photography was prohibited.  However, I do remember, that I was quite blown away by the surreal experience of immersing myself in the lights, fully clothed – so those in the nude would have had an out-of-this-world experience!  In any regards, if you are interested, do check out Artsy’s James Turrell page for more in-depth information on the artist.

I met a friend of mine attached to the Foreign Affairs, so he took me for a walking tour of Canberra.

Trees are especially pretty in autumn, one of the ideas for the design of the ‘Garden City’ is to promote a distinctive European feel…And walking by the artificial lake was very relaxing.

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Hues of Gold

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Hues of Reds

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Flags of all countries with an embassy in Canberra

Canberra is a geometric city with radials and axis… The direct axis from Parliament House to War Memorial

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Parliament House

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War Memorial

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The National Carillon on Aspen Island

A walk on Anzac Parade with many sculptural memorials…

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A hike up Mount Ainslie – the highest point in Canberra

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Panorama of Canberra

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Note the distinctive axis

I stayed at Hotel-Hotel, the newest and coolest hotel in Australia at the moment…

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Entrance

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Rear of Hotel-Hotel linking to cinema, offices and alternative exit to the street

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Small, tight hotel reception

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Restaurant/ Cafe

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A play on linear-planes using recycled timber

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My room

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Artwork on walls

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External artwork – more bikes

We had a good dinner at the hotel.  Prices are comparable to Sydney.

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Octopus with smoked curd (?)

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Duck breast with figs and cherries

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Apple crumble

This breakfast cost $14.50!  Very steep for 2 crumpets – and a cup of Long Black! Totally not worth the $$! 😓

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2 small crumpets, honey and butter

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Cute salt container

External of the hotel at the back…

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Facade treatment at the back, sun-shades and vertical gardens…

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Origami facade at the frontIMG_2586

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The art gallery outside the hotel (at the back)

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More artworks… an eagle crafted from metal

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Overall, I enjoyed Canberra and look forward to visiting it again – although my friend told me that it’s small and dull! 😉

Peruvian Immersion For A Day @ National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Date of Visit: March 29 2014

If your much anticipated hiking trip to Peru is cancelled what would you do?  Well, Bestie and I made a road trip to Canberra to gawk at the exotic Inca treasures of the ancient Peruvian civilisation at the National Gallery of Art in Canberra – aptly called ‘Gold and The Incas: Lost World of Peru” (here).

The exhibition is a key component of Canberra’s centenary celebrations in 2013 and also significant in that it marks the 50th anniversary of Australian-Peruvian diplomatic relations, and is organised in co-operation with the Peruvian Ministry of Culture.  As such, the works of art are lent by the Museo Nacional de Arqueología, Antropología e Historia del Perú and its fraternal collections, the Fundacion Museo Amano, the Museo Larco and the Museo Oro del Perú – museums that were on our trip’s agenda –  as well as the collection of the National Gallery of Australia.

Would it  surprise you that the Inca Empire lasted only 100 years?  This is a very short time for such a vast and famous enterprise!

In a nutshell:

“The Incas conquered all of Peru and much of Chile, Bolivia, Argentina and Ecuador.  The state governed from the capital city of Cuzco by a system of duties, taxes and rewards.  20,000km of roads enabled efficient and speedy communication.

The Emperor was The Son of The Sun God and the pinnacle of an extremely hierarchical society.  The Inca state region demanded scarifices, human and animal – even textiles were burnt as offerings to the Gods.  Architecture, e.g. the famous World Heritage Site Machu Picchu, was the glory of the Inca culture (and still is!).  Temples, palaces, terraces and fortifications of huge stone blocks were fitted together, mostly without masonry.

Sadly, our knowledge of Inca society is filtered through the world view of Spanish chroniclers. The Inca state of at least 12 million people fell very rapidly, due to superior European military technology, civil war and new diseases, especially smallpox.  Perhaps 90% of the native population, more than 10 million people, was killed or died of disease and famine after the conquest.

Almost every artefact that survives – what we see at the exhibition today – was buried with their owners.  As the cult of the dead infers, both noble and common people were interred in different ways according to tiers of importance – from ruling lords, priests, military leaders and retainers – as exemplified by their respective accoutrements and placements in their graves.

A rather kooky rite is that adorned mummified Inca elites form part of annual postmortem ceremonies where their corpses were paraded around the city of Cuzco.”

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Poster Child of the Exhibition: Gold Relic of the Sun God

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Children’s’ Discovery Area where photography is permitted

In summary, this is a well-curated exhibition with over 200 objects showcasing  exemplary artefact from each period of the Peruvian civilisation  from gold regalia, intricate jewellery and striking vessels to elaborate embroidered and woven cloths.  So, don’t miss out!

*****

It is only appropriate to round up our excursion by having a Peruvian themed lunch at the Sculptural Garden Restaurant.

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‘Cones’ (Bert Flugelman, 1976/82) in polished stainless steel

Finding it needed a bit of detective work as it is located outside the gallery, tucked away to the side of the garden and in a tent by the Marsh Pond.

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Sculptural Garden Restaurant

In the Marsh Pond (part of the sculpture garden) is a powerful work by Dadang Christanto, an Indonesian artist based in Darwin.  The pond is filled with bronze heads with extra eeriness supported by the mist-maker.  His works speaks of victims of oppression and social injustice.  If I remember correctly, this piece, “Heads from the north’,  is about the genocide in East Timor.

(PS:  Would I want to hold a reception in the restaurant by a pond filled with heads?  Probably not!😰)

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‘Heads from the north’, Dadang Christanto (Photo credit: http://www.pbase.com)

For this special occasion in conjunction with the exhibition, the interior of the restaurant is styled by designer Megan Morton to play up combinations of colour, good times and of course, corn – to accentuate the joy of food and family that the Peruvian culture delights in!

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Interior of Restaurant

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Maize ‘Chandelier’

Only Set Lunch is served in the restaurant.

What we got for our 2-course Set Lunch at $35 per person

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Wholewheat Damper

ENTREE

Presented on a wooden paddle pan as is very fashionable now,  we have Ceviche of Salmon with Lime, Jumbo White Corn and Coriander.

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Ceviche of Salmon with Lime, Jumbo White Corn and Coriander (GF)

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Jumbo White Corn

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Quinoa: Baked quinoa toped with avocado wasabi cream and a rocket leaf. This is bourgeois peasant food!

MAIN COURSE

Sometimes, it is best not to heed recommendation of a fellow diner who you don’t know…

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Twice-cooked Beef Short Rib with Chimichurri and Huancaina Potatoes.

This is a plate of disappointment of sorts:  The beef was dry – yet full of fat!  The most obvious explanation is that it is not a good cut of meat which has been pre-(over)cooked and reheated thus rendering it very beef-jerky-like in texture.  The exotic sounding ‘huancaina’ is basically a spicy cream which is otherwise ‘meh’.

Check out my leftover plate of fat!

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FAT!! Fat-Die-Me! 😱 😱 😱

Not a very satisfying lunch, so a Diet Coke at the Gallery Cafe is in order…

‘The’ Canberra Restaurant to Try…Aubergine or Courgette

So, you’re only in Canberra for a flying visit?  Which Hat-ed Restaurant to try? Let me help you… pictorially…

(Psst… As usual, before I embark onto a new destination, I will suss-out places to eat.  For Canberra, dinner for the first night was undoutedly – Aubergine – it’s Number 1 in both SMH Guide and Australian Gourmet Traveller – I mean, the moniker ‘A Chica Around Town’ must get some street cred by trying out THE Best Restaurant in Canberra 2013, right?  The 2nd night was a tough call – I  was deciding on CourgetteWaters Edge and Sage.  Coincidentally, Courgette and Waters Edge are owned by the same chap.  In the end, I decided to go for Courgette, which was the previous Best Restaurant in Canberra 2012.)

So, both the restaurants I chose are name after vegs – which veg came out TOPS?

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Date of Visit:  January 14, 2013

First up, Aubergine.  We decided on the A$95 degustation menu (in hindsight, we should have gone for the A$80, 3-course menu which many local diners ordered – they are bigger portioned!  Duh!)

Amuse Bouche:  A prawn cracker with wasabi mayo and bonito flakes.  (Betcha, one can get similar prawn crackers from any local Asian grocers *wink*)

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Amuse Bouche

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Amuse Bouche close-up

Wine:  Grey Sands Pinot Noir from Northern Tassie, A$60 for a half-bottle.  (Always happy with retaurants with half-bottles serves).  Pleased with my wine, 2009 with a bit of age.

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Course 1:  Was curious in the black flakes, so enquired the waitress about them.  They were bonito-salted flakes.  Hmm..salty and ashy…kinda OK… I really enjoyed the smoked trout parfait though, creamy and smooth almost like creme fraiche

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Confit of ocean trout, smoked trout parfait, shaved fennel, pickled cucumber

Course 2:  Pretty on the plate, but my tummy grumbles… 2 dainty bite-size pork bellies – fried in light batter – chef possibly experimenting tempura-style?  The spanner crab was not fresh – I should have known, since I could smell the ‘crustaceaness’ of it (if there is ever a word to describe it) – being allergic to crustaceans, I got a reaction.  Bummer!

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Salad of crispy pork belly, hand-picked spanner crab, watermelon, rouille

Course 3:  Really?  Seriously?!  How can this be the ‘Best Restaurant in Canberra’, when I can get better cuts from my local deli (Norton Street, BJ) or David Jones?!  Still, some cred for the scoth egg – it had a runny yolk – as Heston said boil egg (for 3 mins, for the hen’s egg), soak in cold water, peel, deep fry then finally bake.

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Quail breast, quail sausage, caramelised endive, scotch quail egg

Course 4:  Bonito Overkill!  This time I got the whole bonito! Yay!  What exactly is a ‘bonito‘?  I see it often in Japanese menus, never thought twice about it, but they are apparently sardines.  So, this sardine has been smoked and possibly dried over charcoal – if you have seen ‘Jiro’s Dreams of Sushi’, you’d have seen his son/ assistant sitting on a stool, outside their shop, patiently fanning the nori sheets over the charcoal pot.  So how was the taste?  Very tough and very salty (the white stuff on top were salt powders).  The beef was OK, done to my liking, which is medium rare, but salty, made even more salty with the horseradish crust

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Cape Grim beef rib eye, horseradish crust, smoked potato mash, braised mushrooms, 1 whole BONITO

Intermission time:  So, how was the interior?  Check out the pic.  Now you know that this restaurant is ideal for dates and some larger parties.  Parking is fantastic since it’s in the suburban shopping strip of Griffith.

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What the restaurant looks like

Palate cleanser:  I REALLY liked this!  Macerated cherries, ice cream and cherry sorbet!  It’s a close-up snapshot and was gone in 2 secs!

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Course 5:  Nothing really rocked.  It’s a close-up snap again, on the actual plate, it looked a pittance.  But, then again, I enjoyed the liquorice custard

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Dark chocolate ganache, liquorice custard, strawberries

So there you have it, my tapas-style European 5-course degustation dinner.  I guess this wasn’t the restaurant’s best effort since I found out later on their FB page that they were looking for a sous chef and a pastry chef.

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Date of Visit:  January 15, 2013

The next night, we tried Courgette’s offerings.  Their 4-course dinner menu at A$75 is CHEAP – for a French fine-dining restaurant, that is.

Course 1:  I really like the presentation (my iPhone 4s didn’t do justice).  I can almost feel the jelly melting in my mouth.  Anyway, my companion who had this said that the crab was very fresh and she liked it!

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■Blue swimmer crab, avocado, tomato and jelly raviolo, lime mayonaisse, baby celery

I chose this dish in honour of the name of the restaurant – Courgette!  And I’m happy with my choice!  The pumpkin ginger mash was perfectly fried and still crispy and warm when it came to me.

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■Pumpkin and ginger filled courgette flower, globe artichoke, ratatouille

Course 2:  The chef is very surf-and-turf for the 2nd Course.  My companion had squail and scampi.  I tried a bit of the sesame seed wafer, it’s like lavash and smells very sesame – so that is good!

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■Pan seared quail breast, butter poached scampi tail on corn mousse, split peas, sesame seed wafer, shaved black truffle

Mine was lamb with octopus.  It was an interesting pairing, but took off!  The gamey lamb with usually ‘tasteless’ octopus pulled off with the rich sticky caramelised sauce

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■Double lamb cutlet with aubergine caviar, slow cooked octopus, bell pepper and olive cannelloni

Course 3:  My companion remarked that the gnocchi were ‘al dente’.  So game on, Courgette!

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■Potato and parmesan gnocchi, asparagus tips, truffle, wild mushroom ragout, petite herbs

Mine was a heavy dish, very satisfying… *burp*…I was interested in the ‘ox-tail cigar’ and was not dissapointed.

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■Grainge grainfed angus beef, oxtail cigar, glazed eschalot, sugar snap salad

Course 4:  My companion had this.  The trick was to dip the choc spoon into the souffle to let it melt (psst…a cheeky trick from the chef, so you won’t know whether the souffle is cooked)  The expresso jelly was good too – like roll-ups!

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■Coffee soufflé with chocolate and hazelnut parfait, toasted marsmallow and espresso jelly

This is my plate.  I liked the popping candy (aka pralines) and the little jelly cubes, otherwise, not memorable.

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■Assorted textures of chocolate with fresh raspberries, salted pistachio nuts and popping candy

Nightcap:  We order tea, and they came with honey and lemon!  Little touches but fantastic!

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I guess you’d know my verdict by now.  Definitely Courgette!!

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