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Trip Report Canberra Weekend - Art, Table 11 at the Pork Barrel Cafe & 'roo at the Ruby

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I’m just back from a most enjoyable weekend in Canberra, thanks in no small part to the very generous & helpful recommendations Neil_Oz & others gave me last week. It seems the least I can do is reciprocate with a little JBR, and hope someone may find something useful for their trip.

Primarily in town to see the Paris Exhibition, Portrait Gallery and any other interesting art exhibitions I could find; I was also looking forward to meeting Neil & Mrs Oz over dinner one of their favourite Chinese restaurants. An old friend was in Canberra for a conference and it was also an opportunity to spend some time with her. And share accommodation in a city full to capacity with Paris Exhibition & Presidential visit people.

Leaving Sydney’s Northern Beaches at 3:30 on a Friday afternoon probably wasn’t my smartest move, but I thought I’d escaped the Friday night crawl and zoomed along the M2 & M7 feeling pretty smug. Until I hit the car park laughingly referred to as the M5 & spent the next half-hour cooling my wheels at a speed that didn’t register on the dial. Just as well modern cars don’t boil. Still, it wasn’t long before the road opened up and with 110km expressway conditions, I pulled up outside Ottoman in Barton just before 7:30.

Years of long drives requiring a band-box appearance within 5 minutes of arrival, without benefit of a change room, have taught me the fine art of changing clothes quickly & discreetly without leaving the vehicle. This time I was nearly thwarted by interior lights that go on instantly the ignition is turned off & don’t dim until the vehicle is empty & locked. Not wanting to give an impromptu exhibition, or to sashay into Ottoman in my travelling shorts, the solution finally dawned. On with the ignition; off with the lights & my travelling rig – on with the dinner dress.

Ottoman was full, and I was delighted to see my friend and a welcoming glass of champagne waiting at a table in the corner. The food & service were excellent and it was soon obvious why it had been impossible to get a reservation on previous trips. We had an appetizer of 3 dips with flatbread, shared mains of quail, lamb chops and a delicious vegetable accompaniment; finished with a rose infused panacotta, Turkish coffee and the best Turkish delight I’ve had for years. $200 for 2, including wine & tips.

ACCOMMODATION: Rydge’s Lakeside. This used to be “The Place to Stay” 25+ years ago and refurbishments are almost complete. There is an attractive bar & restaurant on the ground floor, and a jazz trio played on Friday night. Some new apartments have reduced the Lakeside's prime view of Lake Burley Griffin and Capital Hill, but the London Circuit location, size of the rooms and the flawless service of the staff make it a very viable option. Rates were sky high because of the Paris Exhibition & proposed US President’s visit and we paid $450 for a suite. However, it was really quite reasonable, considering that it contained two large rooms & bathrooms, separated by a hallway, so it was the larger equivalent of two normal hotel rooms. It was ideal for our requirements and at $225 each, not such an exorbitant price in the prevailing market. My room had a large sofa which converted to a Queen sized bed and was very comfortable. Normally the sitting room, it also had a flat screen television, sound & communications, as did the main bedroom. This would be an ideal space for a family or two couples, with other bedding configurations if required. On Saturday my friend left and I moved to a double room $360, with some Lake views. Secure car parking is available for $20/day.

I almost never eat hotel breakfasts; usually finding something more interesting & economical nearby. URBAN FOOD is an absolute gem directly opposite the rear entrance of the Lakeside.
Breakfast both days was delicious & well priced at $15 for two coffees, 3 pieces of organic fruit toast, butter and spreads. It has a comprehensive menu and appears to be open until late afternoon. There’s also a grocery, green grocery and very good wine selection. I bought some specialty olive oils & vinegars as gifts.

SATURDAY: TIP OF THE YEAR FOR EXHIBITIONS AT THE NATIONAL GALLERY – Join as a Member & waltz past the queue, straight in via the Members’ Express Entry. Membership is $55 for locals, $45 for out-of-towners, $30 for seniors & other concession holders; gives 10% discount in the gallery shop, cafe & sculpture garden restaurant, and includes a free ticket to a future exhibition.

Locals will know the distance when I say the queue stretched a good half-block beyond the Portrait Gallery, snaked down & past the High Court to the NGA. Several hours’ shuffling along at least. To its shame, the NSW Art Gallery doesn’t have a Members’ Express entry; just a discount on the entry price. TIPS 2, 3 & 4: At this exhibition, there were LARGE PRINT CATALOGUES as well as small print. If you only need glasses for reading, these are ideal. Take a small one too, because you have to give the large print one back. PASS-OUTS to the exhibition allow you to come & go during the same day if you get sensory overload, want to break up the experience with lunch or a coffee.

THE SCULPTURE GARDEN RESTAURANT is small, beautifully located and serves excellent food. We had Angel Hair pasta with pippis & prawns; 15 hour goat; salad, fig tart, affogato, tea, wine for $100 for 2 including tips. 10% discount on food for Members. Book if you can.

THE PORTRAIT GALLERY (Click on the Red square for more information). Complimentary parking under the building. The entrance is past the NGA coming from the city. This is a new gallery and has a wide & interesting collection. I didn’t see it all by any means, and would certainly go again next trip. Very good photographic exhibition on just now.

Apologies for the capitals - my bolds & italics didn't carry across from Word & at midnight, my brain wouldn't absorb a tutorial on the Fodors' solution.

Tomorrow: 'Roo at the Ruby with the Oz's; why the Pork Barrel Cafe is so aptly named and a poignant moment at the War Memorial.

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