9 May 2019

Innovation rules at rebooted ONA

| Alex Tricolas

The little Manuka café where the ONA story began has just had a major reboot, with the opening before Christmas of the extended, refurbished and renamed ONA on the Lawns. When it comes to local coffee roasting, there is perhaps no bigger name than ONA. The enterprise that started life when owner Sasa Sestic took over the Hansel & Gretel café, as it was then known, has grown to be a major player in the coffee world, and not just in the capital.

Sestic’s interest in coffee borders on the obsessive. Over the last six years, he has grown the business to include a major roasting operation in Fyshwick, an importing arm with an interest in a number of coffee farms around the globe, a national wholesale cooperative known as Project Origin, and of course, a chain of local cafés that include ONA Fyshwick and the massively popular Cupping Room in the city.

National recognition has accompanied this rise in the industry, but regardless of the accolades or the multitude of projects on the go, he has always maintained a soft spot for the original café he bought with his wife and brother back in 2006. A refurbishment three years ago lifted the tired little space up to standard; but even then, he had his eye on expanding when the opportunity arose–which it did with the closure of next-door neighbour Gaby last year. The space was swooped upon immediately, and the job of constructing the new café began in earnest.

“Sasa will always be appreciative of the support he received in the early days” says manager Peter Teo, “so this new café is not just a commercial decision, it’s also about getting back to the neighbourhood and offering the Manuka clientele a great experience.” A wall mural with the words ‘communal, cultural, hub’ emblazoned on it probably goes a long way to backing up this sentiment, as does the array of innovative coffee ideas for patrons to try.

Of course, the expected range of espresso coffee is available–and excellent–but things get really interesting if you want to step away from the standards, as ONA on the Lawns has been designated the role of testing ground for innovative and experimental ideas. First cab off the rank is a carbonated iced cascara, poured through a beer tap system that has been installed in the new premises. Cascara is a tea made from the dried husk of the raw coffee berry. It has the requisite caffeine hit, with a light berry flavour, and this refreshing on tap version could very well be a world first–we certainly haven’t heard of anybody else doing this.

Under development at the moment, but still requiring a little refinement, is a barrel aged coffee brew that will pour thick and dark, with a foamy head, much like a beer. It’s not available yet, but is expected soon. Those with a sense of adventure should certainly make a note of trying the cascara at least. We did, and were suitably impressed with its subtle flavours and light bubbly mouthfeel. Of course, patrons can give this a miss if they choose and just settle in for a single origin coffee of their choice, or a great breakfast or lunch. ONA on the lawns is open on weekdays from 7.30 am and weekends from 8.30am.

Weekly Wrap

Canberra is renowned for its restaurants, bars, arts and culture. If you want to know what's going on in and around the nation's capital, sign up for our weekly newsletter and have all the best of the Canberra community delivered free to your inbox.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.