To be fair, the sprawling suburban district of Belconnen is as good a place as any to participate in the basic requisites of life. Buy a house, raise kids, kick a footy, go for a skate or a bike ride, shop at the mall… But beyond that, Belconnen folk with an inclination toward decent coffee or an interesting meal have in times past mostly had to make do with a drive into the city or beyond. Sure, there has always been the odd exception to the rule, but mostly, Belconneners have traditionally been dished up chain restaurants of the all you-can-eat variety, club bistros selling dubious ‘schnitzels’ of uniform size and shape, and lacklustre franchise quality coffee. Not cool.
Now before you go all ‘Belco Pride’ on me, I admit, hand on heart, I grew up in Belconnen. I also admit that I got the hell out, some time after Sizzler, Hungry Jacks and Red Rooster set up camp on the southern shores of Lake Ginninderra. But times have changed since then. Belconnen has slowly but surely been lifting its game over the years. Even more recently, a couple of new and newish hospitality operators have taken a punt and, along with an ever evolving Belco stalwart, are lifting the bar in the town formerly known as Belcompton. So much so, that I’m happy to say that Belconnen may actually be cool.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, but here are three (or four) places in Belconnen that may not necessarily have you getting 2617 tattooed across your chest, but are sure worth a visit.
Two before Ten – Aranda Shops
Taking in the whole of the previously derelict Aranda Shops, Two before Ten is an ambitious project that has breathed life into the suburb, much to the delight of locals. The café opened last month, along with a roasting house next door. Breakfast and lunch are typically represented by dishes such as sweet cornbread with poached eggs, bacon and avocado salsa, or Dukkha crumbed chicken breast with nectarine and roquet salad. The complex also includes a library of sorts, which gives patrons a space to sit and read or hook up to wifi while enjoying their coffee. A cocktail bar is currently in the works, and there are also plans for an urban garden and an artisan bakery.
Little Oink – (and Cook Shops in general)
The nature of suburban shops has been changing in Canberra for a number of years. More and more, Canberrans are finding that typical businesses such as pharmacies and newsagents are giving way to interesting cafés and restaurants in their neighbourhoods. The trend has been most prevalent in suburbs of the inner north and south, but Belconnen is now catching on and Little Oink is certainly adding some flavour to the Cook Shops. As expected, pork plays a big role on the menu, and dishes are given quirky names. I’m Porkin’ on Sunshine is a brioche roll with pulled pork, crunchy salad and champagne jus, and Gnocchi on Heaven’s Door is potato gnocchi with tomato sugo, red wine, garlic & shaved parmesan cheese. Coffee is supplied by neighbours Two before Ten.
Honourable mention: Little Oink is located at Cook Shops, great local neighbourhood shops that also include an oyster supplier and an amazing Friendly Grocer stocking an impressive range of local produce.
Belconnen Fresh Food Markets – Belconnen
An oldie but a goodie, it has been the go-to place for quality produce on the northside for decades, but is continually evolving. A foodie’s paradise, Belconnen Fresh Food Markets offers a plethora of locally owned green grocers, butchers, specialty food vendors and great places to actually have a sit-down meal or coffee. If ever there was reason to bypass the stuffy ambience of a mall, this is it. Lots of atmosphere, a melting pot of cuisines and some unique food shopping can be had here on a regular basis. Typical of what to expect here and rating a special mention are Food Lovers, a little shop that churns out house made jams, conserves and condiments with produce supplied by backyard gardeners across town, and Eco Meats, which supplies local and organic meats and local pastured poultry eggs, and even has a knife sharpening service. Now that’s cool.
Ed’s note: Keep an eye out for the new Belconnen section in our City Guide soon.