University students and government employees, one would suppose, make up the majority of people moving to Canberra. But cooks? And chefs from Melbourne, no less?
Steve Jacomos acknowledges that the move to the nation’s capital is a gear shift. “It’s a lot quieter here [compared to Melbourne]. Things get a little quiet at nine o’clock at night. “
After staying at the Fitzroy Town Hall Hotel and Scott Pickett’s Saint Crispin, he’s four months inside a chef’s concert at Edgar’s in Ainslie, a pub in the neighborhood that has undergone renovations over the past 12 months.
In addition to overseeing the café-pub menu (downstairs), the grill restaurant The Inn (upstairs) and the pizza place Mama Dough (next door), just two weeks ago he launched Wakefield’s Bar and Wine Room, a wine-and-snack place, which is also located upstairs from the pub.
It is an elegant room by the design company Capezio Copeland, all interior in jade, burgundy and warm wood. Weekend evenings may offer the odd burlesque performance, but for their regular opening hours, there is a mandate of Australian wines, cocktails and food best grouped under the loose umbrella that is “things that belong to wine”. The butter that comes with the Sonoma bread is made in-house, as are the crumpets served with smoked trout rillette and bottarga. The toastie, meanwhile, comes filled with brie plus mortadella from Sydney LP’s Quality Meats, as well as the sauce zone with celeriac rémoulade.
And if maccheroni looks familiar – at the moment they are served with a combination of winter-friendly pumpkin, roasted butter and sage – then it’s Jacomos riffing on the sleek pasta tubes that are the business card on Saint Crispin’s menu.
Wakefields could very well be another feather in Canberra’s toque. In the last few years, a number of restaurants and wine bars have opened in the town, including Lamshed’s, Bar Rochford, Rebel Rebel and Pilot, located just around the corner from Wakefield’s.
Just a decade ago, the Ainslie shopping strip housed a pharmacy and a Brumby’s franchise; they have since been replaced by an independent bottle shop specializing in wines from the Canberra region and a sourdough bakery, respectively. Back then, locals would go to Edgar’s for a pint, and if they wanted to, a casserole pie – smoked eel churros with a tarragon emulsion was certainly not on the cards in the mid-2000s.
“The food scene is definitely evolving here. It’s underway and there are more options. Especially the way the world is, it gives people that opportunity [dine out locally], “says Jacomos, noting that all venues across the Edgars have been extremely busy in the last few months.
And while the local nightlife does not stay up quite as late as Melbourne, he is not overly restless. His partner Naomi Xavier (ex-Cumulus Inc) is deputy head of Edgar’s a day; they coordinate their shifts to allow for co-parents for their two young daughters. It’s an ideal work-life set-up that plays comfortably out towards Canberra’s green suburbs. “Here is lovely and extremely beautiful,” he says. “Even though it’s a little cold.”
Wakefield’s Bar and Wine Room, upstairs Edgar’s
2 Wakefield Drive, Ainslie ACT
Open Wed-Sat, 5pm late