CAN­BERRA: ALL I N THE FAM­ILY

Su­san Kuro­sawa

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - SU­SAN KURO­SAWA Su­san Kuro­sawa was a guest of East Ho­tel. • east­ho­tel.com.au

Can­berra has a hip new place to sup and sip. Joe’s Bar is on the ground floor of East Ho­tel, lo­cated at the Kingston and Manuka di­vide and across from the Kingston Ho­tel, or The Kingo to those in the know. While the lat­ter is all about steaks and schnitzels, pool ta­bles and beers on tap, Joe’s Bar is a welcome ad­di­tion to Can­berra’s re­vamped cock­tail bar scene, which is fast ri­valling state-cap­i­tal metro of­fer­ings.

When I lived in Can­berra for a while dur­ing the fi­nal years of pri­mary school, you’d have thought your­self rather cos­mopoli­tan to have scored a straw­berry milk­shake with a striped straw at the Manuka shops. East Ho­tel di­rec­tor Dan Bisa laughs when I tell him this as his fam­ily takes its Can­berra roots back sev­eral gen­er­a­tions, to when grand­fa­ther Giuseppe ar­rived from north­ern Italy to work on the Snowy Moun­tains scheme. Joe’s Bar has been named for the fa­ther of Dan and sis­ter Dion Bisa, the ho­tel’s as­sis­tant gen­eral man­ager and also a di­rec­tor of this fam­ily-owned prop­erty that prides it­self on a per­son­alised welcome and a quirky, non-cor­po­rate atti- tude to run­ning things. The bar has al­ready proved a hit with papa Joe, pol­lies from nearby Cap­i­tal Hill and neigh­bour­hood drop-ins, as well as ho­tel guests.

The Bisa sib­lings say they wanted a so­cia­ble place where friends could gather and not “a con­cept bar” that hap­pened to be at­tached to a ho­tel. To achieve this look and at­mos­phere, they hired de­signer Kelly Ross of The Gen­try and she has not held back from in­cor­po­rat­ing a swag of bold el­e­ments, from seat­ing and light­ing to a rip­pled and con­toured “con­crete cur­tain” that ref­er­ences the bru­tal­ist, un­adorned style of those big and blocky civic build­ings in Can­berra. Ross sourced dra­matic hang­ing lights from South Africa that fall at vary­ing lev­els like beaded skirts made from what look like me­tal blind pul­leys, while a chan­de­lier has been fash­ioned from empty Sambuca bot­tles by Aus­tralian glass sculp­tor Ruth Allen.

Mis­matched fur­ni­ture ranges from big Coco Re­pub­lic leather couches to me­tal-edged bar stools and lit­tle wire side-ta­bles in vivid colours that also serve as ad­di­tional seat­ing. Shelves are laden with Mu­rano glass­ware twin­kling in reds, golds and greens and a fea­ture wall is painted in a bold tone of ma­genta. The bar is in leather-fin­ished gran­ite, with stools lined in front and a well-stocked dis­play of bot­tles be­hind and, at 10m long, is of a rather se­ri­ous size. This is the do­main of clever mixol­o­gists, or mix­mas­ters as my fa­ther would no doubt have pre­ferred, back in the straw­berry milk­shake days. There are ex­cel­lent belli­nis (a nod to Harry’s Bar in Venice), icy Peroni beers and Can­berra and re­gional wines by the glass (and Ital­ian, too, of course, in­clud­ing a Ver­mentino from Tus­cany, de­scribed as a “ries­ling on steroids”) to ac­com­pany a menu of dishes de­signed to share.

Cheery mous­ta­chioed chef Francesco Balestri­eri, Rome-trained and Can­berra-wed, con­sid­ers him­self a lo­cal now and cham­pi­ons parish pro­duce, such as Fe­dra olive oil, grown, pressed and bot­tled at Col­lec­tor, 50km north of Can­berra. Many of the cheeses and air-dried meats, how­ever, are from the old coun­try and the likes of pro­sciutto and bre­saola hang in a cool cab­i­net near the bar. Pic­coli as­sagi (small del­i­ca­cies) in­clude a Joe’s an­tipasto plat­ter that fea­tures rel­ishes such as pick­led baby fen­nel and smoked baby corn puree and a mor­eish bowl of po­lenta chips tossed with sea salt and rose­mary and served with a rich gor­gonzola sauce. Progress to pi­atti di casa (house spe­cials) and there are pasta dishes and polpet­tine (meat­balls) made with pas­ture-fed Cape Grim beef that have the right amount of hearti­ness for chilly Can­berra nights and come slathered in a sauce of viner­ipened toma­toes. For the truly ravenous, a 48-hour slow-cooked sous vide wagyu beef brisket is served with charred po­lenta and porcini but­ter.

There’s noth­ing overly dainty or too on-trend about the food; it’s ro­bust, full of flavour and harks to a tra­di­tion of rus­tic fuelling fare, but do save a spot for tramezzino al gelato, a sin­fully good dish of house-made vanilla-cream gelato in a sand­wich of Si­cil­ian-style pis­ta­chio cook­ies.

A cus­tomised ver­sion of the Joe’s Bar menu is also avail­able in gue­strooms and I rec­om­mend a stay at East Ho­tel for myr­iad rea­sons, not least the con­ve­nience of kitch­enettes, clev­erly con­cealed laun­dry fa­cil­i­ties, all­white bath­rooms stocked with or­ganic Ap­pelles toi­letries in apothe­cary-style pack­ag­ing, and the al­ways-welcome sight of a Ne­spresso ma­chine. The monochro­matic decor is bright­ened with bursts of mul­berry and or­ange, teal and mus­tard, and retro chairs and couches have but­toned backs and Scan­di­na­vian lines. With the sleight of hand of a clever de­signer, there’s max­i­mum stor­age and fa­cil­i­ties with­out sac­ri­fic­ing a sense of space across 140 gue­strooms and stu­dios, which even in­clude con­nect­ing kids’ cub­bies with bunks and bean­bags, ju­nior-sized fur­ni­ture and xBox 360s.

If fur­ther ev­i­dence is needed of the Bisa fam­ily’s sense of com­mu­nity, car­ers or rel­a­tives who may un­ex­pect­edly need to stay overnight in the na­tional cap­i­tal to as­sist Can­berra Hos­pi­tal emer­gency pa­tients can ac­cess free ac­com­mo­da­tion at East Ho­tel on a space-avail­able ba­sis. “It is an hon­our to part­ner with the Can­berra Hos­pi­tal Foun­da­tion to en­able us to sup­port fam­i­lies at such a cru­cial time,” say Dan and Dion.

Re­turn­ing to that lobby level, the long foyer, too, is well con­ceived and wel­com­ing, with clus­ters of seat­ing, rugs pat­terned with big discs of colour and cruiser-bikes lined up for guests’ use. Per­haps a leisurely cy­cle be­side Lake Bur­ley Grif­fin, a spot of spring­time blos­som view­ing, and then re­pair to Joe’s for a sun­shine-coloured aper­i­tivo, a killer ne­groni served in a chic tum­bler or a re­viv­ing grappa? Si, gra­zie.

Joe’s Bar, on the ground floor of Can­berra’s East Ho­tel, main; the so­cia­ble lobby atrium, above right

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