Nanette Louchart-Fletcher has been in Canberra for 15 years and she’s here to dispel a myth.
“Don’t believe the hype – that whole thing about Canberra being boring,” she says. “I’m from Sydney, I lived in Kings Cross and Redfern and loved every second of that, but I would not go back.”
With her role as head of exhibitions at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House (MOAD), Louchart-Fletcher has an excellent knowledge of the city’s best food, drink and cultural destinations. And you can squeeze in all of her favourites between Friday evening and Sunday afternoon, if you’re up for a very busy weekend.
Climb a set of narrow stairs in the Melbourne Building to find Bar Rochford, one of the city’s best wine bars, serving classic French and modern Australian cuisine and pouring bottles of natural wine.
“It’s a beautiful bar, always with a great vinyl soundtrack,” Louchart-Fletcher says. “You’ve got these glorious nooks and crannies, little green booths which hear all of Canberra’s secrets.” Sit in for wine-friendly snacks like the beef tongue skewer with anchovy mayo.
After dinner, it’s time to check out Canberra’s live music spots. Go a little more upmarket at Australian National University’s Llewellyn Hall where you’ll find gospel choirs and classical concertos, or head to dimly lit rock cafe Gang Gang to catch new acts rising through Canberra’s local gig circuit.
“This is a tiny underground bar in an old bank vault,” Louchart-Fletcher says. “Simple, really good food, a lot of charcuterie and an excellent soundtrack as well.”
A full itinerary begs for a hearty breakfast and cafe-bookshop hybrid Muse is ideal. Follow Louchart-Fletcher’s lead with a Singapore-style curried rice bowl with prawns, green peas and a fried egg, then head for Canberra’s famed National Triangle.
“Within 10 minutes, you can walk to about six different institutions here in the National Triangle, and they are some of Australia’s most significant treasures,” says Louchart-Fletcher. The bigger spots like the National Gallery of Australia and National Portrait Gallery are obvious picks, but there are some lesser-known gems worth visiting, too.
You’ll never get to everything in an afternoon (unless you sprint) but the National Archives of Australia is home to an array of exhibitions on different topics, as well as the preservation facility which you can tour. “They have something in there [called Connections/Mura Gadi] which [has] this interactive wall, sharing stories about all our shared heritage and treasures which is really beautiful,” Louchart-Fletcher says.
And, of course, there’s MOAD where she works. “It’s the most enormous privilege to work in a building in which the history of Australia, essentially every decision that affects all of us [is made] … This building tells contemporary stories about democracy and the amazing history that happened here. You’re stepping back in time alongside exhibitions and great experiences for young people and families.”
Next you’ll want to shop like a local. Louchart-Fletcher recommends getting around the vinyl selection at Landspeed Records (“They’ve got a bit of vintage clothing at the back that’s worth having a look at as well.”), or popping into jewellery store and workshop Kin Gallery in Braddon.
Continue the music theme for dinner at Euro-influenced wine bar and all-day diner Rebel Rebel. “You can’t go past a Bowie reference,” she says. If you’re sharing, grab Louchart-Fletcher’s favourite steak – a 600-gram rib eye with wakame butter – and a glass of wine from a local vineyard.
After dinner, there’s still more culture to soak up if you didn’t get your fill during the day. “The National Film and Sound Archive’s Arc Cinema is a great place to see a pretty kooky range of films,” says Louchart-Fletcher.
Sunday breakfast ought to be a quick bite at a beloved cafe – either Penny University in Kingston or Doubleshot in Deakin – before cramming in a couple more cultural stops. She Shapes History’s walking tour, particularly, is worth experiencing: it focuses on overlooked female contributors to Canberra’s evolution.
“It’s really redefining and recentring women as a part of the conversation about our rich history, political and otherwise, and women’s role in it,” Louchart-Fletcher says.
Break up your last day with lunch at modern Japanese eatery Raku (“The wasabi beef cheeks are fantastic and there’s an Atlantic cod dish that I used to dream about,” Louchart-Fletcher says) before final stops at the diminutive Gallery of Small Things and Cafe Stepping Stone at Strathnairn Gallery.
“It’s run by migrant and refugee women; it’s an inclusive employment practice, so giving people those training skills,” says Louchart-Fletcher. “I really love the values, I think it speaks to some of the things that makes Canberra really special.”
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Canberra’s Cultural Icons.