When former Olympic handball player Sasa Sestic retired from the sport in 2003, he decided to pursue his longstanding passion for hospitality. The Bosnian-born athlete excelled, first as a world-champion barista, before later boldly jumping into coffee roasting. He’s even the subject of a documentary, The Coffee Man.

Born in a Canberra garage in 2008, Ona Coffee now employs more than 150 people and has won a stack of national and international awards, including the Australian Barista Champion award in 2016, 2017 and 2020, and it placed third at the World Barista Championships in 2020. In Canberra, Ona spans a handful of distinctive venues, including Ona Coffee House and The Cupping Room.

“We [Canberra] have developed our own coffee culture, as opposed to trying to be like Melbourne or Sydney,” Sestic says. “We’re happy to be who we are.

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“The Canberra community has supported us from day one. We feel very proud that we are a Canberra brand.”

Beyond its commercial operations, Ona has birthed the ethical outreach program Project Origin to sustainably source green coffee beans.

Often playing host to his wide cast of international friends, Sestic always loves taking guests around Canberra for world-class meals. “We want to show them how beautiful our city is,” he says. With that mind, Sestic has handpicked five of the city’s standout dining experiences for Broadsheet readers – including one of his own.

A beacon of modern Japanese dining in Canberra’s CBD – which locals call Civic – Raku is a firm favourite of Sestic’s. “From the moment you walk in, it’s very Japanese: minimalistic, clean, precise and nicely organised,” he says. “In the middle of the room there’s a kitchen with chefs preparing steaks or sushi. It’s very interactive, especially if someone gets the chance to sit at the bar. You can see the full action.”

The menu changes regularly, but Sestic singles out the Tasmanian salmon tartare, the Wagyu gyoza and any dish that uses local truffles. Depending on when you visit, that could mean ordering the New Zealand snapper sashimi with truffle ponzu, South Australian kingfish sashimi with truffle yuzu sauce, or a few truffle-forward handrolls.

Inka serves Peruvian and Japanese food, but it isn’t a fusion restaurant. Rather, the two cuisines are served side by side, offering a unique juxtaposition that encourages choosing your own adventure. “It’s such an interesting combination,” says Sestic. “Peru has so many ingredients that we don’t usually experience in most kitchens.” Beyond that, you can mix and match different small plates via à la carte or tasting menus, pairing sashimi with ceviche or edamame with spicy octopus.

Sestic also highlights the extensive wine list along with the twofold interior. “As you walk in, you see all of these beautiful colours, like in Peruvian villages,” he says. “But there’s also clean maple wood, which is Japanese. They’ve done very well to integrate the best of both worlds.”

“Eightysix is a Canberra icon – we’re very proud of it,” Sestic says of this local staple, which has since added a Woden location (dubbed Eightysix South) to its original (North) in Braddon. “It’s modern sharing dishes, and there are no rules,” he says. “They do whatever they feel like doing. From time to time you might see Korean chicken or ravioli made from scratch. Their dessert menu is one of the best in Canberra.”

Despite the menu changing almost weekly, one dish that never exits the rotation is the banoffee pie with pretzels. There’s also an added vegetarian tasting menu at the Braddon location, and both spots are ideal for groups, and kid-friendly too (Eightysix is a favourite of Sestic’s daughter). “It’s high-quality food delivered in a very casual environment,” he says.

Located on the Kingston Foreshore, a bustling arts, residential and recreational precinct, Morks is a modern Thai eatery that Sestic describes as “laid-back with intense flavours”. He recommends the stacked tasting menu, though you can sample highlights like fried pork ribs, thrice-cooked eggplant salad or seafood-stuffed jungle curry from the regular menu too.

“It’s always super friendly,” says Sestic. “The curries are beautiful, and I love the different starters. It’s really easy to order.” He also points to the focus on local and regional wines and beers, alongside drops and draughts that come from further afield, and a playful range of Thai-inspired cocktails.

One of Ona Coffee’s own venues, Highroad is a brunch cafe in Dickson that’s been under the watchful eye of executive chef Jerome Felix since 2017. Sestic and his team wanted to serve the same level of delicious comfort food as other brunch spots but in a light-filled, restaurant-sized location defined by its distinctive timber booths, floor-to-ceiling windows, and original brick and concrete-pillar features.

That includes a full bar with a seemingly endless range of options for your daily brew, seasonal blends and single origins available in espresso, filter and nitro formats. The food menu changes quarterly but it’s always happily anchored by bacon, eggs, pickled veggies and other classic morning-friendly staples. Vegetarians are well looked after too, thanks to fragrant porridge and other plant-based options.

This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Visit Canberra.