Have you ever done a 'restaurant crawl'?
Neither. But we live in UNPRECEDENTED times, so let me read you my impromptu Saturday night diary
A one week lockdown, which lasted a few months, just ended in the Australian capital city of Canberra. I had the prescience to book a haircut whilst deep in lockdown, which meant when we did finally stumble out of it, bleary-eyed, socially inept, and shaggy-haired, I wasn't joining a barber waitlist.
However, this prescience was not comprehensive. I forgot to book post-barber drinks and dinner. And given we are, cautious as ever, only easing out of lockdown, and thus very strict patron limits apply to all venues - and given it was a Saturday night, I was actually genuinely afraid I'd be forced to have McNuggets on the gutter, in the city.
Sure enough, my beloved BentSpoke BrewPub had hit capacity. As had Rizla across the road, my second favourite wine bar in the world. My first favourite, Dear Prudence, was shuttered til some later date, but I hope to everything not permanently.
Thus I ambled across to Tipsy Bull - a bar I'd seen plenty of warm evenings, but usually on my way to Rizla. "Ooh" said the manager. "We're completely booked, mate. Could you be done in 15 minutes?" I sure could.
Pre-dinner drink - Tipsy Bull, Lonsdale Street
I had 15 minutes, so I didn't do that glorious ritual where you mull over the cocktail menu and try and simulate the flavours in your head - and get it desperately wrong of course, because somehow you didn't read 'vermouth'. Nope, I saw 'old-fashioned apple pie', and ordered.
It was a fabulous cocktail of rye, applejack, apple & cinnamon syrup, and bitters - and garnished with a stick of cinnamon, which somehow ended up in my mouth, and speared apple slices, which ended up in the sparkling water.
Entree - Bar Rochford, Melbourne Building
I sauntered from Tipsy Bull to the historic Melbourne Building, in the centre of Canberra with its identical twin across the road, the Sydney building. If you're in Canberra and you can only pick one for bars and eateries - go the Melbourne building. It has the better food scene, which is apt, because Melbourne has the better food scene to Sydney.
One such bar is Bar Rochford - you'll easily stroll past it because it's just a narrow door facing the colonnaded walkway, with a tiny "WINE BAR" sign above it. A flight of stairs leads to a very small, upstairs bar made airy by a great art deco window. It's so small, in fact, it hits capacity in the best of times - so I powered up those stairs fully expecting to be told they were even turning away bookings.
But no. There was just a man with a lockdown haircut, chatting up the waitress under pretence of being interested in dark rum. I had 30 minutes before dinner bookings arrived. Long enough, then, to order my first white wine in months, and a few skewered tongues from a wagyu-ed cow. They sounded interesting.
No regrets. They reminded me of pork.
(Second) entree and main - Ganjees, Lonsdale Street
On my way from Tipsy Bull to the Melbourne Building, I'd spotted an Indian restaurant with outdoor booths on Lonsdale - which, since it wasn't a bar, hadn't looked busy at that time. I headed back there and hadn't even cleared the first outdoor booth when I was ambushed by staff.
"Do you have a booking, sir?" Sir did not. But sir could be quick.
I was given an hour and a menu, and so again, I didn't dawdle. I leapt upon an entree that said something about prawns, and a tandori chicken curry. My menu was being gathered up when I realised a tandori curry might be hot. I threw in a 'milk chai' - which, as it turned out, was a cocktail.
Not to diminish the glorious flavour of both the unknown prawn dish, and the tandori curry, but I was turning to a cocktail to save me.
Dessert - Italian & Sons, Lonsdale Street
I was still crying into my cocktail when I got the reminder the hour was almost up - so I downed it, and moved on. Only a short, teary-eyed trot down the street, to one of the city's most celebrated Italian restaurants, Italian & Sons. It always struck me as a book-or-be-damned type establishment in peacetime, but no, the waitress at the door was sure I could be seated.
I was seated, and a polite Italian chap produced a menu, and offered to explain it. Which would have been epic - but I was after dessert. A new menu appeared. Tiramisu flirted, but I chose cannoli, with pistachio and cherry, and a dessert wine of Portuguese tawny. The Portuguese, I've decided, are good at port.
Post-dinner drink - Molly, Odgers Lane, Melbourne Building
Molly is my favourite bar in Canberra. A Prohibition-themed speakeasy, it smells of wood and spilt whiskey, has live jazz that more or less involves an antique Steinway in the corner - and its vibe extends to the fact it is only discoverable by word of mouth or GPS coordinates from the website.
Otherwise, it's just a door in an alleyway surrounded by milk crates and dead leaves, with a seedy looking, dingily lit stairway leading to a great wooden door. Muffled jazz gives you that assurance it's not a brothel.
I love Molly so much I've worked from a table here far too often, played the ancient Steinway between promoting FoodTribe posts once, and was, this evening, confident enough to order a cocktail without even opening the menu.
Which backfired. Their mixologists had been aimless during lockdown, and without asking my permission - had redone all the cocktails. Gone was the 'Bastille Day' with its pear, coffee, and Calvados, and "Kentucky Breakfast" , which tasted like port and maple syrup. The closest I could find was "Stinger". I don't even remember what went into it, except it didn't sting, and it had mint.
I bear no ill will though - it was getting to the point where I was only ordering the same two cocktails, and that's comfort, not fun.
Then I went home.
Except I decided instead to I walk a few metres to Highball Express, also in Odgers Lane - a tropical-themed rum bar with turquoise walls and palm plants, which is going to be the subject of its own dedicated daytime review on FoodTribe at a later point.
They had about an hour before they were hitting their limit, so I lounged back on a wicker sofa and ate a bowl of cajun fries. And decided there's a lot of be said for not planning an evening - and just being forced into a nomadic, spontaneous night. Not all who wander are hungry.