Want to know where to eat in Canberra? Follow the food bloggers: Eat Drink Blog 2015

I nearly didn’t register to attend Eat Drink Blog 2015. Luckily, I listened to my husband when he encouraged me to go. More specifically, as I described the program to him, he glared at me dubiously and said, “Are you MAD? Why wouldn’t you go!? I want to go in your place!”

Indeed, I would be kicking myself now if I’d given in to my introverted tendencies and stayed at home. Eat Drink Blog (EDB) is a national conference for food bloggers, held in a different Australian location each year. This year, it was held in my home-town, Canberra, and presented a perfect opportunity to meet over 70 local and interstate bloggers who share the same interest – food – but who each bring to it their own unique perspective.

Although I live in Canberra, I decided to stay at the QT Hotel with many of the other delegates, to immerse myself in the full experience of a ‘blogcation’, as my friend Jane coined it. This was a floating conference, which took delegates to some of the best foodie areas of Canberra, rather than staying in only one venue. Even as a local, I enjoyed this immensely – seeing familiar venues through fresh eyes, and visiting others for the first time.

During the weekend I was surprised to realise I have officially become A Proud Canberran. I’ve lived in Canberra for 13 years, and for the first seven of those, I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about it. Some of Canberra’s best charms and beauties can seem a bit hidden from tourists, and in the mainstream media, Canberra’s food reputation is often hijacked by the secret dinner meetings of politicians and faceless men. But the real foodie beauty of Canberra is far beyond Parliament House: in the suburban coffee houses and family-run restaurants, the street food delights of Braddon, the gorgeous paddock-to-plate movement in New Acton, and outdoor bar and dining scene on the Kingston Foreshore. It’s in the community of the bustling Capital Region Farmers Market, and the intimacy of the fine-dining restaurants dotted around Lake Burley Griffin and tucked away next to tiny local supermarkets.

On the Menu

EDB15 achieved a challenging balance between feeding the foodie bloggers fabulous food, and informing and educating us about how we could improve our blogs. A tantalising portion of the Canberra food scene was showcased to delegates, commencing with a tour of Lonsdale and Mort Street in Braddon on Friday night. I paid a measly $150 to attend the conference – all food and drinks included – and I truly felt that I earned back my conference fee in food on Friday night alone. That evening at The Hamlet, as ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr opened the conference, we were treated to ‘canapes’ from the eclectic collection of food caravans: fresh pizzas, metre-long sandwiches, tiny chicken pies, pulled pork burgers, homemade sausages and sauerkraut, sweet waffles and an enormous array of fresh donuts.

This was before the formal tour commenced: we visited Hopscotch for Poptails in the sunshine, Marble and Grain for whisky and food-pairing, and ice-cream with Canberran favourite, Mr Frugii. I enjoyed a scoop of Tolak Angin ice-cream, a mildly spiced delight flavoured with mint, cinnamon, cloves and cardamom. (Yes, it did have sugar in it. For me, living a low-sugar life isn’t about “never having sugar”, it’s about making informed choices about if and when to consume it. This was one of those times!). We ended the evening with a drink at Lucky’s Speakeasy at QT.

The dynamic was amusing to watch: a crowd of mingling bloggers, balancing food, cameras and phones; trying to meet each other and hold a conversation while hashtagging on twitter, instagram and Facebook. On the other hand, it was to everyone’s relief to be able to take photos unashamedly, without the risk of embarrassing of our dining companions! I’ve never taken so many photos of people taking photos of food…

Early Saturday morning we bussed out to the Capital Region Farmers Markets, for breakfast and an entertaining cooking demonstration with an important message: buy local, and if it’s not in season, don’t buy it. This demonstration featured the fastest and most easily assembled croquembouche (it appeared that way, at least). We were gifted with vouchers (a brainwave!), and I made the rookie mistake of eating TWO breakfasts: an avocado and smoked salmon crepe, as well as a large plate of cheese and spinach gozleme. I could barely fit in lunch at Westside Acton Park, a newish family-friendly shipping container village overlooking the lake, that I must go back to spend more time in.

Dinner was a five-course menu at A. Baker, a version of their ‘feed me’ menu. Now that I’ve digested, I wish I could go back and eat more of the food I couldn’t finish – share plates of cured meats, mozzarella with black garlic, braised octopus, baked local mushrooms, charred lamb neck with harissa; and a black sesame bavarois with strawberries and a pink peppercorn meringue for dessert. It was the first time I had eaten octopus (aside from calamari, which I feel doesn’t count). We’re talking tentacles. I was apprehensive. They surprised me: succulent and tender… a little like chicken (sorry for the cliche!).

On Sunday morning we were back at the Nishi Gallery enjoying very cute muesli pots by The Muesli Bar, juices by The Fix, fresh fruit and sausages from The Brathaus.

The conference finished with a smashing lunch. We broke into five groups and bussed to different businesses around Canberra. I believe my group had the best experience (though I’m sure everyone will say that) at the Boat House by the lake, a fine-dining establishment on the shore of Lake Burley Griffin. Although I’ve visited many of the top restaurants in Canberra over the years, I’ve never gotten to the Boat House before. I’ll be back soon with my husband! Hopefully the smoked chocolate ice cream with beetroot will still be on the dessert menu.

I think I’m still a little hungover.

On the Agenda

We spent the formal sessions of the conference on Saturday and Sunday at the beautiful Nishi Gallery in New Acton, commencing with keynote speaker Matthew Evans (aka the Gourmet Farmer). He shared his fascinating personal story of growing up in Canberra and completing a chef’s apprenticeship some decades ago, with stomach-curling tales which will make me re-think ever ordering Oysters Kilpatrick again in a restaurant. Local veteran restaurant reviewer Wendy Johnson entertained and intimidated everyone with her knowledge and experience in the reviewing business, as well as the danger of over-using the exclamation mark (which I do ALL the time!!!). (Luckily she didn’t mention brackets…). We all had ‘a ha’ moments during marketing expert Todd Wright’s presentation on SEO and social media, which was far more interesting than it sounds. I suspect we will all be going home and adding alt text to our images. I was inspired by the sheer amount of work that goes into Alice Lau’s fabulous foodie videos – all done with an iPhone and the tiniest tripod. My favourite session of the afternoon was Tess Godkin’s session on food styling. I’m hopeful she will run a separate class in Canberra some time soon! My herbs definitely don’t land as beautifully as hers when I just ‘throw them around the plate’.

On Sunday we were treated to more food for thought from a panel presentation by Amanda Whitley, founder of Her Canberra, Liz Posmyk of Bizzy Lizzy’s Good Things and The Merrymaker Sisters, on their experience of transitioning to blogging full time. Carly Jacobs of Smaggle fame generously shared her practical tips for blogging when you’re too damn busy, and the infectious Merrymaker Sisters – the happiest people I’ve ever seen – shared their experience of publishing a book. We were all surprised and thrilled to each receive a copy of their new cookbook. After they tricked us into thinking there was only one copy for a lucky winner, it was akin to an Oprah moment: “You get a book, and you get a book and you get a book and you get a book!”

Initial thoughts on what I took away from EDB15 (apart from a full stomach):

  • Contemplation: The need to think more about why I love blogging, and what I hope to get out of it. What are my goals? Why is it important to me? Do I need to ‘hone my angle’ more, or is it ok to allow myself some flexibility and creativity in the topics I choose to write about?
  • Motivation: I love blogging. Although it’s time intensive, and between kids, work and study I haven’t been able to allocate a great deal of time to it, it is a part of my life that gives me great enjoyment. Because of that, I’m motivated to make it a bigger priority. Even if that means cutting back on Netflix (easier said than done…).
  • Practical strategies: Fortunately, we were given a wealth of strategies on how to improve our commitment to blogging, especially when we are time-poor. My first plan, is to make a plan. And I’m motivated to stay motivated.
  • Connections: Although I’m a local, I hadn’t met or spent time with other Canberra food bloggers before. After following many of the local and interstate bloggers online, it was exciting to finally meet them in person.
  • Learning: That I take really mediocre ‘real life’ photos! Want to see some good ones? Check out the EDB15 posts by Little Food Blog, Yummy Lummy, and The Flo Show, as well as these Instagram accounts by Rebecca Doyle (official EDB15 photographer), and Michelle Catherine.

 Special moments:

  • Meeting Rani from You Totally Got This (previously Health Trends Tested): Rani is a Melbourne food blogger who is a fellow I Quit Sugar Ambassador. We’ve been in touch on Instagram for several months, but it was the first time we’ve met in person, and I’m thrilled she made the effort to come to Canberra!
  • Meeting Amanda Whitley, founder of Her Canberra: After two days, I finally worked up the courage to introduce myself to Amanda on Sunday morning over breakfast, to ask her to indulge me in a fan-girl moment. I’m sure she thought I was a bit mad, but she hid it well.
  • Sleeping in a super comfy bed at QT without getting up once to a crying toddler or having a 4 year old sneak in and lie on my head. Seriously, it was a highlight.

My big thank-you to:

The EDB15 Conference Committee
These five ladies donated their time and skills for nearly a year, to bring us an incredible experience that will be difficult to surpass by future EDB conference organisers: Belinda of The Forage; Giulia of Love at Every Bite; Rachi of Le Bon Vivant; Tara of In The Taratory (who also did a fabulous job MC’ing); and Amanda of Her Canberra.

The EDB15 Sponsors
I was touched by the generosity of the small businesses and organisations that kept us well fed, watered (read: pickled) and generally looked after over the weekend.

Major Sponsor: Her Canberra
Gold Sponsors: Visit Canberra, Action Buses and A. Baker
Silver Sponsors: Frugii, QT Canberra, Bentspoke Brewery Co., Hopscotch, Marble and Grain, The Hamlet, Six8 Coffee Roasters, Westside Acton Park, Capital Region Farmers Markets, New Acton, the Boat House by the lake, The Canberra Wine House, The Cupping Room, Two Before Ten, Yum Magazine, Poachers Way, The Fix juices and The Muesli Bar.

33 Comments

  1. Erin says:

    Great weekend – you’re post is spot on. Love the photos here too, making me even more jealous of the Boat House excursion (not that the Cupping Room wasn’t spectacular).

  2. littlefoodblog1 says:

    Erin, this is so well written! I love it. So thoughtful and sweet and funny (not to mention how much of a great memory you have about all the details of the sessions and food we ate). Wish I’d got time to chat to u more. Next year 🙂 thanks for the lovely photography link love ☺️ looking forward to your next post x

  3. Love. every. bit. of. this. post. Thank you so much for your kind words (especially about my amateur MCing!) – it was a pleasure to put on and so glad you came.

    • Erin says:

      Thanks so much Tara, I really appreciate you saying that. Your MCing wasn’t amateur at all, I love your style! Very entertaining and down to earth.

  4. alexcellent says:

    Erin, what a fantastic round-up of the weekend! There you go, an exclamation mark – I am so guilty of that too! What you said about Canberra’s best charms and beauties seeming a bit hidden from tourists is true I think, and you’ve summed up the true foodie beauty of Canberra really well. It is something I’m trying to convey to my Sydney family and friends! I’m sad I had to miss part of the conference, but like you said, I also feel I got my money’s worth on the Friday night alone! It was great to meet you and maybe we’ll meet again around the foodie destinations of Canberra when I move back there next year 🙂

  5. Erin what an awesome post!! Just what I needed, I’m sure I’ve been suffering the post EDB15 Blues this week. Thank you for the shout out and right back at ya!! Spending time with you was one of the highlights of the weekend and I look forward to continuing to share your journey online and I dont forget you promised to visit me in Melbourne sometime soon…promise maybe overstating, but you know your always welcome!
    PS I obviously still need to work on my !!! problem

    • Erin says:

      Rani, I think my !!! problem has actually gotten worse since the weekend! I’ve been suffering post EDB blues too, although it’s nice that everyone’s following up with each other online 🙂 And a promise is a promise – I will definitely come for a visit next year!

  6. Wasn’t it just a fab weekend? So much jam-packed into such a short period. Lovely to meet you and share that stunning meal at the Boathouse _ i hope to get back there one day. I left Canberra full and happy 🙂

    • Erin says:

      It was lovely to meet and chat to you! I’m glad you had a good time in Canberra. Hopefully you and the family can come back and explore some more! 🙂

  7. Rebecca Doyle says:

    Beautifully written account. I am 11 yrs in the Capital & have recently become very proud of my ‘home town’ too. Yay Canberra!
    It was so lovely to meet you, as someone I really enjoy following in the Instagram world.
    And thank you for the kind words on my photos 😊

    • Erin says:

      Thanks Bec! I really appreciate you ‘stopping in’. 🙂 It’s funny how Canberra grows on people… I’ve loved watching your photography business go from strength to strength! xx

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