The warming antidote to Canberra’s most unwelcome inhabitant Jack Frost lies rather ironically in the glowing embers of our nation’s capital – the Parliamentary Triangle.
Pork Barrel Café, nestled comfortably in the Rose Garden surrounds of Barton, was a Monday morning saviour. Still in an annual state of seasonal denial, yours truly made a characteristically foolish wardrobe decision of ‘dress with light jacket and scarf’ instead of the more contextually appropriate ‘snow suit with balaclava.’ It was a bitter four below zero when I ambushed my way through the welcoming embrace of Pork Barrel’s barely open door, but seeing countertops swathed with freshly baked loaves of artisan sourdough pulled straight from the oven completely negated the freezing conditions lurking outside.
Oodles of natural light stream through and illuminate the quaint octagonal structure, with compounding panels of glass offering an un-obstructed view to the Rose Gardens of Old Parliament House. Furnishings are antiquated and homely, worn to a loved state of comfort through dedicated service and intellectual design.
The comforting aromas of fresh baked goods wafting from the kitchen was intoxicating, as was the background resonance of coffee beans clattering, grinding and ultimately streaming pools of liquid gold over a squealing foam of steamed milk. All traces of wintery blues completely ebbed away.
The aesthetically exciting displays of loaves shaped to every conceivable floury form are reminiscent of high renaissance European still life – reflective of the international masterminds behind the baking. As Pork Barrel produces both sweet baked treats and savoury sourdough creations – it makes sense to have two experts in the kitchen.
The sourdough genius is Francisco Crespo Sotelo (otherwise known as Paco), a third generation baker from Galicia in Spain, up at 2am each day to create his culinary art forms for the citizens of Canberra to enjoy.
Christian Bauer is the second baker, a Master Patissier from Germany with 25 years and 7 countries worth of experience under his belt. A quick chat with Christian between pulling breads from the oven revealed his passion for the craft. He received his Master baker accreditation in Germany 11 years ago, and has since worked in Switzerland, South Korea, Indonesia, Slovakia and at the prestigious Atlantis hotel in Dubai (if you don’t know it, Google it) before finally making his way to Canberra.
Both bakers use artisan, old fashioned techniques and all ingredients are local – right down to the dark rye flour. The basic breads are produced consistently year round and, special seasonal treats such as stolen and Elisen Cookies are among many to appear through-out various times of the year (I know where I’ll be doing my Christmas shopping).
You know that irritating person standing in-front of the glass display at the bakery, umming and arring over pastries for hours on end? That’s me. I am a bakery addict. Needless to say I did my usual display case dance, jumping from one side to the other, eyes glinting with delight at the snowy crystallised peaks of cinnamon scrolls, gleaming golden domes of buttery chocolate brioche and delicate cracked mounds of cardamom spiced Elisen cookie. The breads making their way out of the oven as I was about to leave were absolutely divine (I stayed a little longer to gawk). Huge loaves of crescent shaped sourdough were studded with the gleaming hot jewels of glace fruits, whilst the elliptical rounds of the nut and seed bread were darkly enticing. A particularly pretty ball shaped loaf contained slices of fiery Spanish chorizo. Rustic logs of traditional sourdough were piled all along the countertop, their exteriors crusted with ochre tinged dustings of oven singed flour.
If you eat bread, make your way to Pork Barrel in Barton tomorrow and get your hands on some pure artisan baking. If you don’t eat bread, I implore you to start. If I can run the length of King George terrace on a Monday morning through a four below zero induced frost in a dress – then you have no excuse for not getting down there. Oh, did I mention they have gluten free options as well? Absolutely no excuse now.