Aria Hotel Canberra, review: High notes, low notes

Read our writer's views on this property below

Bruce Elder uses the capital's newest hotel as a base for a weekend of browsing and grazing.

There's a new hotel in Canberra. In fact, it is so new that it has that distinctive "new" smell about it, as though the builders left only five minutes ago. Located one block off Northbourne Avenue (the main road into Canberra from Sydney), it is next door to the city's new ABC studios, five minutes' drive from Civic and eight minutes from Parliament House.

Convenient and classy, the Aria Hotel is ideal for a couple of days away, particularly if, like us, you have decided that a weekend mooching around the National Gallery of Australia, the Australian War Memorial and the National Museum is a weekend well spent. This is really the central appeal of Canberra. It has excellent galleries and museums with user-friendly access and plenty of parking. And the frequency of special exhibitions means the museums are all worth revisiting.

There is no limit to the number of times you can return to gasp in amazement at a cast of Rodin's The Burghers of Calais and be softly sprayed by Fujiko Nakaya's fog sculpture in the National Gallery's sublime sculpture garden.

Aria is an unusual hotel. It is self-rated as 4½ stars but, like most star-rating systems, this is open to debate. The room we book, an Aria Room for a modest $155 a night, is new and small. It has a minute balcony that looks out on nothing in particular and has just enough room for a tiny metal table and two chairs.

Inside, a queen-size bed rather than king takes up most of the room, there are three small chairs and two small tables, one of which is a desk that sits under the wall-mounted flat-screen television and the other is square, laminated and squeezed into the corner of the room. The small bathroom has floor-to-ceiling black tiles and a tiny recess with a rainfall shower.

There is no sense of spaciousness in a room that could best be described as basic and adequate rather than the hotel's website descriptions of the larger "elegant" and "exquisite" one- and two-bedroom apartments and spa suites. Although often discounted, the full rates for the larger rooms are $550 for a one-bedroom apartment, $750 for two-bedroom apartments and $565 for a spa suite.

There is a certain kind of lopsided quirkiness in the design priorities. Many of the hotel's 128 rooms might be small but the foyer is quite spectacular, with a soaring, oh-so-modern atrium.

Breakfast is a strange arrangement. In the foyer is a cafe that serves the usual melange of what passes for a continental breakfast in Australia: croissants with jam, muffins, croissants with ham and cheese, muesli, apple and orange juice, yoghurt and coffee. The strange part is that it is all provided as takeaway. So if you order muesli, it comes in a plastic container with a plastic spoon. Just add milk. If you decide on a croissant, it is microwaved and presented in a paper bag with a sachet of jam. Coffee, which is quite good, comes in a plastic cup with a takeaway top on it. And takeaway trimmings don't mean it's cheap. That plastic container of muesli is $5.50.

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If you prefer your breakfast to be more leisurely, Civic has a large number of more sophisticated options a few minutes' drive away.

We have a hot tip for dinner. In the unassuming suburb of Campbell (beyond the War Memorial, leafy, very 1950s and rather forgettable) there is a small shopping centre of about a dozen shops. One of them has been turned into Lanterne Rooms, a wonderland of Asian-fusion cooking by Josiah Li and chef Jeffery Shim, the partnership that made its name in Canberra with the wonderful Chairman & Yip.

This is food with an Asian twist but that seems to know no geographical boundaries. We start with a simple entree of duck rolls with kaffir lime chilli dressing. But it is the main courses that are an amazing confusion of cultures. The twice-cooked pork ribs with black vinegar and palm-sugar gastrique is enough to send the most jaded of tastebuds into orbit. The kapitan duck - Penang Nyonya A-Ma style - leans heavily on its Malaysian ancestry. Perhaps the most amazing thing is that we eat to a point of exhaustion - three courses, all sublime - yet pay less than $60 a head, having BYO wine. Truly amazing value.

Weekends Away are reviewed anonymously and paid for by Traveller.

VISITORS' BOOK

Aria Hotel Canberra

Address 45 Dooring Street, Dickson.

The verdict A reasonably priced option close to Civic and designed for people happy to stay outside the city centre.

Price In theory, rooms range from $380 to $750 a night but in reality the hotel's website offers the $380 rooms for as little as $135 and the $750 rooms from $275.

Bookings Phone 6279 7000 or see ariahotel.com.au.

Getting there Located one block off Northbourne Avenue. Drive into Canberra from Sydney and turn left at Wakefield Avenue and left again at Dooring Street.

Perfect for Visitors who have driven to Canberra and are happy to use their vehicles to access the ACT's leading attractions.

Wheelchair access Yes.

While you're there Have dinner at Lanterne Rooms, 3 Blamey Place, Campbell shops; bookings essential for dinner Tue-Sat, on 6249 6889. Walk around Lake Burley Griffin, take a copy of the Good Food Guide and sample Canberra's excellent restaurants, visit the city's museums and galleries and see the Rats of Tobruk 1941 exhibition, celebrating the 70th anniversary of the battle, at the Australian War Memorial.