The 140-room East Hotel opened in 2012 and has set the bar high for style, design details and quality finishes among boutique hotels in the nation's capital. Family-owned Bisa Property, which has developed many of Canberra's serviced apartments, runs East, which also includes self-contained, unit-style rooms for travellers planning longer stays.
The hotel is in the city's south, five minutes walk from Kingston and Manuka shops, cafes and restaurants. It is also close to Telopea Park, which leads down to the pleasant shores of Lake Burley Griffin where swans bob around and Canberrans jog, walk and cycle. If you want to join the pedallers, the hotel can fix you up with a bicycle.
East's somewhat blocky, commercial-looking exterior opens to a cavernous, wood-panelled central atrium furnished with warm-toned mid-century lounges. Cinephiles will like the art-installation-like projection showing snippets of Cinema Paradiso and Marcello Mastroianni in La Dolce Vita. I also spot a Vespa and feel something Italian is brewing. A big jar of lollies delights junior guests and an elegant fireplace gives arrivals coming in from the cold an extra-warm welcome.
Charcoal-grey corridors lead to adjoining rooms 502-503 where our family of two adults and two teens will stay for the weekend. The view is great and the bushy hills in the distance and the flocks of black cockatoo flying over at dusk remind me how much like a country town Canberra can seem. Not that any every country town would offer the sophistication to be found in the bars and eateries here these days.
The larger of the two rooms, which are separated by a small vestibule and each have their own key cards, has a living area with a huge TV plus a balcony. The kitchen is equipped with microwave, cooktop, fridge and plenty of cooking utensils. The bedroom, with king bed and tons of wardrobe space, has a cheeky extra window that overlooks Manuka Oval (Prime Minister's XI, anyone?) and an ensuite with spa bath soon to be filled with fragrant ginger lily-infused Himalayan salts.
We settle in while the teens connect to the Wi-Fi, make hot chocolate and chill in their own room, which has a bathroom, a TV and a smaller kitchen set-up. Despite the hotel being in operation for seven years, the furniture, again of a mid-century ilk in brown and pops of colour, looks fresh out of a showroom. Items such as metallic-orange fruit bowls and the Appelles bathroom products are Australian-made, while the cosy checked throw blankets found on every bed are made in Latvia. Groups with younger kids could opt for East's Cubby Rooms, which dial up the family-friendly factor with Xbox, bunk beds and bean bags.
Italian cuisine rules at East. On the hotel's ground floor, Joe's Bar has a grown-up mood-lit feel and is packed with groups drinking martinis and negronis, while energy bounces around the large open kitchen in the 120-seat eatery Agostinis. The young head chef, Francesco Balestrieri, was preparing bar food for Joe's before he stepped up to create Agostinis, where all the pasta and pizza dough is handmade daily.
The dishes are from the Italian playbook but executed with discernible care. Frico, a cucina povera favourite from Friuli, is a type of fried pancake made from cheese and potato and is simple magic; a ravioli encases a veal/pork filling that is crumbly and flavoursome; pappardelle al ragu d'agnello – slow-cooked lamb with rich ribbon pasta – is a standout. The bistecca alla Fiorentino, a friendly staff member tells me, brought Tony Abbott to Agostinis on several occasions and it's no surprise sporty Tone loves this super-sized carnivore's delight.
The pizzas, meanwhile, get rave reviews from the teens.The restaurant is full of talking points (coloured textile strands hang from wooden poles to represent the process of drying fresh pasta) and was designed with the Bisa family's migrant backstory – an enlarged historic black-and-white photo of their mother's family outside their bar, lso named Agostinis – in mind. In keeping with this, it's very much a venue that welcomes big family groups who eat with gusto. There is good local wine, including a sangiovese, nebbiolo, barbera blend from Ravensworth Wines made exclusively for Agostinis and named after the owners' nonno, Beppo.
If you can drag yourself out of the supremely comfortable bed and it's not a freezing Canberra morning, take a brisk walk down to Lake Burley Griffin to work up an appetite for breakfast at East's excellent Muse Cafe (which features a library for browsing) or one of the close-by cafes in Kingston. Silo Bakery, for one, serves breakfast staples with a twist and sells good-quality sourdough loaves to go. Architecture enthusiasts can check out the art-deco design of nearby Manuka Pool, which opened in 1931.
Later, choose from a menu of world-class museums that include the National Gallery of Australia, National Museum of Australia and the Australian War Memorial. Those with kids might prefer a visit to the fun science centre, Questacon, or Canberra's National Zoo and Aquarium. There is no shortage of things to do in the nation's capital.
A perfect marriage of fine food and well-located accommodation.
Rooms from $179 a night. Two-room luxe apartment from $380 a night. See easthotel.com.au
The pasta and pizza.
Not sure guests should have to pay $10 a night to park their vehicle in the hotel's car park.
Patricia Sheahan stayed as a guest of East Hotel.