The Queanbeyan-Palerang region is home to a diverse set of distinctively unique towns and villages. To give you an insider’s look into the hidden gems the region has to offer, we’ve enlisted the help of our trusty locals who will share their stories and local loves from the towns they call home.
In the final feature of the series, we had a chat with Queanbeyan local Josh Kosteski of Italian restaurant PRONTO by Trecento, one of the latest additions to the city’s dining scene.
Melting pot of cultures
Josh Kosteski is a born and bred Queanbeyanite. Similarly to so many other locals in town, his family heritage is incredibly diverse, spanning not only countries, but continents. “I have a mix of Macedonian, Tongan and Irish, so I guess I’m a prime example of the multiculturalism in Queanbeyan,” Josh notes, and adds how his family lineage has influenced him in his line of work in the food industry as well.
It comes as no surprise that Josh has now found himself running his own restaurants in Canberra and Queanbeyan. Not only did his mother run her own café in Queanbeyan during his childhood, growing up in a Macedonian and Tongan family, he learned the art of hospitality early on. “As you would expect with Macedonians and Tongans, we are very hospitable. For us, life is all about having people over and sharing food and you are always there for your visitors. I was trained from a young age to be a great host – back in the day, my grandmother would only have to look at me and I’d know it’s time to take the next little thing out to the guests. In both cultures, food plays a massive part in bringing people together,” he explains.
Italian was added to the family’s already diverse cultural mix when Josh met his wife, Melinda. “Melinda’s family is from Calabria in southern Italy, and for them food is life – they make their own pasta, sauces and salami, so as our two families came together, it was inevitable that we would open a restaurant. It was just a matter of when.”
A lifelong fan of Italian food, and particularly pizza, Josh travelled to Naples in 2006 for a holiday, falling in love with the region’s style of pizza, which would later end up becoming the cornerstone of the PRONTO by Trecento restaurant.
“About ten years after my first visit, I went back and lived in Naples for a year, working in a restaurant for free and completing a course with Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (AVPN) to learn how to make pizza the true Neapolitan way.”
Setting up shop in his hometown of Queanbeyan was always a big part of Josh’s plans for the future, but it took a couple of tries before that dream could become a reality. “My whole life has been based in Queanbeyan and I always wanted to open a restaurant here after finishing my course overseas. Due to the circumstances at the time, we ended up opening our restaurant Trecento in Manuka first,” he explains, and continues, “Our families have lived in Queanbeyan from the 1940s and 1950s, so our roots are deeply set here. For us, opening a restaurant in Queanbeyan was always the original plan and now that we have been able to accomplish that, it feels like coming back home.”
While things were heating up with the restaurant in Manuka, Josh kept his eye out for the right space in Queanbeyan. In 2020, he reconnected with a friend of his, fellow Queanbeyan local and sporting announcer Steve Peios, and as luck would have it, the right space was available in the building owned by Steve’s family. Josh credits the work leading up to the opening of the new restaurant to his wife Melinda. “She took on the design, build and project management of this restaurant completely on her own, and is now also running the floor – hat’s off to her, I think she did a great job,” he says, and adds, “The rest, as they say, is history, and we ended up opening PRONTO by Trecento in July.”
Taking advantage of the cool climate of the region, the restaurant dishes out locally made seasonal produce throughout the year. “We are lucky to be based in a beautiful cool climate region, and the seasons here largely dictate our menu. We change our menu three to four times a year depending on the produce available each season. For instance, in the colder winter months, we’ll cook up rich, hearty foods, such as ragus, soups and lamb shanks, whereas in the summer we’ll lighten it up a bit and do more sea food and colourful plates. When figs come into season, we love to do a prosciutto and fig dish, for example, and when zucchini flowers are in season, we do a cool dish with them. Pretty much everything for us is related to the season.”
The team at PRONTO are also passionate about supporting local, stocking items from local producers and small businesses. “We are really passionate about keeping things local here. For example, we sell olive oil from Carwoola, soaps from a small local business Delizia Naturally, local honey, pickled tomatoes and tomato sauce from one of the local Italian ladies, and so on. We also make some pasta and sauces in-house, as well,” Josh lists.
“The next step for us is opening this little outdoor terrazzo area. It will mimic an Italian street but also have some street art celebrating Queanbeyan in addition to having more seating and a kids’ playground, making it a great spot for the summer. We are working together with our next door neighbours, New Cathay Chinese Restaurant, to bring something new to our locals and people visiting Queanbeyan, so you’ll be able to try out different cuisines in that one location,” Josh shares when asked about the restaurant’s future plans. The outdoor dining space will open in mid-December, Wednesday through to Sunday for both lunch and dinner.
Having grown up in the Karabar area, and later in Carwoola, Josh highlights the outdoor and rural areas of the region as some his favourite places to explore. “As a kid I always loved being outdoors and doing the little bushwalks around Molonglo Gorge and towards Googong Dam. I’ve also spent a lot of time at the Cascades swimming hole at Googong Foreshores,” he says. “The Queanbeyan Town Park is also a great outdoorsy spot and a big hit in our family – I still take my kids there a lot and my family often throws parties and barbecues in the great parks we have around Queanbeyan.”
Despite being busy in the kitchen of his own restaurant most days, Josh has plenty of recommendations for those looking to explore Queanbeyan’s dining scene a little further. “I like going to The Royal Hotel for dinner – you can’t go past how good the pubs are here. From Hotel Queanbeyan, also knows as Top Pub, all the way to Walsh’s Hotel – the food is really good in all of them and they’ve dominated this town for a long time,” Josh recommends, also advocating for the city’s diverse range of cuisines on offer. “I really like New Cathay Chinese Restaurant next door to us. I think it is the best Chinese restaurant in the Canberra region, and we have lots more different things on offer here in Queanbeyan, from Chinese and Indian to Turkish and Italian and everything in between.”
“If you’re looking to spend a day in Queanbeyan, I would recommend kicking the day off with breakfast at one of the nice cafes along Crawford Street, such as Thirty4 Café Restaurant, or around the beautiful riverside with a visit to the Riverbank of Queanbeyan Café. Then you could go pick up an antipasto box and spend a nice, sunny afternoon at the Queanbeyan Park. The Queanbeyan pool is also a great spot for families for a fun family day out in the summer and there are plenty of events happening around town! Every week I see new signs of something happening in town,” Josh says.
“I think for me it all comes back to the character of the town. We are so close to the capital here, yet you feel like you are in a big old country town, but in the best way possible. It still has that character, the friendly community, and just this sense of nostalgia. Queanbeyan still has true character,” he sums up.