65 London Circuit Canberra, ACT 2601
|Features||Licensed, Bar, Accepts bookings, Gluten-free options, Vegetarian friendly|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||(02) 6230 6222|
I understand, in this reviewing shebang, that just because I'm fond of something, that doesn't mean everyone else is hot for it, too. So when I say that Bar Rochford is the best bar in Australia that's largely because there's a portrait of Tim Rogers next to the glassware and I bloody love You Am I.
It also has a bit to do with Highway 61 Revisited howling on a turntable, art from my favourite Radiohead album above the fireplace and a drink called "Dubonnet Cocktail" starring France's greatest tincture.
Opened by owner Nick Smith in 2016, Bar Rochford didn't have me at "hello", but with a blackboard touting "zibibbo upstairs". It's a beautiful space with bottle-green booths, ornamental Moritz cans and an arched window with views over London Circuit.
You'll want to book ahead to guarantee a table in the afternoon when cabinet-types knock knees with date-nighters ranking the films of Wes Anderson. Everyone wants a piece of that late Canberra sun and the joint becomes something of a dancefloor on Saturday nights 'round 10.
Wine, beer and cocktails have been given equal and inventive consideration – a rarer concept than it should be. Aussie pet-nats share fridge space with organic chablis while Piedmont nebbiolo competes on price with Clonakilla shiraz. A bottle shop concept exists so you can take a Radikon back to Ovolo Nishi – the accommodation formerly known as Hotel Hotel and still a swish place to eat crumpets while clad in a dressing gown.
Cocktails are a classic, stripped-back, boozy affair. That Dubonnet number ($18) is a humdinger whereby the aromatised wine's bitter, port-y edge is enhanced with rye whiskey, elderflower, and Fernet-Branca. The martini standard is high and a grand evening can be spent making your way through the vermouth list with Moonlight Flat oysters at $4 each. Maybe with a palate cleanser of oatmeal stout ($13) from Bodriggy Brewing and certainly with salt-and-vinegar potato galette ($9).
Chef Louis Couttoupes leads the kitchen with assured cooking that makes Rochford a restaurant as much as it's a bar – at least until the lights are dimmed after dessert. (Go for the warm rice pudding with quince and pistachios.) Eggplant ($16) is slow-roasted in mushroom dashi for savoury, earthy excellence, bolstered by tahini and gifted a soft smoked egg. Winter carrots ($16) love their woody bed of spiced almond puree and a squeeze of grilled blood orange zips the plate mates together.
Grilled cos ($16) is a triumph, spangled with shiny crisp chicken skin and shattering into mess of stracciatella, cured egg yolk and dehydrated kale. Think of it as the younger, cooler cousin of caesar salad. At the heavier end of the carte, a rosy strap of lamb ($26) is dressed with barberries and quince and it's a damn fine show for a bloke in his 30s who began cooking professionally three years ago in Paris.
All power to the integrity of Smith and Couttoupes and cin cin to Rogers and chicken skin. "It's good for Canberra" is a line I've heard used to describe other bars in the capital countless times. This is a dumb way to rate a venue, whether you're in Newcastle, New York or Narrabri. A place should just be GOOD.
Objectively, Rochford is a great boozer for any Australian city. Subjectively, it's fair dinkum fantastic.
If you only eat one thing: whole grilled cos with yolk and stracciatella ($16).
If you only drink one thing: Dubonnet Cocktail ($18).