Rebel Rebel review

Trout with lardo.
Trout with lardo. Photo: Rohan Thomson

21 Marcus Clarke St Canberra, ACT 2601

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Opening hours Daily 7am-10pm
Features Licensed, Breakfast-brunch, Accepts bookings
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Payments eftpos, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 02 6248 8548

The most prominent trend in Australian dining over the past 10 years isn't the fetishism of plant-based eating or the rise of "farm-to-table" philosophies. It's not Instagram culture or the inexplicable popularity of Nutella, either. It's the increasing need for restaurants to be more things to all people.

Certainly, fine dining will always have its place. But over the past decade we've witnessed significant growth in the number of multi-purpose venues opening their doors. Places that push beyond the "restaurant and bar" model to moonlight as cafes, takeaway stores and perhaps bottle shops, too.

Melbourne chef Andrew McConnell made all-purpose dining sexy when he opened Cumulus Inc. on Flinders Lane in 2008. It was a place to enjoy grower champagne and madeleines made to order, as much as it was a space for catching up on work emails over black pudding and eggs. Now McConnell's younger brother, Sean, is perfecting the all-purpose template out of a modest corner site in Canberra's NewActon precinct.

The 50-seat dining room is framed by angular beams of recycled public-housing timber.
The 50-seat dining room is framed by angular beams of recycled public-housing timber. Photo: Rohan Thomson

Rebel Rebel opened in September and it's one of the most user-friendly restaurants in the country. Jonesing for a single martini and oyster? No problem. Granola and a flat white? Sure. How about the rich oiliness of a sardine piadina ($9), lifted by caramelised onion, pine nuts and currants? Absolutely, and here's a chilled fino to wash it down.

Sean McConnell's new venue shares a fair whack of DNA with Monster Kitchen and Bar, the hotel restaurant he helmed for four years at Ovolo Nishi just up the road.

The key difference between Monster and Rebel Rebel, McConnell's first joint venture with his wife, Jenny Harders, is a heightened level of professional service. The well-trained floor staff at Rebel Rebel are happy to take orders, recommend dishes and chat about wine. You can also buy that wine at retail cost to take home, huzzah!

Rebel Rebel restaurant, Canberra, run by chef Sean McConnell.
Rebel Rebel restaurant, Canberra, run by chef Sean McConnell. Photo: Rohan Thomson

Restaurant branding is inspired by the scuzzy-glam of early David Bowie, while a Kinks-heavy playlist promotes further proto-punk vibes. Architect Sam Rice designed the sleek 50-seat dining room, framed by angular beams of recycled public-housing timber. I don't think said beams offer any actual structural support, but I also don't think that matters when they're so striking.

The food makes an impact with its straight-up deliciousness, too, and most dishes fit the Australian share-plate mould, influenced here and there by McConnell's European travels. Grilled beef tongue ($24) sharpened with oloroso-marinated peppers, say, and a blushing flat-iron steak served with broccolini and punchy bagna cauda ($35).

If there's an early signature to rival Monster's yabby jaffle, it's the cheese and corn croqueta, assertively salted and oozing manchego-charged bechamel ($8). The golden-fried torpedo is further enhanced by powdered prawn heads and aioli for a flavour bonanza.

Roasted rhubarb fool with toasted buckwheat.
Roasted rhubarb fool with toasted buckwheat. Photo: Rohan Thomson

Fat and juicy clams in the shell ($26) are another highlight, sauteed with garlic, thyme, cider and a good dose of lemon. It's a dish perfect for solo diners chasing comfort in something fragrant and warm.

Later, a poised 2018 Clonakilla riesling ($15/$62) is on hand to cut through trout bolstered by lardo, fennel and charred mandarin vinaigrette ($22), or bring out the best in lightly grilled whiting fillets ($33) seasoned with a briny nettle salsa verde that speaks of spring holidays on the Italian coast.

Breakfast options bypass avocado toast to include polenta with a poached egg, braised cavolo nero and pecorino ($17) and a bacon butty ($13) that makes me very happy. Breakfast rarely needs to be more complicated than creamy butter and salty bacon between bread.

And dessert doesn't need to be more complex than spongy, sticky marmalade cake ($18), here drizzled with Amaro Montenegro syrup, or roasted rhubarb fool ($18).

Rebel Rebel provides Canberrans with another reason to be proud of their food scene, joining Pilot, Italian and Sons, Bar Rochford and Temporada in the fleet of restaurants putting capital dining on the map.

As rent costs rise and restaurateurs look at new ways to make the most of their lease terms, Australian diners can expect to see more all-purpose eateries just like it open around the country.

Pro Tip: There's 15-minute parking outside if you're just nipping in for coffee.

Go-to Dish: Corn and manchego croqueta with prawn head aioli ($8).

https://rebelrebeldining.com.au/