Kirsten Lawson
Rubicon, from the back room, looking into the restaurant.
Rubicon, from the back room, looking into the restaurant. Photo: Graham Tidy

6A Barker St Griffith, ACT 2603

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Opening hours Mon-Fri noon-2pm; Mon-Sat from 6pm
Features Vegetarian friendly, Licensed, BYO, Accepts bookings, Degustation, Gluten-free options
Prices Expensive (mains over $40)
Chef Owen Kenyon and Evan Speed
Seats 60
Payments eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 02 6295 9919

Just when you think change and re-invention are a necessary part of the restaurant world, you are reminded of Rubicon.

Rubicon has just marked 13 years at the Griffith shops, and the formula doesn't change - an excellent wine list, knowledgeable service and some very good cooking of pretty complex, intensely flavoured dishes, from a menu that covers the protein bases of chicken, beef, duck and pork, and has a big point of difference with its vegetarian list. A meal here recently is a reminder of how, when this style of fine dining is done well, it makes for a very good evening indeed.

Rabbit and porcini sage sausage with polenta, enoki and tarragon is an entree (all $19.90) of really pungent, fat and delicious sausages, snags the way they should be, with crisp enoki mushroom tendrils on top, the polenta underneath creamy and hard to stop eating, with an assertive but not overdone kick of aniseed. A lovely entree.

Golden beetroot, sauteed wild mushrooms, millet and parmesan cake, sauce bois boudran.
Golden beetroot, sauteed wild mushrooms, millet and parmesan cake, sauce bois boudran. Photo: Graham Tidy

A favourite dish here is the Sichuan-braised eggplant with crisp nori-wrapped silken tofu, texturally brilliant, but I've had that before - two years ago (see, some things don't change and really, you wouldn't want to see this dish leave the menu). We venture instead for another vegetarian entree: golden beetroot, sauteed wild mushrooms, millet and parmesan cake, sauce bois boudran. Tonight, we're told it's organic red beetroot, because they couldn't get golden beetroot, and it's been quartered and roasted, kept simple and earthy. The millet and parmesan cake is salty and nicely grungy, the mushrooms crisp and salty also, and a kind of salsa on top, which is possibly the bois boudran, provides a vinegary counterpoint, perhaps too much so. I'm not convinced this dish amounts to more than the sum of its parts.

In mains (all $33.90), we head for the free-range duck breast, confit duck leg and shitake terrine, pommes boulangere, pomegranate molasses. The breast is tender, if a little bland, as this kind of meat, even on a duck, tends to be. It comes on a pile of spiced, vinegary cabbage. The leg is a pile of dark, shredded meat with the unusual undercurrent of pomegranate molasses. And there's a geometric line of layered potatoes. This is a fine dish, but the fish pleases us more. Tonight, it's jewfish, served with stuffed diamond clams, pumpkin, kale, pancetta and sage beurre noisette. The jewfish is a tremendous piece of fish, simply seared, gorgeously fresh, meaty and succulent. The gruyere-stuffed diamond clams add some charm to the plate, the bready stuffing served in the clam shells. The kale is pretty, bright green and arranged like seaweed underneath. The little cubes of pumpkin are a little tasteless, but given flavour from salty crisping in the pan. Salt is used to good effect throughout, tonight.

We've unnecessarily ordered sides ($8.50 each) - snappy, fresh green beans, which, given the richness and intensity of everything tonight, my dining partner would have preferred without the creamy sauce. And rosemary parmesan polenta chips that come not so much as chips, as little planks of polenta, cut into sharp-edged fingers, puddingy on the inside, fried and salty on the outside. There's quite a pile, and they're filling. The sourdough ($1.50) is good, crusty and dense, served with basil oil, which thankfully doesn't have the green of basil but which does have the gorgeous fresh flavour.

Rabbit, porcini and sage sausage, soft polenta, crisp enoki and tarragon.
Rabbit, porcini and sage sausage, soft polenta, crisp enoki and tarragon. Photo: Graham Tidy

For dessert, a baked quince frangipane pudding with honey whiskey ice cream ($14.90). It's served warm, and is dense with a crumbly crust, pretty sweet. The ice cream is surprisingly mild, despite the extremity of the flavour you'd expect from these ingredients.

The wine list is fantastic - as is the glassware. Few restaurants bother with the right glass for the right wine but it's a treat for those of us on the receiving end of the wine. By the glass, you can choose from some very good local and Australian wines and French and Italian options. By the bottle, the Canberra district list is exceptional. Rubicon also offers close to 60 wines by the half bottle, some exceptional wines among them, and at the other end of the scale, there's a list of magnums. And while the food is far from cheap, the wine is well priced.

Rubicon is an unusual set-up. The tables are fitted in odd little spaces in the narrow restaurant - a few at the front, a squeezy corridor, then a small section of about five tables, before a step-down to an add-on at the back, an area I haven't enjoyed much in the past, but the fairy lights tonight add some elegance. Overall, the feel is very pleasant and warm, and the sense that you're out for a special night is enhanced by the highly competent and helpful service.