Rubicon

Natasha Rudra
Pork assiette includes belly with chilli lime caramel, rolled shin and boudin noir, and crispy ear and herb salad.
Pork assiette includes belly with chilli lime caramel, rolled shin and boudin noir, and crispy ear and herb salad. Photo: Rohan Thomson

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

An alpaca tartare is one of the more unlikely things you'll ever see on a Canberra menu. The city is still in the grip of slider fever, paleo breakfasts are the new black and ever more restaurants are climbing onto the pulled pork and barbequed ribs bandwagon.  But here it is on the menu at Rubicon - alpaca tartare with Roquefort and capers. A very unusual dish and who can say no?

Rubicon is one of the mainstays of the inner south's dining scene - the discreet, soft, thick curtains pulled partway across the wood-and-glass doors, the gentle lighting, the back courtyard made gorgeous by a canopy of fairy lights. It's a world away from the Griffith shops and yet an integral part of them. Tonight there are a number of birthday parties and from the far end of the courtyard a group of women are having a very good time over dinner, their laughter floating back through the restaurant.

The menu is enticing. An assiette of pork ($19.90) features a square of pork belly, topped with a tangle of sliced chilli with caramelised marinade, accompanied by a crunchy medallion of shredded pork. The belly is suitably crisp on top and soft underneath and the chilli strands bring welcome heat. There's meant to be pig's ear in a herb salad but it does not seem to make a mark.  That's a little disappointing but here's the alpaca tartare ($19.90) - a neat pile of dark meat mixed through and through with capers and accompanied by another pile of crispy fried caper flowers. It's a fascinating dish. Sadly, however, the gamey alpaca meat appears lost. It seems overpowered, to me, by the salty capers and the ethereal but equally savoury dark green flower buds. A  couple of buttery, petite slices of thin toast add texture - scoop on a bit of tartare, garnish with a little sprinkle of flowers - but it's not enough to make the dish more interesting beyond its premise.

Pedro Ximenez cheesecake, strawberries, rhubarb, citrus crumb and basil.
Pedro Ximenez cheesecake, strawberries, rhubarb, citrus crumb and basil. Photo: Rohan Thomson

Rubicon is one of the restaurants that offers a separate vegetarian section with four dishes that are all available as entrees or mains and they all sound good - zucchini flowers with fetta and macadamia, eggplant with silky tofu wrapped in nori. We plump for a gruyere and chestnut souffle ($19.90 or $34.90) which is beautifully puffy and savoury, nicely matched as promised to a glass of Eden Road's maragle chardonnay ($16). A couple of roasted globe artichokes are nutty and a little smoky. Another dish of snapper ($34.90) with nicely cooked, with a serve of sea urchin butter which is rich but there's just not enough of that sweet, creamy sea urchin flavour in the butter. It's on a bed of cheesy spaetzle, a comforting touch. 

Service is excellent throughout. There's a light touch with small talk, a couple of gentle jokes and plenty of helpful information offered without being intrusive. The golden lights are flattering and there's none of that artificial hubbub created by poor sound design - you can hold an intimate conversation for two or engage in raucous birthday party chatter for 12 without straining to hear the person next to you. It's one of the things that makes Rubicon a good place for a date or occasion.

Desserts are passing our table, headed to diners at nearby tables and they look attractive - neat rows of perfectly scooped ice creams and something creamy looking with swirls of strawberry. This turns out to be Pedro Ximenez cheesecake with thinly sliced strawberries ($15.90) - three creamy dollops of cheese that have a hint of sherry and thin spears of candied rhubarb on top. A citrussy crumble on top adds a little crunch. It's a nice, summery dish. The spiced rum panna cotta ($15.90), which has a gorgeous kick in its silky depths and goes well with a marbled scoop of ginger and rum ice cream. This has plenty of big flavour and a satisfying blend of alcohol, spice and caramel and is possibly a favourite dish of the night.

Rubicon co-owner and chef Owen Kenyon.
Rubicon co-owner and chef Owen Kenyon. Photo: Rohan Thomson

It's been a pleasant evening and while one or two dishes haven't quite hit the mark for us, Rubicon's still a stalwart of Canberra's dining scene. It's comfortingly familiar, discreet with elegant touches, and still an option for a nice night out.