A wine bar, cocktail bar and restaurant, Bar Rochford is cool without looking like it’s trying too hard. The wine leans into the natural camp but not dogmatically so, while the produce-driven cooking is some of Canberra’s best, built for casual sharing or dedicated dining – you pick.
Bar Rochford’s location in the historic Melbourne Building, which was built in 1927, is perhaps salient. When owner Nick Smith opened the doors in 2016, he’d taken inspiration both from the classic wine bars of Europe and the small bars that Melbourne is so well known for. And while Bar Rochford would slip into the Victorian capital seamlessly, this is no copy. Bar owners and restaurateurs have been appropriating ideas from further afield forever, sometimes faithfully, sometimes with a vital bit of DNA missing. Bar Rochford may be born of inspiration, but it stands proudly individual, a bar up with the best of them, whether in Surry Hills, Fitzroy or even New York.
That location upstairs, with the front windows arching above London Circuit, gives Bar Rochford added gravitas, a rare piece of Canberra history that invests it with a timelessness that most great bars have. And let’s not limit it to being a bar, as it’s just as much used as a restaurant. Josh Lundy (Pulp Kitchen, Sepia) and Belinda Florence have been co-head chefs since 2018. Primarily working with local growers and farmers, they have been spinning the share-friendly plates in new directions, for both focused lunch and dinner sessions, as well as liquid-fuelled snacking – the anchovy toast with sauce gribiche is now a welded-on classic.
As much cocktail bar as wine bar, recipes lifted from the yellowing leaves of old books get the Bar Rochford makeover, while new-school infusions and fruit ferments share the roster. Wine is very much down the organic and biodynamic line, but classic bottlings aren’t ignored either. There are two beer taps with rotating selections – think Wildflower and Bodriggy. The wine list has about 120 listings, but is very dynamic, with changes made daily. There are over 20 by-the-glass options, with two of those chalked up anew each day. And while lo-fi wines have always been the direction, the focus is now firmly with those wines that do so with purity in mind.
“Our wines are chosen on the premise that they are made with thought, mostly all organically and with little sulphur, but are clean,” says Smith. “We love natural wines, and we love classic wines equally. We love small production winemakers from all over world.”
Smith also notes that he has developed a cellaring program. “We’ve been working with our cellar for nearly three years now, which has allowed us to hold back some amazing wines from all around the world. Initially it was hard to sell some styles of wines in Canberra, but now we’ve gained trust from the locals, and everyone is drinking amazing wine constantly here.”
And, as with any establishment worth its salt, music gets just as much attention as the liquid assets. No endless digital playlists here, rather vinyl is the order of the day, and the tone is decidedly old school, think Led Zeppelin, John Lee Hooker, The Go-Betweens.