Just as Con Christopoulos was almost single-handedly responsible for reclaiming the Paris end of Melbourne’s city from what looked like terminal decline some decades ago, he too is redrawing the borders west of Elizabeth Street. In territory mired in restaurant touts, with menus pitched mainly to a tourist audience, and otherwise populated by city workers…
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 for ever, 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, with founding chef Louis Couttoupes creating some of this country’s (yes, not just Canberra’s) most exciting dishes in his three-year tenure. Some of which remain as Rochford classics–his potato galette spiced according to the seasons or prevalent whims–but Josh Lundy (Pulp Kitchen, Sepia) has spun the share-friendly plates in his own direction, primarily working with local growers and farmers.
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, with 95% of the list conforming, but classic bottlings aren’t ignored either. There are two beer taps with rotating selections–think Wildflower. The wine list is compact but very dynamic, with changes made daily. There are 14 by-the-glass options, with two of those chalked up anew each day. And while lo-fi wines have always been the direction,Smith says the focus is now firmly with those wines that do so with purity in mind.
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…