Relaxed but sophisticated share-plate dining from Sean McConnell – drop in for a quick bite and a glass of something eclectic, or settle in for the long haul with a group and order everything to share.
A wine bar temple for riesling. The food and wine list is built around the noblest of grapes, but with enough other varieties to keep punters happy.
There’s a lot of extra wine to be found that is not printed on the list!
Do the ‘Sort It Out’ set menu and let the venue handle things.
His idea to present riesling on the best possible pedestal means that Rizla places food on equal footing to wine. It results in ‘casual fine-dining’, as Andy describes it, built around quality products served without pretence or ceremony, from tuna tartare to Spanish mackerel and chickpea cassoulet, to pappardelle with hazelnuts and mushrooms. And it helps that Rizla head chef Talia Cullis shares the same wine passion. “If Talia isn’t in the kitchen, she’s usually loitering around the ice bucket and trying the new rieslings.”
Andy has eyed this site since 2014, when he ran the wine program at the adjacent restaurant 86. “I used to marvel at this hole-in-the-wall operation turning out sushi and bacon and egg rolls, thinking that such a prime sun-soaked corner would make an awesome wine bar.” Five years later, he took the lease, created an outdoor dining area along the pavement and curated a wine list according to his taste and preferences.
Although it inhibits a tiny space, Rizla offers up to 23 by the glass and about 70 by the bottle. It’s not only about riesling – there is a slim selection of most grape varieties from leading producers, with lots of love for Canberra producers and neighbouring districts – but riesling stands tall as the primary attraction. “We’d pour at least 10 different rieslings by the glass on any given day, and we are always rotating the list,” says Andy, explaining that he can change his wine list up to 20 times a week. “However, it has to be good to win a spot on a short list. With our venue being so small, storage is at a premium, so it has to be worth drinking.”
Andy aims to balance his list between emerging and established domestic producers, but takes a more exclusive view of what belongs among Rizla’s international rieslings. “We try to have a highlight reel of the key German regions and producers, along with great Austrian, French and NZ wines. We’ll sneak in the occasional Riesling from the US, if it’s mind-blowingly good.”
The kitchen stays open all day from Friday to Sunday, attracting steady bookings, but the venue’s casual vibe means there’s space for walk-ins wanting a quick glass of wine and snacks.
“Some nearby restaurants have their doors locked right up until their dinner service starts, so we frequently have people rush in for a very quick pre-dinner bevvy before they’re allowed in elsewhere for their reservations,” says Andy. “And if you want to understand what riesling’s all about, ask the staff. We each have our own favourites because we taste the wines all the time.”