Taking up a little sliver of space in one of Canberra’s busiest pedestrian intersections on the corner of Lonsdale and Eloura streets in Braddon is Rizla.
Described by owner-operator Andy Day as a Riesling winebarstaurant (yes, all one word!), it encapsulates the best of being a wine bar and a restaurant to become a hybrid of both, all while celebrating the joys and diversity of the white wine grape variety, known globally as the ‘King of Grapes’, Riesling.
Day has worked in Canberra restaurants for 15 years. In 2019, after serving as the group general manager at Harvac Group, the business behind a successful string of venues including Akiba, Sage and Mint Bar, and before that Pialligo Estate, Lilotang and 86, he decided it was time to start his own venture.
The aim was to do something small, unique, fun … and do it well. Having a love of wine, specifically Canberra wines and Riesling at that, he thought, why not a Riesling winebarstaurant?
“Riesling is probably the most versatile food pairing wine there is,” Day said.
“Its plethora of styles means we can tinker and change the cuisine styles from European to Mediterranean to African to South American, to South and Southeast Asian. That means we can do whatever inspires us at the time and the menu can be blown along with the changing winds of food trends and still stay true to our overall concept.”
A visit to Rizla has been on my radar since it opened and finally all the stars aligned on a very sunny summer evening when I was able to snag a last-minute Saturday night booking online. Walking to the venue along a particularly vibrant Lonsdale Street, passing the rainbow roundabout, I was already in the mood for a great time, and a great time was indeed had.
From the setting to the food and, of course, the wine, it was all very polished yet very relaxed, starting from the delightful garden-like outdoor seating area.
At the best of times, my preference is to sit outside. During the recent tribulations, Rizla decided to only seat customers outside. It is all very cozy with large planter boxes, lots of greenery, and various weatherproof blinds.
To the menu, the wine list is extensive. Pages and pages have been carefully curated. Rieslings appears in all its varieties, with a page dedicated to Canberra picks, Australian and international drops, and dessert-style selections. There are, of course, options for other white wines along with a concise list of reds, cocktails, beers and a smattering of non-alcoholic options.
On the other hand, the food menu is a simple one-page focusing on matching share-plates with the wine list. Grouped into entrees, mains, sides and sweets, you choose dishes to suit your appetite and taste, or go with the flow as we did with the Sort it Out option.
At $65 per person, for two of us at dinner, we were presented with three entrees, a main, two sides and two desserts. It was good value and a good highlight reel of what the chefs are currently producing.
My favourites of the night were all the entrees. Remembering it is all about the wine and food pairing, all three were perfectly suited as elevated bar snacks ideal for eating with your hands. Starting with the tuna tartare with house-made potato crisps, the salty, crunchy chips with the delicate pieces of tuna was a very nice introduction to the Rizla kitchen. It was followed by a very fancy tasting and looking confit tomato, with black garlic and macadamia butter on toast, then a moreish take on deep-fried chicken in the shape of chicken dippers with chimichurri.
Noshing on all the starters in the surroundings while quaffing our bottle of the Sapling Yard 2021 Braidwood Riesling gave me very strong vibes of being in a small European wine bar, and this feeling made me very happy indeed.
Rizla is located at 146/24 Lonsdale Street in Braddon. Bookings are recommended. Lunch from 12 pm to 2 pm Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Afternoon drinks between 3 pm and 4 pm Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Dinner from 6 pm, Tuesday to Sunday. Look out for some exciting collaboration nights starting with a Rizla x Biji Dining in March.