Who is Nick Smith? I’m the owner and general manager at Bar Rochford in Civic.
Best recent dining experience: Rebel Rebel. I ate there last month and love everything about these guys. The front-of-house staff are amazing and the venue has a great feel. The food Sean McConnell and his team are serving is fresh and clean and includes some unique dishes. There’s also a well-balanced wine list of natural and classic gear. I think we drank a magnum of Domaine Ray Jane rose from Bandol, which was spot on with the food. My favourite dishes were the roasted sugarloaf cabbage with whipped tahini and harissa oil; the grilled prawns with bay leaf butter, and the wagyu tongue, padron peppers and Pedro Ximenez.
Most embarrassing pantry item: The one-gallon Tabasco sauce jar sitting above my stovetop at home. I’m currently moving through 200 ml a week.
Must-buy ingredient: Ossau-Iraty cheese and anchovies. My ideal day off is listening to music in the sun and keeping the day super simple with family and mates. Both of these ingredients go exceptionally well with wine too. Ossau-Iraty is my all-time favourite cheese. It’s actually quite expensive in Australia, but in France, this AOC Basque sheep milk cheese is everywhere – as common as Bega. It’s semi-hard, slightly floral and not too pretentious. As for anchovies, you either love them or hate them. I use them in pasta, on Vita-Weats or straight up. My favourite brand is Rizzoli or, if I’m eating alone, Ortiz.
Next big thing: I’ve left Canberra only twice since we had a baby in 2020 and with COVID around. I would normally travel to Melbourne and Sydney to see what’s up. There’s a new bar in Melbourne called Waxflower, focusing on music, snacks and organic wine. The DJs are all amazing collectors, spinning rare jazz, world, soul, electronica and more. The idea is common in Japan, and I think a lot of people are finding inspiration in the small Japanese listening bars, but with the addition of food.
Favourite place for breakfast in the ACT: I’d be lying if I said I went out to breakfast. Working late, I need some time before I’m ready for people at Bar Rochford. But for coffee, I love Barrio and Kyo Coffee Project in Braddon, Tilley’s in Lyneham and my good friends in the Melbourne Building, Church.
My Canberra food secret: Rama’s Fiji Indian Restaurant in Pearce. I’ve been going there since I was 15 with my folks and I used to dine there regularly after school with my mates. We were just 18, and Mini, the owner, would sit us outside because we were so loud. We’d buy a case of Melbourne and eat Fijian-Indian food as the sun came down. The food is amazing. It hasn’t changed and doesn’t need to. The place is an inspiration for me.
Biggest culinary influence: Mum and dad and my grandmother, Grossi. Mum was a pastry chef before I was born. She’s always had the best cakes, desserts and food. I think the first time you realise your parents are good in the kitchen is when you sleepover at a friend’s house. Nothing tastes like home.
Dad (RIP) loved all the weird stuff growing up – obscure cookbooks, tofu before it was popular, Indian curries, unique Asian cuisine and lots of different Sunday roasts. I was lucky to have been around such different food all my life. My Swiss grandmother Grossi (Lina) is my favourite person and such a boss in the kitchen. You’ll have Swiss and German food for days. She still bakes me a Linzer Torte and Swiss biscuits every birthday. She’s 94 now. These three people equally contributed to my love of food and helped me find my passion for hospitality.
Favourite cookbook: Let’s go for a drinks book if that’s all good? When looking for inspiration for classic drinks in the early days of Rochford, I referred to Harry Johnson’s 1882 Bartenders’ Manual. It’s a great collection of vintage drinks made simple, which I love. It’s so old the measurements are all out of whack … people must have drunk a lot back then. I guess there wasn’t much else to do after dark in 1882!
Who I admire on the Canberra food and wine scene: All the women who have been, and are currently, pushing the hospitality industry in Canberra. I grew up in bars when management was always men, the owners were men and the majority of customers were the owner’s male mates. It’s good to see things changing. A few of the women who have really made a difference are Paulie Higgisson of Tilley’s (tell me a place with better lighting and jazz in Canberra); Caitlin Baker of Aubergine (watching her grow from a café waiter to the GM at a two-hatted restaurant has been really exciting); Dash Rumble of Pilot (what an amazing host with an incredible attention to detail); Mini Gaundar of Rama’s (if you want to learn a thing or two about front-of-house skills, come to Ramas and see how Mini treats her guests), and Belinda Florence, Mim Azzubair and Liv Kelly of Bar Rochford (our co-head chef, bar manager and floor manager, who have made it an amazing place and inspire me daily with their talent and wit).
What’s on the menu this week: Murray cod, kipfler, smoked roe beurre blanc. My favourite wine this week is a textured DOCG Vermentino from Sardinia by Tenute Olbios. It’s organic and clean. For cocktails, the pick is the Sweet Talker – Starward whisky, Gran Classico, Amontillado sherry and nutmeg.
Where I’m going next: Cicada Bar in Constitution Place. Three of my old staff members and mates from Rochford are now working with Charmain Group – Theo, Dan and Ian. I can’t wait to see what they have come up with.
Death row meal: I can’t eat when I’m nervous, so I’ll go with a Navy Strength Martinez. Measure 60 ml of Navy Strength Gin, 20 ml of sweet vermouth, 5 ml of Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur and two dashes of orange bitters. Stir it all with ice, strain and serve in a chilled martini glass with an orange twist.
My COVID response: Like any venue, we’ve adapted in so many ways, and it changes weekly. We went from selling our cellar, take-away cocktails and delivering booze to running a lean team and working flat out to keep revenue up since March 2020. Essentially, we turned into a restaurant when we were one per 2 square metres. We implemented set menus for large groups, and take mainly bookings for dinner. We’re not the same bar, unfortunately, but we haven’t been stressed financially based on the decisions we’ve made. I can’t wait to throw a big party when all this nonsense is over and go back to the raucous little wine bar we were before.
My really simple recipe tip: Add five dashes of Tabasco.
Bar Rochford is located on the first floor of the Melbourne Building in Civic. It’s open Tuesday to Saturday, 5:00 pm till late … when the ACT isn’t in lockdown.