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Avenue C: Bespoke wine bar comes to Campbell

Emma Macdonald

It’s a sure sign of a passionate relationship with wine that Rachel and Peter Bell have bought, sniffed, swilled and loved enough of the stuff to construct a massive bar from old wooden crates they collected from vineyards all around the world.

The back lit bar is the signature feature of Avenue C, the newest addition to the Campbell-side revamp of Constitution Avenue.

Rachel and Peter met 16 years ago while working at Bibendum in London’s Chelsea. Rachel was a Canberra girl, throwing herself into the hospitality industry having got her foothold in the River Café which gave a young Jamie Oliver his kick start to super-stardom. Peter was a British lad from Stoke-upon-Trent, who was increasingly obsessed with the wine industry.

They fell in love in the iconic former tyre factory-turned-hit-restaurant, while Ab Fab was filmed downstairs, and Kate Moss and the Spice Girls grabbed a bite on the first floor.

After some formative years in the UK, the couple made a break to Sydney, with Peter becoming the sommelier at Peter Gilmore’s Quay, and Rachel working for the likes of Ben O’Donoghue and Luke Mangan.

Finally, with two little boys to raise, the couple decided to settle in Canberra.

Which is ultimately Canberra’s win.

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Avenue C is part of the funky new foodie hub on Constitution Avenue, next to Pedlar. But it brings to Canberra a distinctly European approach to eating and drinking.

When you enter, you’ll find shelves stacked with wine bottles to your right. Here you can purchase and take away a bottle – its price is written in white texta on the glass. Those prices are eminently reasonable and if you want to drink the bottle in the restaurant, it’s a flat $20 corkage.

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The alternative is to ask for a table and drink from the huge wine list, or take a punt on a glass of one of the 18 bottles that are balanced against the back wall as part of a fast-moving tasting menu.

Staff are knowledgeable and if you get a moment with Rachel or Peter, you can’t help but be impressed their encyclopaedic and passionate approach to wine. Let them guide you for the evening.

The space is warm but minimalist – concrete walls with maps of wine regions across the world continuing the overriding theme.

Meanwhile the menu is small, bespoke, and well executed.

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Most people wouldn’t get overly excited about asparagus spears, but when they are char-grilled in perfect even lines to maintain an optimal crunch before being layered with shaved pecorino, they go to the next level.

Tiny smoked salmon sliders on brioche rolls with dill and crème fraiche are a delight, and tempt the youngest member of the family who has joined us for the evening. Despite being a sophisticated space – the atmosphere is warm and welcoming and it turns out the European feel extends to embracing young and old.

This is evident on the weekends when a relaxed brunch menu takes the focus of vineyards and puts it on the humble toastie – albeit with gourmet cheese and ham.

Meanwhile Rachel has tonight whipped up an harissa-spiced tomato soup, which is complex, textured and delicious. She also turns out a great baba ganoush which is ringed by delicious grilled slices of  Brasserie artisan bread which comes daily from Sydney – as do some wicked chocolate tarts hiding a slick layer of salty caramel underneath. Years of working in the Sydney scene have made it difficult for the couple to break their addiction to this particular product and you must taste it before you judge them for eschewing local bread.

They make up for it with the coffee, which comes from just a few suburbs over – Wagonga roasters in Mitchell.

Whatever you order, make sure it includes a cheese platter and some of the charcuterie from Vic’s Meats. This is the sort of restaurant best enjoyed when sharing small bites over multiple glasses of unusual wines – after all, there are more than 300 bottles from which to choose.

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Come on a Thursday afternoon and find local and regional wine makers offering tastings. Chances are you will be exposed to something that is new and grabs your fancy. Or just take a seat at that glorious bar and order an old favourite.

Like many of Canberra’s most successful new entrants into the food scene, Avenue C, is doing something a bit different and executing it with pride and confidence. It also delivers a feeling of, well, not quite being in Canberra.

Some outdoor seating will be a pleasure to test when the weather warms up. But with the lake edge of Campbell becoming a new food frontier, it might soon be hard to get a spot.

the essentials
What: Avenue C
Where: 65 Constitution Avenue Campbell
Open: 10am to 11pm, 7 days a week
Phone: 62475991
Web: www.facebook.com/pg/avenuecwineco

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Emma Macdonald

Emma Macdonald has been writing about Canberra and its people for more than 20 years, winning numerous awards for her journalism - including a Walkley or two - along the way. Canberra born and bred, she’s fiercely loyal to the city, tribally inner-north, and relieved the rest of the country is finally recognising Canberra’s cool and creative credentials. More about the Author

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