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Bar Rochford is no longer Canberra’s little secret.
After taking out the title of Australia’s Best Bar in the 2018 Gourmet Traveller Restaurant Guide Awards, chef Louis Couttoupes has now been nominated for the Best New Talent gong. After eating and drinking their way through the best 400 restaurants in the country, the food critics at Gourmet Traveller have narrowed it down to just three finalists per category, and Louis is one of them.
He is in very good company, nominated alongside Oliver Edwards of The Summertown Aristologist in Adelaide Hills and Ali Currey-Voumard of The Agrarian Kitchen Eatery in Tasmania.
“It caught me completely out of the blue to be honest,” Louis says. “I’m pretty excited just to be in the same room as a whole bunch of these people because I’ve watched and admired their work. It feels like if you grew up listening to Beyonce and all of a sudden you’re one of her back up singers or something.”
Just three years ago, Louis was unemployed after quitting his job in the public service to pursue a career in the kitchen.
“I keep imagining they’re going to call back and say they made a mistake. I didn’t go to cooking school, I just got a job in a kitchen on the bottom rung and worked my way up. In a way, I think that’s the advantage of coming to the industry later in life, because I have the attitude that I really want to do this and I love it.”
As anyone who has been to Bar Rochford, the rest of the team are just as passionate.
“We want the atmosphere to be welcoming and approachable, but also with some left field stuff that people might not have tried before. We’re trying to create a place where people can get around a table and try a whole bunch of good food and drink some nice wine, without emptying their wallets.
“Its a place where you can come for a couple of drinks after work and have a catch-up, or you can settle in with your parents and have a nice dinner, or late on a Friday night you can get up and have a boogie.”
Louis says his food has been described as “scruffy”, in a good way. The menu is centred around share plates, incorporating seasonal produce sourced from the ACT region.
“We cook on creative whims, so if a supplier calls up and says they’ve got something new that they’ve grown we’re like ‘Yeah, cool, let’s do it.’ We try to do things in-house, I still kind of think of the kitchen we have as a classroom.”
In Louis’ classroom, he likes to switch things up a little bit. Vegetables feature heavily, alongside less-favoured cuts of meat. Currently on the menu: Slow cooked eggplant with tahine and smoked egg, rabbit, and a winter pavlova.
“We use stewed dried red fruits for the pavlova because the usual fruits aren’t in season and house-made mascarpone… It’s familiar but done in our own way. One of my favourite things we’ve ever done is chicken hearts on skewers, they’re just like a nice little bar snack.”
The finalists for New Restaurant of the Year, Bar of the Year, Best New Talent, Wine List of the Year, Maître d’ of the Year, Sommelier of the Year and Regional Restaurant of the Year have also been announced. Rosetta (Sydney), Laura (Mornington Peninsula), and Bert’s (Sydney) are up for New Restaurant of the Year and Jacoby’s (Sydney), Galah (Melbourne) and Liberté (Albany, WA) are fighting it out for Bar of the Year.
Winners will be announced and celebrated at an exclusive awards event held on Wednesday 22 August in Sydney at celebrated French brasserie Restaurant Hubert and published in the new edition of Gourmet Traveller’s annual Restaurant Guide, on sale with the September issue on 23 August.
Feature image: Lean Timms