There's a lot to like about Rebel Rebel, but let's start with the architectural splendour of the recycled public-housing timber that lines the ceilings. I never tire of the criss-crossed wooden beams against the stark concrete ceilings. It's an effective space, warm, inviting and still on trend, perfect for a catch up over a bottle of wine.
Rebel Rebel has a delightful by-the-bottle wine list with choices from all the major wine regions, both local and international. I'm very tempted by some of the small winemakers - Place of Changing Winds, Bondar - but my sensibility (and my partner) remind me it is a school night.
The one-page by the glass list is much more restrained, though it doesn't cover as much ground as I'd like - tonight, I'm looking for a big, bold red to go with my steak. The 2014 Valenciso Rioja Laderas De Cabama Temperanillo ($17) is a lovely wine however, velvety, complex, laden with black cherry and spice notes.
The dishes are modern with inspiration from around the globe in the form of diverse elements like wakame, 'nduja and tahini, and at this time of year - locally grown black truffle. It seems like a varied range of international influences, but makes perfect sense. We are after all at a restaurant called Rebel Rebel.
Some old favourites remain on the share plate menu. It's hard to pass up dishes like the infamous corn and manchego croquetas ($8 each) but I'm determined to try some new dishes from the winter menu.
I can't skip the grilled prawn with bay leaf butter ($9 each) though. They arrive in a pool of golden butter, char marks visible and green powder sprinkled across the plate. It's one of my favourite versions of this dish I've had anywhere, smoke and the sweetness of perfectly cooked prawn, brought together with the savouriness of bay leaf and a ton of butter.
Then there's the kingfish. Generous slices of raw kingfish ($24) peek out from between mounds of piped horseradish cream, apple batons and grated horseradish. There's a lovely contrast of flavours and textures; the crispness of fresh apple and the kick of horseradish work well against the fish. It may be personal preference, but a bit too much of the dark parts of the loin have been left on for my taste, imparting an overly dominant fishy flavour.
Eggplant, 'nduja, cucumber, almonds ($20) is welcome on a cold winter night. Half an eggplant, slow roasted and topped with a warm chilli 'nduja, with lots of crunch from cucumber and whole roasted almonds. It's a touch under-seasoned, but not so obvious that it mars our enjoyment of the dish.
I'm really here for the rib eye with truffle ($60, $15 supplement). It isn't listed on the menu (no idea why) and isn't mentioned by the staff member as a special, so I come right out and ask for it like the millennial that I am. Yes, if you're wondering, my penchant for truffle on steak is probably why I can't afford a house. Then again, a $15 supplement for the amount of truffle that covers this steak seems more than reasonable.
Here at Rebel, they don't ask how you want steak cooked - again, I'm not sure why. Our rib eye is served on the rare side of medium rare, much to the disappointment of my partner, who prefers his steak cooked a little bit more towards medium. My dissatisfaction is only in the fact that they don't ask. Again, a matter of personal preference, but in my opinion, the downside of a medium rare rib eye is that the fat doesn't have enough of a chance to render out. Still, the steak is cooked well with a generous shaving of truffle covering the entire rib eye, an oniony jus and herb butter adding extra level of richness. The chips ($9) are a welcome foil for the decadent umami bomb.
Mandarin, dark chocolate, honey and almond ($19) is the chosen dessert. Dark chocolate and orange is a winning combo, and in-season mandarins bring a beautiful citrus sweetness and a generous almond crumb adds crunch and texture. It's one of my favourites tonight.
A big part of dining here in the past have been the staff, always happy to have a chat about food and wine to pair it with. That excitement about food is a big part of the experience of dining out. Service is not at its best tonight - a little perfunctory and matter of fact. There's also a couple of niggly little issues, for instance, our waiter doesn't tell us about the truffle special and doesn't offer us new plates when ours are covered in red 'nduja oil and the truffle steak is served.
We are dining at Rebel Rebel in what has no doubt been a tough week for hospitality. Lockdowns were in place across large parts of the country, shifts have been reduced and there's a sombreness settling across the industry as they work through cancellations from customers. It almost feels like the mood has crept into the food somehow tonight, but having eaten here on other occasions, I am in no doubt about the quality of food that comes out of this kitchen.
Rebel Rebel Dining
Address: 23 Marcus Clarke St, Acton
Phone: 6248 8548
Hours: Monday to Friday, noon til 10pm; Saturday, 8am til 10pm.
Owner: Sean McConnell and Jenny Harders
Chef: Sean McConnell
Vegetarian: A few good options
Noise: Not the easiest place to have a conversation