Sunday morning is the time of the week that we put fresh white sheets on the bed in our house. It kind of sets you up psychologically for the week to come, knowing that Sunday night will be a beautiful sleep in clean, crisp white sheets. While we are performing this ritual, Andy Day from Rizla is meticulously tucking in the sheets of crisp, white, 80gsm paper that make up his lovingly procured wine list. Rizla is all about the wine and you won't find a spelling mistake, grammatical error or incorrect vintage within this precisely worded manifesto.
Andy is the self-appointed and unchallenged Emperor of Riesling in this town. Endorsing this grand statement, Rizla was recently judged as having Australia's best wine list (under 100 wines), which is a superb accolade to obtain.
I'm not sure if Rizla is a restaurant or a wine bar. Perhaps it's both. It is certainly a place where you can go on a journey, disarm any preconceptions, and make some great discoveries. As we arrive, host Andy escorts us under the "Rizla batlights" to a very cosy table, nestled under a radiant heater and surrounded by greenery. We slip past a single diner in a red hoodie. He is snacking on a decadent-looking cheese platter, with a German-looking riesling clasped in his left hand (nb: it's quite hard for a riesling to look German, but regular readers may observe that not all reviews are based on such evidence).
This Sunday night, the $80 Rizla "sort it out" menu is the obvious choice, given our confidence in the judgement of our host and his intimate knowledge of what his three-square-metre kitchen can pump out.
Tuna tartare with house-made potato crisps is "served", and this the appropriate terminology, given that it's the size of a tennis ball. There are lifted but elegant notes of sesame, lime and cornichons, hidden among the super-fresh pale pink ball of diced tuna. We scoop these up with hand-cut 20mm-diameter potato crisps carved from kipflers and it feels like we are having our own little drinks party. The zucchini pickles on toast with labneh and dukkah opens the palate up even further, and the intense tartness works a treat with the 2023 Werkstatt riesling from Mt Gambier ($18). It's an off dry style, which evolves with every sip and hides the residual sugar very well, while lubricating the pickles.
Like all great wine bars, the focus here is on the wine, and the food is indeed the carriageway for the booze. Rizla is one of just a handful of places in town which takes this approach and it's great way to eat, without the feeling that you're dining top end. Roast fennel, with stracciatella, pepitas and pickled currants has sweet, salty and savoury notes. The influence of the pickled currants pushes it towards a dessert, but the addition of pepitas gives it a salty crunch that brings it back to the savoury side. This dish could be brekky, lunch or dinner, and devoured in conjunction with any number of varietals.
This becomes evident when we move into a 2022 Naturaliste Floris chardonnay I Margaret River, WA ($19). Pale gold in colour, it is deliciously floral, jumping with distinctive white jasmine, nectarine, and a nice toasty lick of new oak. In contrast, the 2023 SC Pannell Arido grenache rosé from McLaren Vale ($17) is a Harry Houdini style of rosé which sits in the glass looking like a glass of water. But then it jumps out of the box and surprises with fresh crushed watermelon, pink grapefruit, musk and spice notes. What the eyes see, the mind believes. In many top restaurants, the sommelier seems to have the smallest walk-on part. At Rizla, Andy is there for the full show.
Mains arrive and the snapper with pearl couscous, lemon, chili and chives has a perfectly seasoned, crunchy skin. It is fresh, beautifully cooked and balanced with a lovely lemon-tinted undertone. Not unlike the playlist tonight, which features Dusty Springfield, The Jackson 5 and Fleetwood Mac. Okay, maybe a playlist can't be "lemon tinted" either. A side of perfectly burnished hot corn comes served in a warm bowl, with Mexican-style notes of coriander, chilli and lime butter. It is sensational and the buttery corn works a treat with the chardonnay.
MORE GREAT READS:
After a short, and what we feel to be well-earned break, we are presented with a coconut crème caramel with pineapple ginger compote, and ricotta doughnuts with caramelised white chocolate and orange. Both desserts are solid, without blowing the roof off.
In the same way that "a ship in the harbour is safe, but that's not what ships are for", the menu doesn't change too much here, but that's not what this menu is for. We call for the cheque and head home to the sheets of our freshly made bed. Andy and his small crew clear the shelves, rotate the stock and get ready for the next delivery of gems to add to the list. It's unlikely that anyone else in this town will be challenging the Emperor of Riesling for the title any time soon.
Address: 22 Lonsdale St, Braddon
Phone: 6230 0771
Hours: Lunch, Friday to Sunday, from noon; Dinner, Tuesday to Sunday, from 5.40pm
Chef: Talia Cullis
Noise: No problem
Dietary: Options available
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content:
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.