Name: Rice Tapas Bar & Restaurant
Address: 24 Garema Place, Canberra City
Ph: 02 6247 6161
Hours: Lunch: Tuesday – Saturday 11:30am – 2:30pm. Dinner: Tuesday – Saturday 5pm – 10pm.
Expectations are funny things. Even when you know absolutely nothing about a place, there are things that create expectations, and it’s always strange when these aren’t met.
For example, when a place calls itself a “tapas bar”, you expect certain things. That is because “tapas” has a particular definition. It is a small bite of Spanish food, usually eaten over drinks of sherry sometime in the early evening, before a late dinner. It began as something on a piece of bread, and evolved into other tastes.
To me the word evokes memories of jamon, anchovies, bacalao, chorizo, and lots of beautifully smoky paprika, not to mention warm nights and crowded bars. What it should be, however, is Spanish.
What tapas is not, despite the disturbing trend in way too many restaurants across this country, is a fancy word for bar snacks. It also shouldn’t be randomly applied to whatever cuisine happens to be going.
Which is why my initial anticipation at the arrival of a new tapas bar in Civic came crashing down a lot faster than I would have liked.
When I climbed the stairs to Rice Tapas Bar & Restaurant, I was shocked to discover an empty room with cheap chairs and tables, a bar in the corner, and a number of Thai photos and ornaments adorning the wall. Because, despite the name, Rice Tapas is in fact a Thai restaurant.
Or mostly Thai, at least. The so-called tapas menu was a bizarre combination of traditional That food and classic pub food. My stomach wasn’t expecting anything to exciting.
And yet, expectations failed me again, as much of the food was surprisingly good, swinging from Thai to pub to some crazy fusion in between.
On one side, yum beef, a meaty chunk of spicy marinated steak, wrapped in cooling cucumber with a sweet, fruity garnish. This was an incredibly adept bite, and a real flavour hit. It was the sort of taste that made me want to come back for the mains. Tightly wound spring rolls were crisp and delicious, one of the best versions in town.
On the other, fresh fish fingers, made from real pieces of fish. These were well made, firm, and properly tasting of fish, served with a simple tartar sauce.
In between, a ridiculous sounding plate of Thai flavoured hot chips was a plate of ordinary chips, with two dishes of complex and spicy sauces, one Thai green curry, the other Massaman. Much more exciting than tomato sauce.
Not every dish was good, of course, such as bland prawns that were only saved by a piquant dipping sauce. Worst of all was an almost inedible combination of spiced minced pork, way over cooked, served on a slice of out of season oranges. It was ridiculous attempt at balancing sweet and savoury that missed the mark by an extremely long way.
Even still, the prices are low, the ingredients are (mostly) of a high quality, and there is a decent selection of beers and basic wines. I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected when I walked into the room.
A misnamed Thai tapas joint that is hidden up a Civic set of stairs is not the sort of place that is likely to survive for too long. But there is potential here, and there is some skilled cooking. With some tweaking of concept, Rice could be a success.
Just know what to expect.