Benchmark is a favourite spot of mine when I get the chance to go to Canberra – as I did recently. It has been around 12 years in 2015, and I guess I have been there 25 or 30 times over that period – less in recent years as I don’t get across that often, these days. A pretty good effort for someone who doesn’t live in the capital!
Anyway it a wine bar of some note – it has a very large and very eclectic wine list that is ever changing and evolving. The list covers almost every conceivable wine region of the world and most of the grape varieties. Over 400 bottles are on the current list, with around 100 served by the glass. To add to the charm of the place, they also serve extremely good food, and have very knowledgeable and friendly staff. It is on Northbourne Avenue, in the same building as the Novotel, so it is pretty centrally placed.
Inside there is an area near the bar where you can grab a table or a bench, across a divide is the more formal dining area, while there are a number of tables outside to the front and side of the wine bar. On a balmy Canberra night as it was when I was there last week – it had been raining but was quite warm – I chose to sit outside, have a couple of glasses of wine, and a few snacks, and relax after the plane trip.
For food, I chose off their Tapa y Tapa menu – which has small delights such as Toasted ciabatta, with olive oil, balsamic reduction and sea salt; Pork crackling with chilli salt and tzatziki; Mahon and Jamon croquetas; and Padron peppers with Persian fetta and lemon rind.
The larger shared plates menu includes such dishes as Cajun crispy calamari with red pimento and eschallots relish; Zucchini flowers with caramelised chevre, PX currants, pepita, baby spinach, pear and toasted walnuts; and Kataifi prawns with tomato chilli romesco – this latter dish I can certainly recommend having had it on a few past visits.
There are also daily specials noted on a board inside; a charcuterie menu, and a degustation menu – really they cater for all tastes and appetites.
My choices were Bacalao tomato bombas with salsa verde; Ortiz anchovies with garlic crostini, heirloom tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella; and warm Ligurian olives with chilli, roasted garlic and orange segments. Just a few small things to tide me over….
The selection of olives, gently warmed in oil, with hints of chilli and garlic, as well as the sweetness from small pieces of orange, were a nice appetiser to accompany my first wine choice which was a 2012 Riesling from Surveyor’s Hill Vineyards from Canberra. This was a full, generous Riesling, lots of lime and citrus on the palate, and a nice crisp finish.
The bombas were deep fried balls encasing a delicious, creamy interior, oozing the salted cod, and topped with a slightly spicy green salsa – light, delicious.
My second wine was a glass of another Riesling, this from the Clare Valley, a 2013 Kilikanoon, ‘Mort’s Block’. Light straw in colour this has pronounced lime notes on the nose, with lovely clean acid and a long, satisfying finish.
The anchovies came draped on thin toasted crostini, slices of creamy mozzarella, hints of garlic on the bread and topped with roasted cherry tomatoes, whose sweetness offset the saltiness of the anchovies – again, the ingredients complemented each other and the wine. Another simply presented, but very tasty dish.
To top the evening off I was given a complementary plate with an arancini and a square of pork terrine. So I decided one more glass wouldn’t go astray, and this time I plumped for a Sicilian Nero d’Avola, Morgante 2011. A deep ruby colour, with beautiful aromas of black cherry, vanilla and pepper, this wine has chewy ripe fruit on the palate, with hints of spice, balanced by smooth tannins. It is a great food wine.
Benchmark was established with the idea of being the first true wine bar in the ACT and they have proven over the journey to be one, if not the, best of the breed – the wine list is simply outstanding and the number available by the glass extraordinary. It is lovely spot – to drink and relax over a snack, or have a more substantial meal with friends. I highly recommend it to anyone who is visiting, or who lives over that way.