Restaurant News

First look: Rebel Rebel, chef Sean McConnell’s latest restaurant in Canberra, opens on Saturday

From Monster to culinary revolutionary, chef Sean McConnell further stakes his claim in the capital.

By Gareth Meyer
Rebel Rebel co-owners Sean McConnell and Jenny Harders, and restaurant manager Kristin Zeitlhofer.
The new project from husband-and-wife team Sean McConnell and Jenny Harders is bound to have Canberra in a whirl. During his time as head chef of Monster Kitchen and Bar, McConnell introduced Canberrans to a dining experience long on aesthetics and short on formality. Now, with complete control over the creative process at Rebel Rebel in NewActon, he's going further by integrating an anti-establishment ethos across the entire all-day dining experience.
"Customers should feel like it's their space and they can use it as they like," says McConnell. "That could mean grabbing a porchetta panini to go, stopping for sparkling and South Coast oysters at the communal high-top table, or lingering over a long lunch in the 50-seater dining room."
By day, the high-tempo atmosphere will be scored with a "kooky" playlist speckled with the early pioneers of punk: the Ramones, The Stooges, Television. The rebellious streak continues with the menu and website branding – by Collingwood-based design company U-P – featuring bold typeface and found imagery of '70s-era band flyers. "It would have been too easy to have gone with pastels and Bowie lightning bolts," says McConnell.
Come evening, the mood will be more laid-back, says McConnell, with softer lighting and less energetic music. The minimalist design by McConnell's close friend Sam Rice, formerly with architecture firm March Studio (Gazi, The Press Club, Lucy Liu, Nishi Building), is offset by the high exposed ceiling featuring a dramatic installation made from reclaimed hardwood sourced from Bega Flats, the recently demolished public-housing units on Northbourne Avenue.
Sam Rice's ceiling installation. Photo: Rohan Thomson
Despite McConnell's love of the late, great David Bowie, he's not promising any dramatic culinary shape-shifting. The chef operates in more subtle ways. "Compared with Monster, the menu is more European-leaning and less globetrotting," he says. Still, there are sojourns through North Africa and parts of the Middle East, with the chef leaning on his strong partnerships with producers in New South Wales and Canberra: Moonlight Flat oysters, Three Mills bakery and Barrio Collective (the Braddon café and coffee roaster is supplying a house blend). The drinks list, too, dips into the best of the region's wine talent: a fizzy from Sassafras, riesling from Clonakilla, pinot from Lark Hill.
Inside Rebel Rebel. Photo: Rohan Thomson
Followers of the McConnell family (brothers Andrew and Matt look after Melbourne's Cumulus Inc and Bar Lourinhã respectively) would be wise to road-test a breakfast dish of black pudding, fried eggs and house HP sauce – a nod, perhaps, to Cumulus Inc's full English breakfast, boudin noir included. Lunch and dinner options include cold-smoked beef tartare with whipped tahini and zhoug, and Spanish mackerel served with a nettle salsa verde. The talented Jasmine Sawa, who trained under McConnell at Monster, oversees the pastry and desserts section. "We're aiming for a simple approach to dining, thoughtfully sourced produce, a small number of ingredients and no unnecessary flair," says McConnell.
It's early days – the restaurant opens to the public from Saturday – but judging from his track record thus far, Rebel Rebel will be a measure of the refinement of McConnell's craft. But more than that, in the company of recently minted compatriots Pilot and Lamshed's, Rebel Rebel embodies Canberra's transition to a dining destination more comfortable in its own skin.
Rebel Rebel, 23 Marcus Clarke Street, NewActon, Canberra, ACT, (02) 9857 3325,
Rebel Rebel opens on Saturday 21 September. Open 7 days, 7am – 10pm.