Sam Leyshon has had more jobs than most.
The Canberra native has worked as a chef, landscape gardener, professional musician, security guard at Parliament House and down in the mines of Western Australia. But in recent times, Leyshon has followed in his father’s footsteps to become a winemaker. Today he runs Mallaluka, a boutique winery located in the Canberra district.
Founded in 2014 on the avant-garde principles of low-intervention wine – which appealed to Leyshon during a stint at Melbourne speciality wine store Blackhearts & Sparrows – Mallaluka has become “a playground of experimentation,” he says. That ethos reflects his father’s own (albeit hobbyist) approach to winemaking: don’t be afraid to push boundaries.
“Dad would laugh and say if it doesn’t work out and we end up tipping it down the drain, it’s okay – we’re here to have fun,” says Leyshon. “Not only did we not tip it down the drain, but we also sold it really quickly.”
The local winegrowing district is a predominantly cool-climate region bordered by Canberra, Yass and Bungendore. It’s particularly known for its shiraz and riesling.
“Both varieties express beautifully here,” says Leyshon. “You get a cooler climate style of shiraz – it’s not a big jammy fruit bomb with really high alcohol, it’s a little more pared back: softer, more delicate, and a little bit lower alcohol. Canberra offers something different to the warmer, richer reds we’re used to in Australia.”
A sophisticated local food and wine culture has emerged in the city to match the region’s attractive provenance. It means it’s a very different city to the one Leyshon grew up in. “There are lots of people doing really interesting things that make the city more colourful,” he says. We asked Leyshon for his favourite spots to eat and drink in the nation’s capital.
A stop at Paranormal, a Parisian-style bottle shop-slash-bar, is “a must” for any visitor thanks to “a fantastic wine list” and a well thought out menu, says Leyshon. A drawcard is the “excellent charcuterie and snacks to mop up delicious drink choices”. The vibe, he says, is “very chill and spacious, with indoor, outdoor and grass across the road for takeaway options.”
Paranormal Wines G27/6 Provan Street, Campbell ACT
Hidden away in the city centre’s historic Melbourne Building, Bar Rochford is the place to go for “a lively atmosphere with a killer rotating drinks menu, outstanding cocktails and all-round fun vibes,” says Leyshon. “The vinyl is always spinning. Food is on point and the staff are legit experts and boast a very high level of professionalism and passion.”
Bar Rochford First Floor, 65 London Circuit, Canberra City ACT
Molly, a glamorous speakeasy now housed in the Melbourne Building – it moved from its original premises in Hobart Place when the building was torn down – is a veteran of Canberra’s small bar movement.
“Molly is a Canberran institution you shouldn’t miss,” says Leyshon. “Canberrans have always been used to travelling to other cities to experience cool venues, but this was the first one to pop up here.” With an extensive collection of whisky, spirits and “savvy” bar staff on hand to prepare topnotch cocktails, Molly offers a memorable – and dimly lit – late-night experience.
Molly Wooden Door, Odgers Lane, Canberra ACT
Located in Constitution Place, one of Canberra’s newest dining precincts, Cicada Bar pairs a minimalist interior with a commitment to creating minimal waste. The result is a venue that is sophisticated, sustainable and well worth a visit.
If you want “passionate people, interesting drinks – the sake list is phenomenal – and an exceptionally classy late-night atmosphere with contemporary Japanese influences, then this is your place,” says Leyshon.
Cicada Bar 1 Constitution Ave, Canberra ACT
If you’re after a sit-down meal to celebrate a special occasion, Pilot should be your first port of call. Located in an unassuming shopping strip in Ainslie in the city’s north, Pilot is a small, 30-seat restaurant. Chef Malcolm Hanslow, whose credits include stints at Automata, Ester and Oscillate Wildly, celebrates seasonal Australian produce in a seven-course degustation offering known as Pilot.Menu. “It’s contemporary cuisine by one of the city’s best chefs,” says Leyshon. “Prepare to be spoilt.”
Pilot 1 Wakefield Gardens, Ainslie ACT
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Visit Canberra.