After Dark: Public in Manuka

by The Editor


EDITOR’S NOTE:  Four months after the following post we returned to investigate Public Bar’s revised menu and drinks list.  Best you read the update here.


A couple of months ago, signage appeared at the corner of Franklin Street and Flinders Way in the area of town we’ve all come to know as Manuka. The words writ high on the green hoardings was nothing short of brave:


As one who has spent a number of sunny weekends at both established, sprawling venues, this was a mighty statement on which to stake a new bar’s reputation. Given partners of Public include Soc Kochinos (Belluci’s, Suburban Dickson) and Pawl Cubbin (Zoo Advertising), there was evidence of the necessary resources to pull off such a claim.


The first thing noticed on approach was one of the subtlest aspects of the bar. Up above the eaves, in white relief from the existing white brickwork, is the logo simply stating PUBLIC. This elegant piece of signage is an indication of the attention to detail reflected throughout the venue.

First impressions once inside: It feels light, really light. The opening up of the ceiling to an atrium allowing light in on even the gloomiest of afternoons gives the venue a feeling of space.

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Upon entry, the bar looks amazing.  Clearly some effort has been put into every urface and every join throughout Public.  The design elements are incredibly strong, most notably the giant, counterweighted louvres that open completely on a warm day, as well as the delightful shared benches whose swing-out seats have a compliment the industrial feel.  Unfortunately, the pot-plants overhead are fake: a fact once realised that takes away from the exsquisite natural materials throughout the rest of the bar.


Hold on to your hip-pockets – Public breaks new ground in this regard. The first purchase from the bar was a bit of a shock, with a schooner of James Squire for $8.50 and the cheapest wine by the glass coming in at $11.00. Possibly s bit of overreach there, especially given table service is not available.

Flicking through the wine and cocktail list proved both to be adequate without anything overly adventurous. The lack of an available pear cider was a problem, especially given popularity of the beverage this summer. It wasn’t that they had sold out, apparently – they just didn’t have it yet. Ouch.

Martinis ring in at $20 each leaving the bartenders no margin for error given the expertise around town at venues with a proven record in this area.  We’ll be sure to return and check in 2012.


A flick through the menu showed a variety of options for diners – everything from simple snacks through to dishes suitable for a more intensive dining experience. The drawback to the variety was the absence of any determinable theme, unusual when such detail and consistency exists in Public’s interior design. Mick Chatto (Artespresso, Pelagic) was supposed to have run of the kitchen, but apparently was not part of the team come opening.  If his menu survived, we could expect good things.

We decided on a number of small plates:

Dumplings (Pork and Prawn $18.00)

Wrapped in a silky smooth dough that was in no way chewy. The sauce of ginger infused red wine vinegar provided a perfect acidic balance to the sweetness of the prawns and pork. We could have easily eaten another serve (or two).

Sashimi Plate (Yellowfin Tuna, Scallops, Kingfish and Salmon $25.00).

Let’s face it, outside of a top end Japanese restaurant you will struggle to find this dish elevated far beyond the element of raw fish but the serving size was more than we expected.  The organic soy was a nice touch.

Rillettes Plate (Pork and Rabbit with Crostini $19.00).

The rabbit lacked flavour, but the pork was utterly delicious with the gherkins supplying a great tang. Unfortunately the supply of crostini was too small by half. It’s always disappointing to see a dish let down by the cheapest ingredient.


It’s a promising start from Messrs Kochinos, Cubbin, et al.  The wonderful fitout will no doubt be paid off in quick time if the crowds and prices remain.

The price factor will act as a deterrent to a lot of punters who, in a post GFC environment, are very much aware of how many $9.50 Coronas it takes to buy a carton of the stuff. The same goes for the wine drinkers, who may equally be shy of dropping $50 on a low-to-midrange wine.

However, Public a great addition to Canberra’s most glamorous suburb, and we would certainly recommend it for a bite to eat, as opposed to a ‘long big night out’.  Given the apparent aim of Public is not to be a late night venue, they seem to have the interior pitch-perfect.  We think they’ll pay off that fit-out in pretty good time.

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