Things have changed at the Carlton Wine Room. Founders Jay Bessell and Connie Cappello have moved on. New owners Fiona Sheeran and Domenic Zanellini have subtly, but significantly, changed the blueprint for the award-winning bar.
Drawing from their experience as owners of Carlton cafes Haymarket Place and Briscola Espresso, as well as CBD restaurant Sarti, Sheeran and Zanellini have refocused the venue to have broader appeal. Sheeran says she’s going for a fresher aesthetic, and a more relaxed service style. “I thought it had great scope for improvement,” she says. “It’s all new staff, so basically, out with the old and in with the new.”
Cosmetic changes have been minimal – the bench seating along the window has been replaced by traditional bistro tables, and new artwork adorns the walls.
The extensive wine list is shorter. The foundation of the original Carlton Wine Room’s success – an encyclopedic range of around 28 by-the-glass wines, from back-vintage Barolo, to experimental, unfiltered, biodynamic new-world wines – has been replaced by a more mainstream offering of 14 wines. It’s more affordable; Punt Road sparkling is $12, and a 2014 Onannon Pinot maxes out the list at $20. “I wanted it to be a little less complicated to start with, and a bit more price effective,” says Sheeran.
The food has also been retooled. Appetite for Excellence runner-up, and former Bistro Guillaume chef Aaron Starling, offers solid bistro fare, such as roasted chicken with charred leek and a grape reduction, and steak tartare with quail egg and potato crisps. There’s also a snacky selection: a toasted sandwich of morcilla, whipped mustard cream and cheese, served on brioche bread and pan-fried in pork fat will prove popular.
The Carlton Wine Room Mark II is not the same character it was; but its broader ambition may find it a new audience of diners.