“You don’t need to know anything about a band to enjoy going to a bar and listening to live music,” says Christian McCabe. According to him, wine’s just like music.
Knowing that the ’88 was a tough vintage in Burgundy won’t necessarily increase your enjoyment of the 1990. “Wine has come along as a snobby subject that people pretend to know more about than they do. In hindsight, it’s ridiculous. It’s a peasant’s drink in the part of the world it comes from,” he says. “Just drink it and like it.”
So, it’s an uncomplicated approach to food and wine at Embla, the sister venue to The Town Mouse. Together with partner and executive chef, Dave Verheul, McCabe envisions Embla as your lounge room in the city – with better food and booze. Designed by Kiwi architect Allistar Cox, it’s all dark floors, naked wood and sandy brick. “It’s pretty rustic for us,” he admits. “It’s in the middle of the CBD, but it needs to feel like a comfortable place to have a glass of wine. It’s not the place you go to show how fancy you are.”
The lamb neck is cooked in the wood oven and served with romesco sauce. A rainbow trout is served whole with horseradish and foraged purslane (a mildly sour succulent, similar to pigface). “It’s mostly stuff meant to be had with wine,” says McCabe.
But, the centre of the venue is its wine list, which is a collaboration with French natural wine guru, Eric Narioo, and Aussie winemaker legend, Patrick Sullivan. It’s a melange of local and international bottles, with drops such as the Gentle Folk Vin de Sofa from South Australia alongside a Jo Landron Muscadet from France. “There’s lots of people out there making great stuff that never makes it beyond a few of their mates,” McCabe says. “If we can start serving that in wine bars, then maybe one day there’ll be lots more of those guys and a bit more diversity.”
While Embla’s a 60-seater bar for the moment, it’ll expand upstairs with a real-deal restaurant sometime next year – if locals like it, admits McCabe. “The ideal would be for people to like it a lot.”