“We don’t want to be tagged as an Indian restaurant,” Jessi Singh says of his new Flinders Lane wine bar Mrs Singh. It’s a bit of a departure for the chef-restaurateur. His other eateries Dhaba at the Mill, Horn Please, and Babu Ji – which now have different owners – and Daughter in Law and Sydney’s Don’t Tell Aunty all champion Indian fare, Singh’s home cuisine. But this CBD newcomer combines Indian with Australian, American and pan-European influences.
The cheese board is the most obvious reflection of this new leaning. Blue cheese, buffalo mozzarella and comté come with pappadums instead of crackers, and there’s quince paste, but also burnt-chai honey, crushed pistachios and a few pieces of Turkish delight in organised disarray.
But the star of the menu is the kulcha, a flatbread popular in Singh’s home region of Punjab in northern India. It’s cooked on a hot grill and comes out thinner than tandoor-baked naan. Growing up, Singh ate them stuffed with cauliflower, radish or potatoes, but here they’re topped with taleggio and truffle oil, or coloured turmeric-yellow and topped with blue cheese and caramelised onion. There’s also unleavened pratha bread, which is crispier, served with 15-month-aged comté and mango chutney on top and house-smoked butter with a well of coriander-infused olive oil on the side.
“These are great when you’re drinking, because Indian breads aren’t thick at all,” Singh says. “When you have Western breads like sourdough, they’re very loafy – big, thick slices. Here you can have a whole naan, but you wouldn’t finish a whole loaf of bread by yourself.”
The rest of the menu is made up of small plates. A single oyster comes with butter flecked with sour green mango. The New England lobster roll is accompanied by potato crisps dusted with curry powder. Roast duck is wrapped in buttery parantha (a savoury pancake) with a kohlrabi slaw. And there’s tuna crudo with compressed watermelon; Tibetan pork momo dumplings; and a tandoori corn cob with masala spices.
At lunch there’s only one thing on the menu: a thali, which lets you sample a bit of everything. On an ornate gold platter, bowls of lamb rogan josh, butter chicken, goat curry, black-lentil dal and raita are arranged around spinach fritters, naan, fragrant rice and a crisp pappadum. For vegetarians there’s a coconut curry, creamy paneer makhani and a chickpea curry.
Singh decided on the wine-bar route along with sommelier and co-owner Bhatia Dheeraj, former head somm at Sydney’s Merivale Group and fine diner Est, before it closed last year (the other co-owners are Raj and Amar Singh who are also involved at Daughter In Law, Don’t Tell Aunty, Horn Please and Dhaba at the Mill, and Jennifer Singh). Indian-born Dheeraj also spent time at Penfolds Magill Estate in Adelaide and at venues in Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, Cape Town and Dubai before joining Singh in Melbourne.
The wine list favours aromatic varietals and drops that are “more see-through”, Dheeraj says. “[There’s a bit] of fat in the dishes, so you need the acidity and freshness to cut through that. If you’re having something spicy, I might not go with a chardonnay; instead I’d recommend something with a kiss of sugar like riesling.”
A champagne cart roams the room, and you can take any of the 220 wines on the menu home, too.
The third stakeholder is Shane Barrett (also of tapas bar Bomba, Fitzroy’s Nomada and bottle-shop Samuel Pepys), who crafted the cocktails. They’re fresh and fruity right now, but will change as the seasons do.
The Coco Bunny is a light mix of gin, carrot juice and turmeric, with celery salt on the rim and a crystallised ginger garnish. The Shimla Cup is Singh’s pick: a bourbon-based drink with a hint of spice from chai-masala syrup. And the Canteen Stash sees rum, Combier Kummel (a liqueur with caraway, cumin and fennel notes) and agave served in a whimsical winged glass (made by Adelaide artist Emma Klau) with a narrow top that means you can roll it around the table like an egg.
The 65-person space was designed by Jennifer Singh. It’s a mix of jewel-toned velvet seating, black-and-white terrazzo along the bar, timber panelling and wine cabinets, all anchored by a blue Italian resin floor with patterns that swirl and curve like the ocean – a leftover from the previous tenant, Guy Grossi’s Pezzo.
88 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
(03) 9654 6526
Wine bar hours:
Mon to Wed 11.30am–2.30pm, 5pm–11 pm
Thu to Fri 11.30am–2.30pm, 5pm–1am
Bottle shop hours:
Mon to Wed 10.30am–11pm
Thu to Fri 10.30am–1am