Oysters and wine are undeniably compatible. But no varietal suits the mollusc’s distinct flavour quite like chablis. Produced in the northernmost region of Burgundy, France, the chardonnay grapes used for this style of dry white wine are grown in soil rich with fossilised oyster shells, infusing them with a mineral-heavy, saline flavour.
“This region is the only place in the world where these Kimmeridgian soils exist,” restaurateur Jeremy Schinck tells Broadsheet. “There’s a saying that chablis is the expression of the oyster shell it’s grown on.”
Throughout his travels across France, Schinck became infatuated with the relationship between chablis and oysters, laying the foundation for his newest venture, the 30-seat Pearl Chablis & Oyster Bar on Bourke Street. (It’s around the corner from similarly named oyster bar Pearl Diver, which opened on Little Bourke Street late last year.)
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“It’s a love I’ve had for so many years, so I’m doing my best to recreate it in Melbourne,” he says.
In Midcity Centre, next to its sibling Pinchy’s Lobster & Champagne Bar, Pearl is a sophisticated but approachable homage to one of food and drink’s perfect pairings.
Sydney rock oysters, caught fresh daily and stored in a temperature-optimised wine fridge until served, are the highlight. You can order them individually or as part of a degustation – a way to sample the best of the day’s selection, shucked on the spot.
Schinck is adamant that heating oysters too much compromises their delicate flavour, so most are served fresh here. But there is one warm option, torched lightly and served with kombu beurre blanc and housemade trout-bacon butter. In keeping with the bar’s French inspiration, there’s also beef tartare with oyster cream and pickled kohlrabi, and duck-liver parfait served with port, pomegranate and balsamic jelly.
What the food menu lacks in length, the wine list more than makes up for. It’s dominated by 500 different Burgundy wines; half are chablis, ranging from $70 to $3200 a bottle.
Each month, the bar will spotlight different chablis producers, vintages and appellations, and offer diners the chance to try different styles side by side.
Designed by Brandworks, the fit-out takes inspiration from the star menu item, with oyster-inspired marble tabletops and textured walls. The neutral colour palette is livened up with pops of sea green, subtle enough not to distract from the glass case that spans the bar, filled with the day’s catch.
Pearl Chablis & Oyster Bar
Level 1 108/200 Bourke Street, Melbourne
Wed to Sun 5pm–12am