But in the five years since chef Philippa Sibley and Albert St Food and Wine left the strip, good wine and the food that goes with it have been notably absent.
Enter the month-old Rascal, with 120 wines, 60 beers, a credible cocktail menu and the kind of refined-yet-accessible food found in wine bars across town. “We want it to be a one-stop shop,” says co-owner Simon Henderson. “We don’t want to pigeonhole people and say, ‘You can only come here if you like wine or beer’. If you just want a vodka-soda, a Clover Club or a Negroni, you’ll fit in as well.”
Henderson and his mate John Benedict Ryan run Fitzroy nightclub Glamorama and, with Harrison Peace and James Gullan, Ascot Vale wine bar The Vale. The same quartet owns Rascal, with an important addition: chef Elliott Pinn.
Pinn was head chef for two years at fine diner Doot Doot Doot on the Peninsula. And before that, he was pastry chef at Sepia, one of Sydney’s best restaurants. This experience is manifest in the menu’s from-scratch ethos (the salami, ’nduja and bresaola are house-made), the tidy presentation of each dish (pastry chefs are known for their fastidiousness) and even the use of “fancy” ingredients such as bee pollen and black garlic.
While the menu is nominally European, many dishes have Asian accents, something Pinn says he picked up at another job, at Sydney institution Flying Fish. That bresaola is flavoured with five spice. Kingfish gets a touch of funk from Japanese dashi stock made with blueberries. Nugget-like chunks of fried chicken are battered tempura-style and served with vibrant green hot sauce (add caviar for $20). And roasted cauliflower, so ubiquitous in restaurants right now, feels fresh again when teamed with pistachio, tamarind and little brown pools of curry oil.
Peace, whose parents run Andrew Peace Wines, one of the largest independent wineries in Australia, compiled the wine list with manager Tatiana An. It’s a fine match for Pinn’s eclecticism and kowtows neither to winemaking’s traditional titans, nor the Young Turks so keen to unseat them.
“I don’t want to ostracise anyone,” Peace says. “I want anyone to walk in and be comfortable with what they’re getting.”
Look for old faithfuls such as Clare Valley riesling (from Adelina or Jeanneret) and Barossa shiraz (Teusner, Eden Hall), plus quirkier entries such as Ravensworth’s Murrumbateman cabernet franc/sauvignon blanc and Dormilona’s Margaret River chenin blanc pét-nat. The European selection is also strong, whether you’re talking aromatic German whites or juicy Spanish reds.
Beer drinkers are sorted with pale ales, IPAs, sours and dark beers from breweries in the US and the Antipodes, including Stomping Ground, Deep Creek, Deschutes, Garage Project and La Sirène, and whisky connoisseurs are in for a pleasant surprise thanks to Henderson’s passion for the stuff – rare Japanese bottles particularly.
All this eclecticism carries through to the room itself, which is a coherent mix of old (bentwood chairs, timber-framed windows, raw brick) and new (caramel-coloured banquettes, a grey granite bar, a playful mural by artist Minna Leunig). Rascal might be something different for this stretch of Brunswick, but it feels like a natural part of the neighbourhood already.
341 Sydney Road, Brunswick
(03) 9114 2817
Wed to Fri 5pm–11pm