Bahama Gold never really had a chance to arrive. Not with any real fanfare. The boisterous little wine bar attached to better-known sibling Old Palm Liquour launched during one of Melbourne’s many lockdowns as a canteen-style bottle shop, with a large counter opening directly onto the footpath.
In the ensuing few years co-owner Simon Denman has been steadily building on that rudimentary start, by way of footpath seating, cosy radiant heaters for inside and a sublime $80,000 sound system featuring a vintage Luxman amp and Klipsch speakers.
Bahama Gold is now one of the best, and least talked-about, drinking spots in Melbourne. The house wines, made in collaboration with Koerner, Little Reddie and other leading new-wave wineries, are shipped over in 30-litre kegs, up to 7000 litres at a time, and sell for an absurdly good $10–$12 per glass and $22 for a one-litre takeaway flagon.
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And it’s not finished yet. Earlier this year the team installed a tiny kitchen and appointed head chef Jane Low, who’s cooking an entirely different menu to next door. Here’s what she has to say about her new role.
Tell us about your career so far.
My career has been quite a journey! It all started in Melbourne, where I worked as a pastry chef at some pretty well-known places like the Lake House, Pei Modern, and Hare & Grace. But the turning point came when I was given an amazing opportunity to lead the kitchen at Harry & Frankie Fitzroy, which really ignited my passion for cooking. After that, I had a stint at Neighbourhood Wine, where I had the pleasure of meeting [married co-owners] Simon [Denman] and Almay [Jordaan]. I then packed my bags and ventured off to London, where I spent a couple of years working at Brawn. But then, as luck would have it, the pandemic hit and I found myself back home at Old Palm Liquor. Mid last year I decided to take a sabbatical and travel around Europe, soaking up inspiration from different cuisines. And now excited to embark on this new project at Bahama Gold.
How would you describe your cooking?
Diverse. Strong European basics, with Chinese-Malaysian influence stemming from my childhood. I take a lot of inspiration from my travels and the people around me, be it South African, Kurdish, Indonesian or Italian.
What’s the kitchen set-up like at Bahama Gold?
Our kitchen is compact yet cleverly designed. We’ve made the most of the limited space, ensuring efficiency and functionality. Behind the bar, you’ll find everything we need – a couple of induction tops and a small oven. We’ve carefully planned the set-up to make the most of what we have.
What attracted you to work in such a small space? What effect does it have on creativity?
The idea of working in a small space actually came up during a conversation we had one day while I was still at Old Palm. We were brainstorming ideas, and I mentioned a favourite place of mine called P Franco in London. They also have limited space but manage to create amazing food with a similar set-up. I take a lot of inspiration from the many talented chefs that have graced the inductions there. So, the challenge of a small kitchen set-up actually fuels my creativity and passion.
I was attracted to the idea of a small set-up because it posed a challenge to create a limited rotating menu with minimal equipment. It has really put my skills to the test and pushed me to explore my cooking limitations. While there are certain things I won’t be able to do, it’s all about the fun and excitement of discovering what I can achieve with what I’ve got.
What’s on the menu? What are you most proud of?
I cook with seasonal produce, so pine mushroom, pears, pumpkin are currently on show. I’m very proud of my schiacciata [Tuscan flatbread], and the pastas that are hand-rolled and cut. Particularly inspired by the Italians this season, with a Malaysian flair.
What dishes and ingredients are you looking forward to introducing in the coming seasons?
Some tortellini in brodo, some duck lap cheong, maybe laksa and ragu for those cold bitter days. Brassicas will definitely make an appearance. And perhaps a custard tart or two, Malaysian onde-onde [a dessert of glutinous rice balls].
Is dessert a must-order, given your background?
Definitely! With my background in pastry and a touch of childhood nostalgia, I create desserts that perfectly complement the overall dining experience. I combine my pastry skills with unique flavour combinations to offer a must-try dessert selection. It’s the perfect ending to a memorable meal.