Wine bar and casual fine diner Bar Magnolia was conceived in a setting many know well – after-work drinks.
Winemaker Lawrence Scanlon and chef Mia Coady-Plumb, who met while working at Brunswick’s now-closed all-day diner Theodore’s, were at knock-offs when they discovered they’d make a great pairing for a venue.
“In hospitality … once you have a few drinks, you start talking about restaurants, food and wine – complaining about everything and talking about your ideal thing you want to open,” Scanlon tells Broadsheet. “We found we had the same passion.”
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Scanlon (Dirty Black Denim Wines, Street Walking Cheetah) and Cody-Plumb (ex-Cutler and Co, Anchovy), were given the keys to the former Pogo site in January this year. The duo renovated the space – one of Sydney Road’s original early-1920s buildings, according to Coady-Plumb’s librarian sister – with the help of friends and family.
During the day, light floods through a large stained-glass window at the front, where a built-in bar provides optimal people-watching. Inside, there’s a sleek oak bar, two massive church pews for seating, and vintage mirrors from the previous owner. And in the rear, beneath a curved staircase, there’s a cosy room with a fireplace that Lawrence compares to the back room at Carlton North’s iconic Gerald’s Bar.
While they renovated the space, the duo hosted sell-out Magnolia pop-ups at popular Abbotsford venues Glou and Cam’s Kiosk, where Cody-Plumb served produce-forward dishes like Corner Inlet garfish in a prawn bisque. At the permanent Bar Magnolia, Coady-Plumb offers a concise French-leaning menu inspired by the Parisian wine bars she fell in love with on her last trip to the city, as well as regional Victorian restaurants like Annie Smithers’s Du Fermier in Trentham and Tansy’s in Kyneton.
The offering changes frequently depending on what’s in season and what can be sourced from producers like Ocean Made Seafood and Adelaide’s Say Cheese.
Menu mainstays include Akimbo sourdough with shellfish to start; a terrine made from scratch; duck- or chicken-liver parfait; and a sweet or savoury tarte tatin – recently it was Jerusalem artichoke, shallot crème and roasted hazelnut.
A key focus for Coady-Plumb is using whole birds in her cooking – including in her standout coq au vin. “I want to do proper old-school French cooking where the whole beast gets used [and] nothing gets wasted,” she says.
For dessert, expect French classics like lemon tart and crème brûlée – and there are plans to introduce a roaming cheese trolley soon.
Scanlon has curated an extensive wine list with drops from Victoria, France and northern Italy. “The big thing for us is small producers that farm well and make wines quite minimally … focusing on organics and looking after your pot of terroir,” he tells Broadsheet.
There are also more than 200 cuvees from around the world, and six classic cocktails using French spirits and aperitifs – including a Negroni Blanc, a Martini, a Lillet Rosé Spritz and a Sazerac with Armagnac and pastis.
“I think we’re both going for the feeling of a dinner party at our house,” says Coady-Plumb. “Nothing is uptight – we just want you to have a really good time.”
295 Sydney Road, Brunswick
Thursday & Friday 5pm–11pm
Saturday & Sunday 1pm–close