Hootan Heydari has a long relationship with Brunswick. He and business partner Jono Hill set up seminal cafe A Minor Place on Albion Street in 2004 before opening the more ambitious Wide Open Road next to Barkly Square in 2009.
Heydari’s relationship with Brunswick West is more recent. He and life partner Emily Bitto, the Stella Award-winning novelist, moved to the area about five years ago.
“Every time we thought of going somewhere for a drink, the walk to Sydney Road was 20, 25 minutes,” he says. “At least it’s not a city away, but it’s still not a local.”
The couple decided – unwisely, perhaps – that if no-one else was going to open a place for locals to drink, they’d have to do it themselves. The result is Shabooh Shoobah, an easygoing wine bar located in a former decades-old Italian butcher shop and named after Australian band INXS’s third album.
“I can’t hang out in a bar in this area for quite a while because I’ll be the one doing all the shifts,” Heydari says, laughing.
Despite Steck’s kitchen experience, Shabooh Shoobah isn’t a restaurant that poses as a wine bar, like Marion, Embla and friends. You can’t book, and the menu is strictly geared for Mediterranean-style snacking – there are no shared steaks or roast chickens. Still, Steck says, “The focus on produce is the same. I’m going to the market most days, and foraging and picking from a garden.”
One dish, soft-boiled peanuts with saltbush and lime, calls back to his childhood in Queensland where he remembers eating the snack at a market. Just as simple are pickled lupini beans, the Mediterranean’s answer to edamame. Steck flexes his skills a bit harder with anchovies and onion on brown butter crackers, smoked beetroot and macadamia feta on pumpernickel bread, and an ‘nduja (spicy spreadable salami) toastie cut into slim fingers for easy eating. A table of four could feasibly order the full menu, a dozen dishes in all – without stretching themselves.
The wine list is similarly free from decision fatigue – it takes about 60 seconds to read from beginning to end. There are four sparklings, nine whites, nine reds, two oranges and three rosés, with a particular focus on Italian grapes such as fiano, vermentino and sangiovese. Bitto, the main brain behind the list, was careful to include an “old man” option and a “hipster natural wine drinker” option at every turn.
Tap beers and classic, unshaken cocktails are also possibilities, including Martinis, Negronis, Americanos and a refreshing fig-leaf Rebujito, a Spanish invention of sherry, lemon, lime and soda. There are also several vermouths and amaros to try, the latter a nice nod to the area’s Italian history.
The bar has already become something of a pitstop for locals, who come to enjoy the aforementioned drinks, and Heydari and Steck’s combined record collections (’90s lo-fi, ’80s pop and new wave, reggae, Italo disco and more) before or after dinner at the adjacent Postmistress pizzeria.
“At the start we had quite a lot of old locals coming past going, “More alcohol? We don’t need more alcohol! We’ve got alcohol here,” Bitto says.
Judging by the reliable 5pm full house at Shabooh Shoobah almost every day it’s open, minds have been changed.
59A Melville Road, Brunswick West
(03) 9917 2702
Wed to Sat 4pm–11pm