A bunch of wine bars have opened north of the city in the past few months, inspired by New York, Spain, Paris and closer to home, Beechworth. Take a seat at the bar and settle in.
This Rathdowne Street bar draws on owner Michael Baker’s time as chef at Fitzroy’s Hell of the North and former World’s Best restaurant El Celler de Can Roca in Spain, and owner Daniel Mason’s stint behind the bar at Joe Taylor, Cookie and the Toff in Town.
The drinks list leans heavily toward minimal-intervention wines, small-scale brewers and cocktails mixed with house-made sodas. If it all sounds fussy, it’s not – there’s a guiding principle here: “Something a bit different, something people haven’t tried before,” explains Baker. “But we never ever lose sight of: ‘Fuck, that’s delicious’.”
The food menu steers away from charcuterie and other typical drop-in, grazing fare. Instead, there are sophisticated but approachable savoury dishes with never more than four ingredients on the plate at a time, ranging from small snacks to full-sized mains. Baker says at El Celler de Can Roca “They’d take certain ingredients, research them, break them down, and that was the process of creating a dish.”
“In France, Italy and Spain there’s a neighbourhood place like this on every corner,” says owner Daniel Lewis. That’s the conceit behind Napier Quarter, which opened late last year. The Parisian-style cafe and wine bar ignores what’s trending and keeps things classic with rustic cooking and a sophisticated wine list. It’s an intimate, relaxed spot with a simple menu (charcuterie; cheese; and a daily roast) that Lewis says is the type of place “you could easily go to two or three times a week”.
ReWine Bar and Wineshop
ReWine is not your typical bottle shop. There are 12 large wooden barrels on display at the Lygon Street store and you can taste any wine you want from them. The wine list is designed to cover all tastes and includes options from shiraz and pinot, to less-mainstream varietals including verdicchio (a white-wine grape grown in central Italy) and nebbiolo (a red-wine grape predominantly from Piedmont, Italy).
With more than 30 years’ experience in the wine industry as a restaurateur and wine supplier, owner Marshall Waters has strong relationships with big and small winemakers across south-eastern Australia. Because he works directly with producers, he can provide high quality wines at a fraction of the cost regular bottle shops charge.
Snack on small plates including cheese, charcuterie and jaffles.
Bouvier occupies a single-fronted building in Brunswick, and from the outside it looks tiny. But once inside, it feels like the room doesn’t end, with a bar that runs more than 20-metres and doesn’t touch either wall. The space is lamp-lit with a black-and-white-tiled floor, inspired by bars in New York.
Wines are largely, although not entirely, Australian, and much of it can be ordered by the glass, carafe or bottle. There’s also wine and beer on tap, a list of classic cocktails and a selection of whiskies.
The menu is a nod to owner Adrian Richardson’s upbringing (he’s Italian-Australian but grew up in Malaysia), so there’s a garlic-prawn toastie and house-made gnocchi.
Project Forty Nine
Project Forty Nine is an Italian deli, wine bar and restaurant by Rocco Esposito (ex-wine director at Vue de Monde) and his wife, Lisa Pidutti. The couple are based in Beechworth where they run a small cafe – also called Project Forty Nine – and make organic chardonnay under the same name. The idea here is to “bring the country – Beechworth in particular – to the city”, says Pidutti. It’s warm but contemporary, with rustic country-style wooden furniture in an expansive concrete space, reinforcing that link between country and city. The wine bar is a place to drink, as well as buy a bottle, with a focus on north-eastern Victorian wines.
Comptoir is the first solo venture for David Lawler and Tim Sacklin, both acclaimed sommeliers and veterans of the Rockpool Group. There are about 260 different wines on the list, but only four (two whites and two reds) will be available by the glass at any time. The rest are available to buy, either to take away or to drink-in for a $10 corkage fee. For serious connoisseurs or collectors, there’s also a high-tech wine fridge and an off-site cellar full of very special and rare bottles.
Food is limited to what can be prepared behind the bar – anchovies, pickled octopus, cheese and cured meats. There will always be one hot dish.
“It’s a comfortable and cosy place where you can come and talk to us for ages about wine if you want, or just have a glass of something delicious and some tasty food,” Lawler says.