With its clustered tables, narrow doorways and scattered bookshelves, the Carlton Wine Room is cool, inviting and elegant. This restaurant and wine bar feels like it’s been in Carlton forever.

Owners Jay Bessell and Connie Cappello restored the 19th-century heritage-listed building in 2009 with Michael Tenace, who has since sold out of the business.

The space draws on Carlton’s Italian-Australian culture. It offers mostly Italian wine varieties and a few labels from Australian producers. There’s no pressure to order by the bottle here (though you probably will), because there’s a decent by-the-glass menu.

Though many assume the venue is only a wine bar, there’s a restaurant section that comfortably holds its own. It offers a range of smaller European-style plates, such as $1 oysters and extensive charcuterie.

The food is designed to work in harmony with the profiles on the wine list. The more substantial mains and pasta dishes are no exception. There’s also a degustation menu that changes regularly.

You can sit at the main bar among the crowds, choose a smaller bar where things are quieter, or really escape in a booth on the mezzanine. The cellar downstairs is a private dining room for up to 12 people, with a handmade Tuscan rosewood dining table as its centrepiece.