Gray and Gray
Alongside the now-Melbourne-based winemaker Mitch Sokolin, he’s turned it into a 28-seat wine bar and restaurant, with a focus on Russian and Georgian food. The pair have kept the name but added the two things they love most – making it Gray and Gray Bread and Wine.
Portnoy and Sokolin were both raised in New York, with Russian-Jewish heritage. They met through a mutual friend and began making wine together in Georgia, a Caucasus nation at the intersection of Europe and Asia.
That experience informs the drinks line-up, which involves a chalked-up wine list filled with left-of-centre drops from Georgia, Spain, France and Italy. And Sokolin can tell you the story of every grape and winemaker.
Moving through, you get the feeling Portnoy has built the kitchen as a window to the restaurant, not the other way around. He plates up four-course tasting menus looking out over the hand-tiled floor. There’s a raised communal table that extends to the service counter, with spots for two scattered around the edges.
The menu leans on the bakery for the first course; a selection of breads, the menu reads, comes with “various fats, dairy and preserved vegetables”. Think dill-pickled cucumbers with beetroot and house brinza (a fresh, salty sheep’s milk cheese). Mackerel stands in for pickled herring in the selyodka, which is dressed with padrón peppers and preserved blood lime), it’s served with a Georgian cornbread called mchadi.
The star of the main course is coulibiac, a flaky puff-pastry pie with salmon, hard-boiled egg, tarragon and a mustardy sauce. For dessert, Portnoy cuts and plates thick wedges of both his lofty 10-layered medovik (Russian honey cake) and makovy (poppy seed and fig torte).