Earlier this year, Darlinghurst institution Love, Tilly Devine turned 13. This prompted some soul-searching from its owners at the Love Tilly Group (Ragazzi, Dear Sainte Eloise, La Salut, Fabbrica) about what the future of their namesake venue should look like. Consensus was reached: revamp time. Love, Tilly Devine is officially a teenager – and it wants to be a bar again.
“Coming out of Covid, we could only do 10 people per venue for a little while, so we really pivoted towards having quite a big food offering,” co-owner and Love Tilly Group managing director Nathanial Hatwell tells Broadsheet. “But people are mainly coming in for dinner now – Love Tilly has almost become a restaurant.”
“We got to a point where it had become not true to itself or what we originally envisioned,” Hatwell says. “We want to bring back some of that pre-pandemic small-bar energy.”
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So step aside, large plates, because new head chef Brent Wilson and the group’s exec chef Scott McComas-Williams have devised a menu that’s all about the snacks. There’s no preoccupation with cleverness for its own sake – the new menu has just the kinds of things you want to eat at a wine bar.
“The whole idea is: let’s just make it really easy and fun,” Hatwell says. “Nostalgic stuff that you can eat with your hands and goes really well with wine.”
There are potato cakes, dusted in salt and vinegar powder, topped with a cool and creamy crab salad; olives stuffed with scamorza; sardine sandwiches (no crusts, of course); and asparagus with whipped cod roe. Staples, such as cold meats, terrines, dips and cheese, are all present and accounted for. But the pick of the bunch has to be the hot dog, which partners up an LP’s pig-head sausage with a potato bun and chilli relish. It tastes like a Bunnings snag that’s had elocution lessons.
The roughly 280-bottle wine list is as locally focused and interesting as ever, but it’s being presented differently. “When people came in to have a fun time with their mates, they got this massive wine list and it could be overwhelming,” Hatwell says.
Now, it’s slimmed down, with fewer lengthy descriptions of growers and regions. All that knowledge is now stored exclusively in the noggins of Love Tilly’s staff, who will enthusiastically guide you towards your next glass, carafe or bottle. Ordering food is no longer a mandatory part of making a reservation – you can just book in for drinks. The most coveted time slots will likely be for the bar’s new happy hour, which runs every day from 5pm to 6pm. There are $10 mini Martinis and Negronis, as well as $10 glasses of mystery wine, plus $8 sardine sangas and $11 half hot dogs.
The cosmetic changes to the bar are minor but impactful. There are now banquettes on the mezzanine floor, plus a large wine bottle feature on the central wall. A cosy new candlelit balcony space, basically the size of a decent cubby house, watches over the room. That hot real estate will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. Green is the new visual theme – from new tiling, through to the lime green menu and doorway light box, designed by SCCO Studio.
During the pandemic, venues tried to stay open at all costs. But in the process of surviving, some lost sight of why they opened to begin with. It’s nice to see a place as influential as Love, Tilly Devine deciding to put fun first.
“This is our namesake, it needs to always be an exciting venue,” Hatwell says. “We’ve just gone back to our roots, to that really fun energy, with a bit more of a mature approach.”
Love, Tilly Devine
91 Crown Lane, Darlinghurst
Mon to Sat 5pm–midnight