Picking up and moving a beloved venue from bustling Potts Point and replanting it in the heart of the CBD, just as the future of inner-city dining is being questioned, might seem like a poorly timed move. But for Monopole’s Brent Savage and Nick Hildebrandt (who also operate Bentley Restaurant & Bar, Cirrus and vegetarian fine diner Yellow), it’s the realisation of what they’ve always considered their celebrated wine bar’s ultimate destiny.
“This was a pre-Covid decision,” Savage says of the move, Australia Square stretching out beyond the floor-to-ceiling windows behind him. “It’s meant to be a casual wine bar, and it feels right for it to be dead-centre in the middle of Sydney.”
When it opened in Potts Point in 2012, Monopole found many fans for the equal weight it gave its inventively reimagined French bistro fare, and for the diverse and adventurous wines served alongside it – a pioneering concept at the time. And while Sydney’s wine-bar scene has evolved since then, the CBD – despite boasting some of the best cocktail bars in the world – has suffered a dearth of vino venues of Monopole’s calibre.
The harmony between chef Savage’s food and co-owner and sommelier Hildebrandt’s wine list remains at the forefront of Monopole CBD’s mission statement, but their inviting light-filled new city digs couldn’t be in greater contrast to the OG’s dramatically dark moodiness.
“It’s much lighter and airier,” Savage says of the new space, “and we’re adapting the offering to what we feel is needed for the area. But the foundations of Monopole are staying the same.”
Savage’s deft manipulation of classic French flavours crafted with seasonal ingredients remains front and centre – think steak, chips and pepper sauce; steamed snapper with leek, capers and butter; or roast peaches with almond ice-cream – but with their brightness amplified to reflect the surrounds.
The new city-ready lunch menu, for example, features a tight, restrained play on a niçoise salad, and a Moreton Bay bug sandwich with yuzu mayo that’s destined for “signature dish” status.
Among Savage’s favourite new dishes is the harissa-spiced merguez sausage, served in coil on a bed of harissa, dressed with charred, shaved fennel.
“They’re really simple offerings that are just really tasty and interpreted well,” Savage says. “Monopole has always had that French bistronomy feel, and while we’ve evolved into offering more modern takes on those classic combinations, that’s still the angle that we’re pushing.”
For Hildebrandt the move has presented the opportunity to reconceptualise the wine list. The impressive by-the-glass selection remains, as does the inclusion of a number of innovative winemaking newcomers, but gone is the broad international focus.
“We’re focusing just on French and Australian [wines], and we’ve taken away a lot of the other stuff,” Hildebrandt says. And where once he shunned big producers in favour of the “cool and hipster”, he is excited to add a number of classic Aussie drops, including nostalgia-inducing Lake’s Folly and Wynns vintages from the 1980s and ’90s.
“My philosophy is that it doesn’t really matter who made it or what it is, whether it’s natural, if it was made by a guy with his own vineyard or by a big producer – as long as it’s good.”
Pascale Gomes-McNabb’s interior design reflects the menu’s marriage of traditional and modern. Large white inflatable light fixtures hover over American blond-oak tables and chairs, while bespoke brass and Perspex mobiles hang overhead.
“We wanted to give everything a feeling of lightness,” Savage says. “If we were going to change Monopole, we didn’t just want to pick it up and transport it into the city. We wanted to give it a new life, while making sure that it’s true to the brand. We needed to refresh it.”
And while capacity might be limited to around 45 for the time being (with an eventual limit closer to 70 when restrictions ease), Savage remains optimistic about city dining.
“We’re not just thinking about this year; we’re thinking about the next five years. The city’s going to come back better and stronger than ever. We’ve had a bit of a setback, but you can’t just sit back and say the world’s falling apart so I’ll just fall apart with it. You have to try to bring positive energy and try and keep going.”
16–20 Curtin Place, Sydney
(02) 8080 9144
Wed to Fri 12pm–3pm, 5.30pm–11pm