When Greg Bampton and Phil Stenvall opened Bar Suze in 2021, the idea was to follow the hyper-seasonal path of European wine bars like Le Chateaubriand in Paris. But it didn’t quite work that way. “We quickly realised it was the wrong venue for a wine bar,” Bampton tells Broadsheet. “It was too big, people were treating it like a restaurant, so we pivoted and made the menu bigger.”
Now Bar Suze is closed (with BS Pasta Palace in its place), Bampton and Stenvall have partnered with ex-Bar Suze casual Emily Nguyen – who’s joined as maître d' and co-director – giving the concept another shot with Caravin. But unlike Bar Suze, the diminutive, two-level art deco space in Potts Point is intended to be more restaurant than wine bar, and the 24-seat footprint allows them the freedom to create on the fly.
Stenvall’s menu is inspired by what producers have on offer. A delivery from Haverick Meats might become confit pork belly with chilli and salad for lunch, in-season fennel might be combined with crab in a crumpet finished with beurre noisette. While Bar Suze honoured Stenvall’s Swedish heritage, Caravin leans French with a twist. A tartare of smoked beetroot is served with wasabi and crosshatched pomme gaufrettes; caramelised scallops come with a vichyssoise of artichokes.
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“We don’t want to get too stuck,” says Bampton. “Everyone says they’re seasonal, but we’re trying to do new things every week. The space is a lot smaller, the kitchen is a one-man show, so it’s easier to be fluid.”
Like Bar Suze, Caravin’s wine list has a heavy focus on naturals, but because the Potts Point crowd differs from that in Surry Hills, Bampton has balanced it with traditional drops. The 50-strong list is constantly changing. Currently there’s a Yarra Valley pinot noir from Bobar Wines that “really sings” and options from Austrian producer Rennersistas, as well as a few French varietals: grenache and “juicy, delicious” syrahs. “I wanted to have something for everyone and not scare people with anything too wild. All the wines still have organically grown grapes, but they’re done in more of a conventional style,” says Bampton.
Bampton and Stenvall have seen a lot of change – both expected and unexpected – over the past two years, opening then reinventing Bar Suze, then delivering Caravin. Recently a major challenge fell across their path: two days before the Potts Point spot opened its black-lacquered double doors to guests, the chef at BS Pasta Palace quit, leaving the team in the lurch and unable to manage both venues.
“We didn’t have time to replace the chef, so we’ve closed BS Pasta Palace and put it on hiatus. It’s not going to be forever, but we wanted to focus on this place. After a lot of stress and anxiety, we’re thrilled to get stuck into it and have it open.”
2/9 Ward Avenue, Potts Point