In France, it’s called a cave á manger. In Venice, cicchetti and in Spain, a tapas bar. In Sydney, this European venue for eating small dishes, chosen from behind a glass counter, isn’t common. Black Bottle, in Darlinghurst, is here to change that.

Black Bottle doesn’t have a menu. To order, claim a seat at one of the high, weathered-timber tables, walk to the display fridge and select whatever items from the day’s offering take your fancy.

“You go to the display, you see some beautiful prawns or scallops and we pop them on the barbecue for you,” says Lucas Cristofle. He owns Black Bottle with fiancee Margie Noonan and friend Marc Tricot.

There are cured meats hanging from the ceiling, cheeses, an assortment of delicately pickled things in jars and market-fresh seafood, ready for a quick flash on the konro, a Japanese ceramic barbeque. “Every day the chef goes to the market,” says Cristofle. “You create a more interactive relationship with suppliers, and you can get good prices because you’re not locked into a contract.”

On the day we visit there are pickled mushrooms and chewy baby octopus with fennel seeds served in small glass jars. Toothpicks poke out, one for each person at a table. A rillette made from slow-cooked rabbit is smeared on crunchy slices of toasted sourdough.

The scallops are outstanding. Tender, sweet and barbequed in their shells, they’re topped with jamon and samphire, the salty “asparagus of the sea”.

The wine list is by Samantha Payne, sommelier for Nomad. It’s approachable, affordable and made up exclusively of small producers. Wine is served by the glass, bottle or carafe. “Everywhere in Europe you get carafes, but here you don’t. If you don’t want to have a big night, but you want to try a good wine, you can just have a half bottle.”

You wouldn’t expect affordable prices from a cool wine bar in Darlinghurst, so it’s surprising that the modest feast for two on the table costs around $40. Wines start at $8, and cocktails, such as Negronis, are $12.

The coffee is probably the cheapest in town, and it’s good. Espresso is $2, and long blacks are $3, just like in Cristofle’s native France.

From the street, it’s hard to tell what Black Bottle is. A line-drawn jellyfish hovers in a neon halo, casting a white glow over the pair of tables on the terrace veranda. You have to approach the small plaque to read the words, “Wine Bar, Cave á Manger, European Small Plates”. Let yourself be drawn in by the moody lighting, intimate space and the affable Cristofle offering you a carafe of wine.

Black Bottle
Shop 2, 116–118 Darlinghurst Road, Darlinghurst

Hours:
Tue to Sat 4pm–12pm
Sun 4pm–10pm

blackbottle.com.au