It’s no secret we love a wine bar outing here at The Hidden Pantry and regularly check out a new venue on a weekend afternoon. The freedom of selecting one off our list or just chancing across a gem is always fun and we love the interaction with passionate food and wine attendants and owner/operators. It’s also a great way to check out a place before taking friends or going for the full lunch or dinner option.
Pulling up a seat at the bar, a cosy table near-by or on a sunny day, taking advantage of an outdoor setting and ordering a couple of glasses of quality vino and some seriously good bar food is the perfect weekend treat, and here in Melbourne we are spoilt for choice.
Here’s our latest favourite;
Smithward Bar a Vin
48 Smith Street, Collingwood
This small space at the southern end of Smith Street takes you straight to the neighbourhood bars of Europe. Every detail from fit-out with quality timber, glassware, crockery, linen napkins, great music and candles create an ambiance which oozes love and attention to detail.
This gem is the love-child of owner/operators Graham and Georgina who smoothly navigate the service with a perfect blend of care, fun, friendliness and professionalism. The intimate 17-seater bar was thoroughly and lovingly researched prior to opening in 2015, and it shows. Choose to sit at the beautiful timber bar and watch Grahams’ magic, pull up a bar stool by the window and take in the street-scape or head to an intimate table in the back… it’s all perfect!
The specialties of Raclette, Victorian wine and daily house-made sourdough bread set a strong foundation, enhanced by special details like an original selection of bar snacks (Baked Mussels with snail butter, Spanish White Anchovies with potato crisps, just a couple) and a carefully curated selection of Charcuterie and Cheese (sourced from the best, local and imported suppliers) served with perfect accompaniments such as confit tomato and pear jelly.
Graham creates all the dishes from the bar, as is typical of the European tapas bars he emulates, and every item we’ve had has been super tasty and plated to perfection. The Raclette machine holds pride of place, and the smell of melted cheese and fresh baked sourdough alone are enough to make the mouth water and keep you coming back. We are told about the produce and the wine; where it is from and a little about the supplier (usually small/boutique/quirky).
We venture over to Smithward on the occasional weekend afternoon when we want to treat ourselves. It’s like spending a couple of hours on holiday in France, Spain or somewhere else in Europe (depending on what we choose to eat!) and we totally relax, knowing we will receive the very best food, wine and service around.
This is a business built from a genuine passion, with a crystal-clear vision and the owners front and centre. It’s original, consistent and tells a story… really, it’s all in the detail, and this place has it in spades.
Cardigan Place Cellars
67 Cardigan Place, Albert Park
Set in a delightful heritage building on a leafy corner in Albert Park village this place is super chilled and relaxing, but serious about the food and wine. We have visited Cardigan Place about four times now and it’s never disappointed.
The venue offers a variety of seating options with a long wooden bar, high bar tables beside large picture windows, a cosy room with table seating for a more intimate experience, and outdoor tables to choose from. We’ve tried them all, and they are all good.
The ambiance is perfect with good tunes and top-quality glassware befitting the classy but not pretentious fit-out. The service befits the vibe and is attentive, well informed and passionate while relaxed and down to earth.
The wine list is not lengthy but it’s balanced, mostly Victorian and interesting, though it doesn’t offer many good “value for money” options, which seems to be a trend around town at the moment. It would be great to see venues sourcing more reasonable but quality wines from the local Victorian vineyards (maybe their clean skin or end of vintage lines) and offering them by the glass or carafe.
The food follows the “classy but un-pretentious” theme with chef Kirra Parsons (Dunkeld’s Royal Mail and Lume) at the helm. As with the wine, it’s a concise but clever curation and it show-cases local and in-season ingredients, which I love.
There is a selection of top-quality cheese and charcuterie which is plated with love and all the house-made accompaniments required to make it shine. A selection of small plates such as Octopus sliders, cured citrus King Fish, croquettes and more are backed by some classic pasta dishes and sides including truffle and parmesan fries (yet to try, but on the list). With a dedicated Vegan menu, they’ve got all the boxes ticked.
We love this place, and will continue to enjoy an afternoon soiree in the “classy but un-pretentious” company of Cardigan Place Cellars, and it also makes the grade for a special dinner date soon.
Steve has taken up an excellent career opportunity in Melbourne commencing in May. For me, it’s the perfect time to gain further inspiration and ideas by doing some exploring and research in such a great food hub. What better place for this than Melbourne?
I will be checking out all the great markets, cafes, bars/wineries and basically every “food hot/not spot” I possibly can! You can stay updated on my experiences & progress via the HP FB page and this blog. All going well, I may launch a new version of The Hidden Pantry once contacts have been made and I decide on the right direction.
I want to say a massive thank you to my loyal and supportive customers, friends and family. Everyone has been so encouraging and positive about this venture of mine and it couldn’t have worked without your constant support. I will be forever grateful, and hope that when we return to Brisbane with renewed vigour and fabulous food ideas we can re-connect with our special customers and friends.