46a Macleay Street (Enter via crick ave) Potts Point, NSW 2011
I'M LOOKING AT ROW UPON ROW OF hors d'oeuvres and canapes - savoury tartlets, chicken liver pates, stuffed olives and cocktail onions on toothpicks. It could be a page from 1968's The Margaret Fulton Cookbook; instead, it's the food counter of a 2012 daytime bakery cafe-turned-wine bar at night.
Smart operators are responding to financial constraints (theirs and ours) by looking at how to maximise resources, taking what would otherwise be dead time in an empty space and putting it to work. Hence, the recently arrived Bourke Street Bakery in Potts Point opens after hours as the imaginatively called After Hours.
By day it's the usual excellent breads, pies, sausage rolls, sandwiches, cakes and coffee. By night, it does a complete turnaround in little more than an hour, as chef Sam Bennett and his small team transform the long semi-subterranean space into a moody European boite. Wine bottles appear as if from thin air; cake counters get stocked with canapes and crostini; warm pies are replaced by share-worthy, slow-cooked beef shins and platters of grilled prawns in their shells.
Bennett was most recently head chef at BSB's sister joint, Wilbur's Place, after working at Glebe Point Diner and Fix St James. Here, he's gone more ''host with the most'', extending his repertoire to crudo, salumi from Pino's Dolce Vita, some Frenchy salads and a fistful of hot food that comes with a written warning (Runs Out!). There's even a seasonally questionable copper raclette heating device holding a half wheel of cheese ready to slap into baguettes and on baby potatoes; perfect after a hard day on the slopes of Macleay Street.
My advice is to check out the display before ordering, as you would at a Japanese sushi bar or Basque pinchos bar. There is something compelling about multiples of food in rows; even if it is completely retro Women's Weekly cocktail fare, such as dill pickles stuffed with creamy vitello tonnato ($4), skewered with a cocktail onion on a toothpick.
Most appetisers reflect the fact that the owners run a damn fine bakery. Crisp little crostini toasts topped with goose liver pate, quail egg and baby king mushrooms ($7), or crushed broad beans and pecorino ($7) are gone in three bites, as is a miniature bagel of wagyu salt beef, sour cabbage and Swiss cheese ($6) that's both smart and cute. Small round brioches ($6) are hollowed out and stuffed with crab mousse coated in a strange, sweet caramel glaze. There's also a dull dish of buffalo mozzarella skewered with semi-dried tomato and anchovy ($7.50), and a slightly wet and underpowered shaved-fennel salad with soft herbs and breakfast radish ($14).
Main courses include a lively French bistro salad of frisee leaves, confit duck, goose liver pate and a jumping Dijon mustard-driven vinaigrette ($17). Then there's a mighty Coorong veal shin served on the bone ($55, enough for four), whose long-flavoured meat shreds easily with a fork and comes with hot English mustard and a little jug of braising jus.
The co-owner of BSB, David McGuinness, is a big believer in the wines of NSW, and the breezy list is loaded with wines from across the state and the ACT, including a citrusy-fresh and food-friendly 2010 Bourke Street Chardonnay from Collector ($9/$36).
The plates of three cheeses, or the ''mixed lollies'' (jube, gel, marshmallow and chocolate) are tempting, but the big hit is a square of flourless chocolate sponge ($15) layered with passionfruit mousse and praline enrobed in burnished, blow-torched meringue like a cubist bombe Alaska.
But why bother reviewing a small, off-street cafe that isn't even a huge drawcard by day? Because its new incarnation has all the spontaneity and resourcefulness of a pop-up, complete with wait staff who know the ropes and a professional, precise performer in the kitchen. Bennett brines, pickles, smokes and churns, doing pretty much everything but bread, desserts and ice-cream himself. He has the happy knack of responding to the restrictions of a tiny kitchen and few staff with imagination and wit. In Melbourne, there'd be a queue out the door. It's also a more enjoyable space in the evening than by day, with young families colonising the communal table early, and the child-free hanging later over wine.
So bring on more canapes and more rustic wine-bar atmosphere. Before and after hours.
Best bit: The 1960s buffet display of canapes.
Worst bit: Smaller dishes are hard to share.
Go-to dish: Frenchy duck salad $17.