Wood-chopping and fire-lighting will be key skills for the kitchen team at Embla, the hotly anticipated CBD sequel to Carlton's Town Mouse that opened on Thursday.
A hulking wood oven and grill are the twin engines firing the wine bar's open kitchen. They'll be used to create dishes such as whole rainbow trout with wild purslane and horseradish, and spiced lamb neck with chunky romesco, part of a wine-friendly grazing menu that Embla partner, chef Dave Verheul jokingly describes as "rustic, modern, wood-fired chic".
Verheul and business partner Christian McCabe have again teamed up with New Zealand architect Allistar Cox on the design for the two-storey Russell Street building, previously occupied by a dentist, a bike shop, a rubber stamp maker and a pizza parlour.
The downstairs wine bar features exposed timber beams, bagged brick walls, dark granite floors and seating for about 60, at low and high tables, around a small oak bar at the front, and at another bar alongside the kitchen. Along with the bigger wood-oven dishes head chef Peter Cooksley will also send out terrines, charcuterie and lots of cheese.
The wine list will have a strong Australian focus, with museum stock of classic labels and wines by the glass made specifically for Embla. French natural-wine producer Eric Narioo is the third partner in the project and his motivation for getting involved, says McCabe, is to push the Australian wine scene along.
In February, they intend to introduce simple coffee-and-pastry breakfasts – it won't be a kale smoothie and smashed avo situation, vows McCabe.
The next phase, an upstairs restaurant with a walk-in wine room and separate kitchen, is at least a year off.
Open Mon-Fri noon-late and Sat-Sun 4pm-late (until Christmas).
122 Russell Street, Melbourne, 03 9654 5923, embla.com.au