Tortilla crowned by thin-shaved culatello. Photo: Eddie Jim EJZ
So you've heard of bistronomy? It's the catch-cry of a newly enfranchised dining class celebrating the meeting of high-end cuisine and the casual setting of the bistro. Food writer Alan Richman called bistronomy ''the liberation of Paris''. Its collegiate cousin, barstronomy, has been the liberation of Melbourne.
It's been around ever since we started identifying as Australia's moodily European city, but the trend towards places that are less a restaurant, more whatever you want it to be, is experiencing a renaissance. Ombra and Bar Di Stasio, Town Mouse and Cumulus Up. Each one different, yet all take as their starting point the European model of a glass of wine and a bite to eat. Done well, it's a formula for happiness.
It doesn't get more barstronomic than Bellota, which was born under an auspicious star as a satellite to the Prince Wine Store. Just off South Melbourne's main Clarendon Street shopping drag, there's the modern temple to Bacchus with its clean Chris Connell-designed lines; next door, layers of history now intersect at a Victorian two-storey terrace that's been gutted, and the resulting modern concrete shell turned into something resembling a mid-century Italian wine bar. It's an effective illusion, the curation kicking off with a gorgeous white tessellated floor and getting down to small details, such as the quaint nonna-ism of the curving mahogany bar shelves and a ragged green marble salumi counter, above which mood-lit smallgoods hang behind glass like religious relics.
Bellota's atmospheric interior. Photo: Eddie Jim
Two years in the making, Bellota is a collaboration between the Prince Wine Store owners and Gerald Diffey (Gerald's Bar, Brooks), who was called in to help with the styling, and Brigitte Hafner (Gertrude Street Enoteca) to help guide the food. Long-time Hafner offsider Stephanie Briton is in charge of the day-to-day running of a menu sequestered from trends and based on the ideals of great produce, presented simply.
So simply. Sliced baguette (from Port Melbourne's Noisette) and cheesy unsalted butter that has me hoovering the carbs as an appetiser instead of reserving it for mopping duties. There are oysters from Moonlight Flat, and a primo salumi selection including jamon Iberico. There's tortilla, that mainstay of Spanish bar culture, mysteriously light with a thick seam of soft potato, crowned by sweet porky wisps of thin-shaved culatello. If you're doing the one-dish, one-glass-of-wine-alone thing at the bar, which is a very fine idea, indeed, this is your go-to move. Speaking of wine, the selection is adventurous, European and backed by serious staff smarts.
Bellota's European heart extends to smoked eel rillettes flecked with dill and topped with a yellow cap of fat, with oiled slices of charry ciabatta and a jammy beetroot pickle. Or gin-infused kingfish, a soft bruised pink, done like gravlax with the same sticky finish, customised with coriander and lime creme fraiche and a pile of avocado and blood orange that makes the fish sing.
Or pasta. Thick spaghetti made in-house, sweet spanner crab, good-quality olive oil, parsley and - very important - a bold hand on the garlic. The minute steak is also a corker thanks to the full-flavoured beefiness of the grass-fed scotch fillet and the unapologetic puck of herby butter melting into it.
Come dessert time, there's a classic almond cake with a firm ricotta curd and a bit of goat's mixed in for barnyard oomph, and blood orange segments. Better still is the free-form spoon of sheep's yoghurt panna cotta with a whisper of vanilla, made with so little gelatine it barely holds together. Sprinkled with dark grapes, hazelnuts and honey, it's the riposte to the rubbery moulds that rubbish this ubiquitous dessert's name.
It's great. Fuss-free. Trick-free. Bellota is a classic case of great produce, presented simply. Remember that? It's true what they say about fashion. Everything old is new again.
The best bit The fabulous wine selection
The worst bit Getting a table at peak hour
Go-to dish Potato and onion tortilla with culatello, $10
- 03 9078 8381
- Cuisine - European
- Prices - Typical starter, $13; main, $25; dessert, $10
- Features - Licensed, Vegetarian friendly, Gluten-free options, Accepts bookings, Wheelchair access, Outdoor seating
- Chef(s) - Stephanie Britton and Brigitte Hafner
- Owners - Philip Rich, Michael McNamara and Alex Wilcox
- Cards accepted - AMEX, Mastercard, Diners Club, Visa, EFTPOS
- Opening Hours - Tues-Fri, 11am-10pm; Sat, 11am-11pm
- Author - Larissa Dubecki