71A Macleay Street Potts Point, New South Wales 2011
|Opening hours||L Sat-Sun; D Daily|
|Features||Licensed, Bar, Accepts bookings, Long lunch, Romance-first date, Vegetarian friendly|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||02 9360 4410|
When is a wine bar not a wine bar? When it's in Sydney. We treat our wine bars as restaurants with counters. Go to 121BC in Surry Hills for a cheeky little glass of wine and you'll wait for a seat while everyone settles in for the evening over lots of share dishes followed by dessert. Dessert. In a wine bar. At Ash St Cellar, they're wolfing down spiced lamb chops and rigatoni with rabbit ragu. At Fix St James, Bondi's Shop & Wine Bar, Woollahra's Wine Library, McMahons Point's Delicado and Paddington's 10 William Street, the message comes through loud and clear, even with our mouths full.
We want more than just wine from a wine bar. Enter the wine-and-dine bar.
Nick Hildebrandt and Brent Savage of the two-hatted Bentley Restaurant & Bar have long wanted to open a more casual wine bar and eatery. The result is Monopole, a dark and moody dining space that feels as if it has been on Macleay Street, Potts Point, forever.
It looks great; open-but-not-open to the street courtesy of a dark steel-mesh screen, with a beautiful, long, stool-lined counter that runs from bar to kitchen, and walls lined with bottles from the 500-strong, leaning-towards-natural list. Traditional wine bars tend towards informal food – I've been to some where you're lucky if the mustachioed proprietor uses his pocket knife to slice the salami hanging from the ceiling – but Savage and head chef Adam Wolfers were never going to go that way. Instead, they put extra time and effort into things to pass them off as simple.
So rather than nuts, there are dramatically black sesame and black garlic crisps, like prawn crackers from Dante's Inferno. Instead of sliders, there are house-cured meats, each with its own particular flavour and aroma, finely shaved on a lovely hand-operated fly-wheel slicer.
A plate of artfully strewn shaved heirloom vegetables and baby pink fir potatoes on a pure white buttermilk whey dressing ($16) looks like something that just sashayed in from Bentley's vegetarian degustation; pretty to look at, pretty to eat. Salt cod and potato with a feisty mix of green peas, mint leaves and pea shoots is a blinder of a dish, especially paired with a clean, crisp glass of 2011 Terroir de Chichee chablis ($12).
Wine comes by carafe as well as by glass and bottle and, as always, it's the better bottles that give the better value. The food seems wine-friendly enough, although a few of the sauces throw both me and my wine. A tamarind dipping sauce served with grilled baby, baby, corn ($13) seems counter-intuitive and one particular dish, of grilled octopus with tiny globe artichokes and sea bananas, a crunchy samphire-like succulent ($20), would wreak havoc on just about any wine in the book.
"Chefs," laughs wine man Hildebrandt, shaking his head.
More substantial dishes (I use the term advisedly, most portions are smallish) don't seem as balanced as the earlier plates. The roasted suckling pig that comes with Noma-style charred baby cucumbers ($32) is tight; and blue mackerel with puffed wheat, capers and pickled raisins ($22) just doesn't rise above its ingredients. However, a beautifully grilled rare Rangers Valley grain-fed sirloin teamed with pimientos de padron, little purplette onions and a pool of creamy peppercorn sauce is perfect date bait for a smoky, spicy 2011 Fanny Sabre pinot noir ($42 per 375-millilitre carafe) from one of France's most dynamic natural winemakers.
Cheese is the best way to finish a meal in a wine bar, necessitating as it does an extra glass. Monopole's cheeses are well-picked and well-kept, served in the same style as the opening charcuterie – in four small portions ($24). Of two desserts, a nectarine ice-cream with fresh nectarine, crunchy meringue buttons, rich curd and burnt butter crumbs ($14) has balance and poise.
The interior design from Pascale Gomes-McNabb is both witty and wise, with its black tiles, black woods and long strips of black, sound-absorbent material hanging from the ceiling, simultaneously reminiscent of recording studios, car washes and ghost train rides. Both partners are hands-on and appear to be relishing their new neighbourhood.
Monopole is a gorgeous thing, a classy, wine bar with an intriguing dichotomy at its heart – an emphasis on both natural wine of minimal intervention and cleverly manipulated food. Together, they make supposedly casual dining a serious proposition.
Best bit One hell of a wine list.
Worst bit The bill adds up fast.
Go-to dish Salt cod, green peas, mint vinaigrette and pea shoots, $18.