Riley Street Cafe & Wine

Jill Dupleix
Serendipity: Riley Street Cafe & Wine owners Michael Stephen, Mauro Marcucci and Gabrielle Webster have created the ...
Serendipity: Riley Street Cafe & Wine owners Michael Stephen, Mauro Marcucci and Gabrielle Webster have created the essence of a good European wine bar. Photo: Steven Siewert

222 Riley Street Surry Hills, NSW 2010

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Opening hours Tues–Sun 7.30am–late
Features Licensed, Vegetarian friendly
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Payments eftpos, AMEX, Mastercard, Visa
Phone 02 8093 9807

You've gotta love a sommelier who'll lop the top off a bottle of Flaccianello della Pieve as soon as look at it. And you've gotta love a barista who turns out a superb coffee for just $2.50, well under the market price of $3.50. Equally, you've gotta love a chef who just cooks what he wants and puts it on the counter so that you can see if you want it, too.

This serendipitous wine/food/coffee matrix is to be found behind the white-marbled, stool-lined bar of the new Riley Street Cafe & Wine. It's a cool, handsome space tucked into a self-consciously modern lobby, its tall walls lined with one-word wine descriptors: ''texture'', ''foxy'', ''didactic''. Set up by sommelier Gabrielle Webster and her next door neighbours Mauro Marcucci and Michael Stevens of Baccomatto Osteria, it has that serious-yet-casual attitude of a good European wine bar. Gabrielle keeps around 20 natural and bio-dynamic wines by the glass and has been known to rip open the odd magnum and jeroboam on the weekend. Born to run a wine bar, that girl.

Similar rigour is brought to the coffee side of things by skilled barista Simon Fowler, who keeps the chromed-up Mirage espresso machine gleaming while simultaneously pulling darkly velvety espresso shots from beans roasted by Illawarra's Blacksmith coffee roasters. "We like 'little guy' coffee," he explains.

At the other end of the bar, chef Francesco di Gioia pan-grills toast for a sensational eggy breakfast with avocado, prosciutto and whole milk ricotta and tosses tomatoes into a gorgeous salad. The brekky/lunch menu runs until 3pm, then snacky things kick in until late in the evening - salumi, formaggi, or savoury tarts. Sometimes there are whole trays of roast pork and wilted greens and baked lasagne; sometimes not. It's a bit random that way.

"We're not a restaurant" says Gabrielle. "We're more like a party."

There's something about Riley Street that allows it to do what you want it to do, whether that's a coffee and a croissant on the way to work, a slow brunch on the weekend, or a life-saving late night taleggio and guanciale toasty with a generous pour of the flirty Noir de Florette from Domaine Lucci.

You don't ''gotta'' love it, of course. But if you love hanging out with good wine, food and coffee, there's every chance you will.

Do … drop in for a glass of wine.
Don't …
leave without a coffee.
Dish …
Spring tomato salad with olives, ricotta, capers, oregano, basil and white balsamic, $10.
Vibe …
Euro neighbourhood bar.