150 Gertrude Street Fitzroy, Victoria 3065
I visited Bar Clarine for the first time with a couple of friends, twin brothers who don't look much alike but share a passion for interesting wine. Bar Clarine also looks nothing like its sibling - next door diner and Southern fried chicken specialist Belle's Hot Chicken - but both have a thing for natural wine, with lists entirely populated by minimal intervention, chemical-free wines. It was a moment of spooky synchronicity, or at least that's what it seemed like after a bottle of ethereal biodynamic 2013 De Moor Bourgogne Aligote (for $90).
Much smaller and more fashion-conscious than Belle's, Bar Clarine looks exactly like the kind of smart, modern wine bar it is. There's the pared-back colour scheme - mostly black, white and limewashed plywoo with a splash of colour coming from a tapestry on one wall - that's stopped from being too self-consciously minimalist by timber slats and a section of raw bluestone wall, which adds great texture to the space.
There's the display of wine bottles with beautiful labels sitting on small, irregularly placed timber shelves and the compact tables with slightly annoying splayed legs.
And then there's the open kitchen down the back - helmed by talented chef Adam Shoebridge - which brings an attractive intimacy to Clarine, like you're at a dinner party thrown by the coolest people you know who are also likeable and really good cooks.
Bar Clarine's wine list is a regularly changing, single-page number that offers about eight wines by the glass at any one time and has a penchant for stuff from Italy and France. Australian versions of the natural wine species (Save Our Souls sagrantino, Smokestack Lightning gewurztraminer) also get a regular look in and there's the occasional candidate from, say, Slovenia, New Zealand or the US.
Drinking these wines is not cheap. By the glass prices start around $14, with many sitting north of the $20 mark. It's one for the fans and the curious and is accompanied by the kind of excellent wine service that explains how a wine will taste, or how it is made without getting all eye-glazingly jargonistic about it.
For those not in the mood for the natural stuff, there's a short, eccentric list of other booze that includes Moritz beer in a can, three high-end Pappy Van Winkle bourbons, some interesting grappa and a single (listed) cocktail/aperitif called the Georgie Boy - grappa, gin, vermouth and orange in a glass.
Don't miss the food from the short list (about seven courses, including excellent freshly shucked oysters that might be dressed with white pepper and cucumber) which changes every 10 days or so.
It's clever, big-flavoured stuff, designed to pal around with the wines, and might include a thrillingly comforting dish of wild mushrooms, mushroom broth, creamy grits and a poached egg, duck and pork rillettes with pickles or an excellent, nicely salty tete de porc (pig's head) served with textbook sauce gribiche.
All dishes are less than $20 and there's a tasting menu option where you can get five courses for $50 or seven for $65. The prices allow a bit more of a blowout on the wine.
Some might come to Bar Clarine just for the food. But it's an all-round coherent package and is best enjoyed as such. Just like natural wine, not everybody will love it, but those that do will have plenty of fun.
Drink this Natural wine, naturally, from the constantly changing list
Eat this Wild mushrooms with grits and eggs - sophisticated comfort food
Check this Fried chicken, from sibling Belle's, is only a connecting doorway away