60 Stanley St Collingwood, VIC 3066
Love or hate Melbourne's apartment boom, it's a given that new residential buildings, both the great and the hideous, are now a permanent part of our landscape.
Another given is that the developers of these buildings will have wooed potential apartment buyers with a chicly rendered idea of a cafe/bar/grocery business on the ground floor promising an elevated and improved lifestyle for those with the intelligence and good taste to sign on the dotted line. Obviously that's mostly a midden of baloney but occasionally the right people at the right time get their mitts on these places.
Comptoir is the kind of ground-floor business that could even have you considering the notion that some developers may possess a soul. Owned by ex-Rockpool Group sommelier David Lawler, Comptoir is an all-day cafe, bar, grocery store and bottle shop that manages the effortless espresso-to-nightcap multitasking associated with European bars.
The glass-fronted, polished-concrete-floored double-width space is about a year old now and looks good with some age on it. Less starkly delineated than it was in the early days, with fewer wine racks and more tables, there's increased clutter on the shelves of quality groceries and in the cheese display case. It feels more integrated, as if the various arms of the business have got used to each other and discovered they enjoy each other's company.
Given Lawler's background, there's finesse and heft to the wine list, with some interesting things by the glass like an elegant 2016 Bindi chardonnay from Macedon or a luscious 2014 Simao & Co vintage fortified from north-east Victoria.
This is one of those hybrid businesses where everything in the bottle shop is available to drink in for $10 corkage, which means plenty of choice. Those after super funky natural stuff won't get much joy here, though there's still room made for hands-off small producers on the roster.
Comptoir does a short list of classic cocktails (Negroni, Martini, Daiquiri, Manhattan) at reasonable prices and finesse and there's a selection of mostly pale ales and lagers from the new and old worlds (Menabrea, Moon Dog).
The snack game is strong. The menu mixes a good selection of canned fish (don't miss the anchovies), cured meat, terrines and pâté, pickled vegetables and respectfully mollycoddled cheese with some warm dishes like hefty beef meatballs in a robust tomato sauce and sweet salty lamb ribs. Prices, again, are reasonable considering the quality.
Those looking for a raucous good time should stick to the main Smith Street drag. Comptoir's energy is calm and relaxing, in sync with its Collingwood backstreet location.
You'd be pretty happy with yourself if you lived above it but being in the vicinity would be pretty nifty, too. It's the kind of neighbourhood joint every neighbourhood should have.
Martini-metre: 3 out of 5; Tanqueray gin, Dolin Dry vermouth, olives
Pretty etched glassware, bamboo skewer, a little less chill than ideal. A solid rather than inspired effort. $18.
Go-to Dish: Olasagasti anchovies with cherry tomatoes and parsley, $8.