To say it's "just open" is pushing it. This new little cocktail and wine bar with restaurant aspirations sneakily swung open doors in the pre-Christmas lull.
Kiwi chef Michael Baker (Hell of the North), and bartender Daniel Mason (Joe Taylor, Cookie, Toff in Town), were courting the lease to the former Piqueos site for much of last year. Renovations have opened parts of it up – the central bar is now a far larger feature and there's more room to breathe in the front window area, and they've added more streetside seating. But the copper-topped tables and rough brick walls remain.
Pitched first as a cocktail and dessert bar, the drink list twists classics, often with local spirits. Melbourne Moonshine pops up. Amaro subs Campari in their play on the rum, pineapple and lime cocktail Jungle Bird.
Possibly more interesting, though, is a tight little wine list of well-loved Australian producers – the Chalmers top paddock projects, Ochota Barrels fugazi grenache and other representatives from the Basket Ranges in the Adelaide Hills. Sherries and vermouths get a lot of play too, and while summer rules, there's also a rotating aperitif on tap.
Food-wise, desserts are the highlight. You'll be seeing the black forest mousse topped with an edible metallic cherry a lot.
But the kitchen's savouries are definitely vying for equal billing: fried duck pierogi, a tartare of tofu, capers, yuzu and avocado, a parfait made of lentils, and kangaroo and rhubarb rillettes sets the tone for the ambitious menu. There is the straighter likes of confit leeks with goat's curd and lamb with carrots and sticky jus, too.
Open Tue-Thu 4.30pm-late, Fri-Sat 3pm-late
296-298 Rathdowne Street, Carlton North, 03 9448 8196, henrysugar.com.au