85 Longueville Rd Lane Cove, NSW 2066
|Opening hours||Tue from 4pm; Wed-Sat noon-late|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||02 9418 9529|
You will wonder why I am sending you here. You're in a darkened laneway somewhere to the back of the shops in Lane Cove, opposite a bloody big construction site. It is not exactly promising.
And yet, when Michelle Warren and Alessandro Nelli found this hole-in-the-wall after a couple of years of searching, they "had a feeling about it".
Such a strong feeling, in fact, that they turned the long, narrow 94 square metres into a warm, dark-wooded wine bar and restaurant that positively glows in the dark.
Nelli honed his gentle, simpatico service style at Lucio's in Paddington, and, according to Warren, the crack young kitchen team came on board because they, too, "had a feeling" about the place. She calls it a leap of faith.
Head chef Alberto Ranalli has worked in London, Bologna, and at Sydney's est, and sous chef Douglas Alvarenga at Gelato Messina Creative Department and Porteno; with Kyal Whitethorn behind the long copper bar.
With the small tables warmed by egg-shaped lamps and the textural ceramics of Ion Fukazawa of Mukumono, it's a pleasant place to be.
There's some smooth, vibey jazz in the air (Joshua Redmond, Erykah Badu) and pretty soon some smooth, vibey food on the table.
Those forever on the search for that ideal snack-with-drinks will like the idea of a perfectly spherical potato doughnut, filled with black pudding custard and topped with bone marrow cream and the tang of finger lime ($9). Sticking point: it could be warmer.
Kangaroo tartare is such an effective way to showcase this lean, clean meat that ordering it is now a Pavlovian response.
Here, the ruby-red striploin is hand-chopped into a rubble of steely sweetness, dressed up with discs of watermelon radish, parsnip cream, delicate white linaria flowers, the crunch of toasty almonds and the warmth of espelette pepper ($22).
A mound of 24-month-aged comte cream comes porcupined with discs of sweet pumpkin, black sesame and pumpkin seed crisps, dotted with young nasturtium leaves ($18). You know you're in a wine bar when they make the cheese the hero right from the start.
Good produce, the right temperature and precise timing – one short, one long – mark the main courses.
A fine fillet of Murray cod ($30) is steamed for just six minutes and served with crunchy, salty karkalla, sea spray, coins of celtuce and a huddle of diamond clams with saffron butter; pared-back, wine-friendly and effective.
The Black Market black angus short rib ($39), on the other hand, is cooked for 12 hours and served off the bone, in a perfect oblong.
Nelli suggests a deeply elegant, balanced Sicilian red from the local mascalese grape, the 2017 Pietro Caciorgna Ciauria Etna ($78), which works its butt off against the richness of the jellied meat, the umami of its yeasted onion soubise and the kick of mountain pepper. It's the sort of dish you'd come back for.
Desserts are compatible compositions, but a little less convincing. A scoop of rice sorbet with blood orange gel ($20) served with a crisp, vegan-friendly sheet of meringue is OK.
The location is against this small, intimate wine bar until The Canopy complex across the road is completed in 2020, but because they're developing a real voice of their own, and they're not afraid to do something different, I reckon it's worth a leap of faith. Just a feeling I have about it.
Vegetarian: Three or four dishes on menu.
Drinks: Well-made cocktails and a thought-through 100-bottle wine list with surprises from Turkey, Slovenia, Austria, Italy and more.
Go-to dish: Kangaroo, parsnip, espelette pepper, $22.
Pro tip: Owner Alessandro Nelli knows the all-European wine list inside out. Use him.