91 Crown St Darlinghurst, NSW 2010
|Opening hours||Mon-Sat 5pm-midnight; Sun 4pm-10pm|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||02 9326 9297|
It's a gorgeous Sydney day and I've called in sick with review flu. I'm sorry, really, I am. There's loads of new bars and pubs out there rocking market-researched menus that I should be reviewing, but today, with kind of weather that gives Keats his jollies, I'm heading somewhere I actually want to go. Somewhere real. Somewhere nice. Somewhere like Love, Tilly Devine.
Matt Swieboda founded the small Darlinghurst bar in 2010. Along with The Wine Library, 121 BC and 10 William Street, it was part of a new wave of Sydney boozers where you could drop in for a glass of something smart, have a chat and crostini and be on your way. Swieboda focuses more time and energy at Potts Point's Waterman's Lobster Co these days, meaning LTD is gun sommelier Gabrielle Webster's show.
There's not much to look at when you're seated in a prime position by the window, a wall of whitewashed bricks with clumps of flourishing ferns between the cracks is about it. But the summer breeze is wonderful and made all the better whenever Webster skips to the other side of the window with something delicious on the pour.
"I keep forgetting cars can still drive down this road," she says, jumping back inside as a Subaru whizzes by.
Webster knows what you want to drink before you do. She fell in love with wine while working at Sean Connolly's Astral back in the day, took a bit of time off to study all things vino, came back to hospitality when Bloodwood opened in 2010 and has been at LTD for the past two years.
Her passion is organic and biodynamically farmed grapes and 90 per cent of the list (which is more than 300 bottles strong) falls that way, rounded out with a few conventional drops to appeal to drinkers not so keen on the natural stuff.
There's a handful of cocktails and at any other bar a white port with tonic and lemon ($12) would have my money, however LTD's Disneyland of a cellar demands exploring. A glass of 2015 Vinteloper Moscato "Park Wine" ($15) out of the Adelaide Hills is a fat ball of apricot funk and better mates with freshly shucked Sydney rock oysters ($4 each) than it has any right to be. Meanwhile, a fleshy pour of 2015 Syrahmi "Garden of Earthly Delights" riesling ($15) is a perfect suitor to the warm evening air.
"Have you got anything light and red and fun and chilled?" I ask, and Webster promptly returns with a bottle of 2013 Domaine Sextant Bourgogne Pinot Noir ($101). It's a picnic-perfect drop that inspires long afternoons stretched out on longer grass.
Let's not paint LTD as a summer bar only, though. I've had many a snug night here in winter, often with something hearty to drink and slow-cooked to eat.
From a pint-sized kitchen, Webster's partner, Aren Edye, conjures up honest goodness, such as a $14 hunk of butternut pumpkin bolstered by ricotta, pine nuts, brown butter and currants, or dissolve-on-your-tongue gnocchi with baby peas, zucchini curls, and a few shards of pancetta for vigour ($24).
Edye is also an accomplished pastry chef and on this visit he was filling a case of house-made puff pastry with creme anglaise and the sweetest of new-season peaches: a gorgeous little dessert, made all the better with Maidenii vermouth on the side.
The sun hangs low when we leave and I'm happy I chucked the review sickie. Many people work in hospitality not to make zillions and take over the world, but because they truly enjoy what they do. Webster and Edye are two such people. Love you, Love, Tilly Devine.
Go for… a glass of wine from one of the best lists in town.
Stay for… the dessert special.
Drink… whatever Webster recommends. She's good at it.
And… the 40 seats fill up fast – get in early to nab a nice spot.