212 High St Windsor, VIC 3181
|Opening hours||Tue-Sun noon-midnight|
|Features||Bar, Licensed, Vegetarian friendly, Romance-first date|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Cash, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9533 2827|
If you aren't hating sulphites and fighting the patriarchy in 2017, I'm sorry to tell you that you are not part of generation now. Welcome to the modern drinking era where the wine bar has replaced the pub.
I say this because Neptune, Windsor's latest all-singing all-dancing wine diner, bottle shop and cocktail bar on High Street can feel more like a club than wine bars you know.
Which makes sense given the backers are Simon Blacher and Nic Coulter who brought you bustling Asian parties Hannoi Hannah, Tokyo Tina and Saigon Sally, plus Dave and Michael Parker who are behind hide-clad Argentinian steakhouse San Telmo, and Pastuso. Building beautiful places for beautiful people is what they do.
This time, their bait is mod-Mediterranean share plates and wine, served in semi darkness to a crowd with a median age of 27. Here for a Tinder date? You've hit the right spot.
Everything is built for it. Booths are deep; up the back you can get right up by the fire. The light might not be conducive for reading menus, but it's definitely going to cast you in an attractive flicker. Also key: a menu that allows for non-committal testing of the waters before diving into dinner.
Mod-Mediterranean is the general thrust, with a major in tinned fishy treats, so you can start with high grade tins of tuna belly with crisps and capery dressing; Ortiz anchovies that eat like soft, salty leather over crispbreads with intense red pepper condiment that Fergus Henderson might call a gunge.
Beyond the can, a seafood theme follows through to small plates. I didn't get any hint of absinthe from the bonito crudo promising it, but the frutti misto is a punchy plate of mussels and anchovies, flayed and with sage leaves strapped to their backs, all caught in a lacy batter web.
Non-fish snacks tend towards chicken liver parfaits (a fine, fairly sweet version), a swathe of broad bean hummus and pork terrines.
As plates get bigger they opt for drink-appropriate heft. See brussels sprouts, shredded and sweated down in butter, then dressed in a toasty layer of hazelnuts and pecorino. Also the plate of loose polenta covered in a mix of button and pine mushrooms – both the sort of winter dishes you'd wear like a coat.
If Neptune is capitalising on the wine bar craze, it's at least doing so well. The guidance is friendly. The list has options for nerds (there's the bright Riesling Freak No 3, or a rapatel for those who want their white with a little grip) as well as safe, familiar options for newbies (Cloudy Bay chardonnay from Marlborough). And if your date is heading to home base, you can grab any bottle from the fridge and take it to go.
I probably wouldn't make their pastas a priority over the steak frites. A special of wagyu ragu and rigatoni is rich and acid-sweet, though the aglio olio (the classic toss up of pasta, olive oil and garlic), here served with fat rye spaghetti, is a little salt dominant and soft. Tortellini filled with bone marrow doesn't have enough of a textural or acidic counter strike to the intense fat.
Save the calorie count for the chocolate tart, more like intense brownies with a sweet kick from pear and thick scoops of mascarpone.
Straight and simple, it's a good time that won't make you think too hard. Which could well be the motto for Neptune and all wine bars built for generation next.
Pro Tip: It's a dark, casual dating magnet replete with fire.
Go-to Dish: Frutti misto ($14).