59A Melville Rd Brunswick West, VIC 3055
|Opening hours||Wed-Sat 4pm-11pm, Sun 4pm-10pm|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9917 2702|
Trying to predict where the hospitality industry might be headed after a couple of years of whiplash pivoting, chronic labour shortages and constantly shifting foundations is a fool's errand. But pay attention to some of the green shoots sprouting across Melbourne right now and indicators of at least one possible future can be discerned.
To experience this possible future today, an excursion to Brunswick West local Shabooh Shoobah is called for.
Like its siblings (Carlton's Heartattack and Vine and Wide Open Road in Brunswick), Shabooh Shoobah has a similarly music-referencing name. It's named after the third INXS album, the one released in 1983 that set the band on its superstar trajectory with songs like Don't Change. Naming your business after an album with that kind of history is ripe for analysis but none of the obvious takes – a desire to be world-famous, for example – fit with the bar's actual mood.
Shabooh Shoobah is a studiously low-key affair, occupying two minimally, stylishly renovated shop fronts (formerly a butcher shop) on Melville Road; all artfully distressed walls and tiled and concrete floors combined with 1960s-channelled timber joinery, red banquettes and well-tended indoor plants. Music comes via vinyl and has a suitably indie lean.
It's minimally staffed, with just two people (usually the owners) on board most nights, pouring drinks and making food behind a sizeable marble-topped timber bar. To make things easier for the skeleton staff, you order and pay for food and drinks at the bar.
Shabooh Shoobah's single-page food menu consists entirely of wine-friendly snacks that, gathered in reasonable numbers and combinations, can emulate dinner despite there being nothing as obvious as a traditional main course on the list.
Instead, there might be a dish of excellent stracciatella from That's Amore combined with red peppers braised in sherry vinegar, toasted sesame seeds, a splash of punchy olive oil and – genius – fried curry leaves adding texture and an earthy-fragrant backbeat.
You can team that with discs of classic Polish sausage (from Uncle's in Dandenong South) served with crisp witlof leaves and an immensely attractive Dijon mustard dressing sweetened with juniper molasses.
There are great snacks, too. Non-negotiable for carnivores are the 'nduja and mozzarella soldiers, toasted crunchy flavour bombs that come with a light and fluffy green sauce, a soy milk emulsion flavoured with parsley, capers and lemon. Superb.
There's an Ortiz anchovy wrapped around lightly pickled shallot on a brown butter cracker. Or gildas with pickled chillies and artichokes, a little wedge of manchego and a quail egg cooked, ramen-style, in soy and brown sugar.
All the food is prepared behind the bar by chef and co-owner Sam Steck (Heartattack and Vine, Neighbourhood Wine). Steck is working with the bare minimum – there's no oven and, for that matter, no actual kitchen – and his menu not only reflects the self-imposed limitations but also marks Shabooh Shoobah as a textbook example of this new type of low-fi wine bar that's been springing up in various parts of Melbourne. These places (North Fitzroy's Public Wine Shop is another) have both a Tokyo vibe and a Euro bar thing going on, driven by a "small is beautiful" philosophy focusing on brevity and quality.
Shabooh Shoobah ups the ante by bringing great experience and hospitality smarts to the equation so you feel like a regular and a local even when you're neither.
The drinks list underlines this user-friendly approach. Two of its three pages are about wine and tick all the small producer, minimal intervention boxes without ever getting dogmatic (or expensive) about it.
A hefty proportion of the wine is available by the glass – everything from King Valley prosecco to Sicilian catarratto to an orange blend of vermentino, fiano and zibibbo from South Australia and a Spanish tempranillo.
There's also an excellent cocktail section that includes the fig leaf rebujito, a refreshing, slightly savoury mix of manzanilla sherry, fig leaf cordial, lemon and soda, and a cucumber gimlet that dials down the sugar content with the inclusion of a house-made cucumber cordial.
Just as there's no sweet stuff to eat at Shabooh Shoobah right now, there's no real reinventing of the wheel either.
Still, there's something fresh about its take on the wine bar genre. Confident, focused, experienced, bare-boned and working creatively within tight parameters, it's hard not to see Shabooh Shoobah and its ilk as green shoots, trim and taut harbingers of better times to come.
Vibe Low key, lo-fi, high-quality neighbourhood local
Go-to dish Stracciatella with braised peppers, sesame and fried curry leaves
Cost About $110 for two, plus drinks
Drinks Short, sharp, price-conscious list, favouring small producers
Pro-tip Check out the Amaro collection on a tray at the bar
Michael Harden is the acting chief reviewer for Good Food.