If you judged a book by its cover, you might never peg Hellbound as a serious wine bar. The retro-feel ‘wine bar’ sign that points prospective customers down a flight of stairs may be encouraging, but it speaks more of dive bar than it does Willi’s Wine Bar. There’s a giant caricature of a Rousseau…
The bolthole that is Bellota is somewhat of a sanctuary to wine lovers in a South Melbourne so steeped in pub culture. A modestly sized bistro set in a renovated terrace house in BankStreet, Bellota seats about 40 inside, which doubles out the front and at the rear when the sun shines. Still, even in full al fresco mode, the vast resource of a 4,500 strong wine selection is more than a little impressive, with 27 available by the taste, glass and 375ml carafe. Ultra-premium bottlings are dispensed via Coravin, and approximately 100 new wines hit the armoury each week.
Okay, this is no ordinary bistro. Indeed, it was created to fill a hole in their local market that the owners of ThePrince Wine Store keenly felt. Somewhere for them to go to lunch, for sure, but also a place where their extraordinary selection of wine could be presented properly–appropriate stemware, correct temperature, properly decanted–with equally good food. Of pan-European inspiration, Bellota touches on the feel of some of the great bars and enotecas of Italy, Spain and France, but does it through a modern, yet far from clinical lens.
Nicky Riemer, former owner of Union Dining and alumnus of Stephanie Alexander’s game-changing eponymous restaurant, is on food duty. Nicky takes a European approach to the menu, with a tilt towards Italy and Spain, though her duck with spaetzle–a nod to her paternal Austrian heritage–has become a welded-on signature. Expect freshly opened oysters, cheese and charcuterie at any time, and more substantial offerings during lunch and dinner service.
There’s a working list at Bellota, but a stroll through the aperture into the wine store opens up a whole world of choice, accompanied by insightful advice, which is available on either side of the wall. And a corkage fee of$15 will get that bottle opened and served the way it should be. There is also a vast selection of aperitifs, spirits and fortifieds, with 140-odd cider and beer options for those still needing more options.