Words like ‘institution’ and ‘iconic’ get tossed around a lot, and not always with deep justification. But France-Soir, near the top of the Toorak Road hill in Melbourne’s South Yarra, has earned both of those monikers, and some time ago. It is indeed an iconic institution, and an establishment with a loyal following that few…
Bibo Wine Bar
Paul Jones brought some useful things with him when he set up Bibo Wine Bar in an old leather-goods shop in Bay Street Double Bay. Although he didn’t have the operational skills to run a wine bar, he did know how to build and fit one out. As well as being an architect, Paul has been a wine lover all his adult life, so a vast cellar compiled over decades came with him, too. Chef and co-owner Jose Silva (formerly head chef at Guillaume at Bennelong) took charge of the kitchen, and former Rockpool sommelier Louella Mathews the list–and the task of plundering Paul’s cellar.
The tone at Bibo is decidedly moody, conspiratorial even, with dark timber marble and textured wallpaper down-lit with matt black, gold-lined pendants and, at night, a flickering sea of candlelight. There’s an open-air terrace that takes as many patrons as inside (40 in each), and a private room upstairs that can accommodate 30 diners.
Although sommelier Louella Mathews and team are always on hand with insightful commentary on the 400-strong list, a handful of thoughtful descriptors are offered on the 30-odd wines by the glass (with Coravin used for some of the more aspirational offerings), neatly snapshotting flavour profile and style. The list has an even split of domestic and international drops, with notable vintage depth right across the board, thanks mainly to Paul’s cellar. While there’s acknowledgement of skin-contact whites and ‘natural’ wines amongst the pages, it’s fair to say the list has more of a classical bent.
The food is Jose’s chance to reflect his Portuguese heritage in a new context–tradition bent to whim and circumstance. Staples include the piri piri chicken and bacalhau croquettes, but it is perhaps those most emblematic of Portuguese pastries, pastéis de nata, or as we know them more generically, Portuguese tarts that are the most immovable menu item. Jose is also the owner of Sweet Belem, which is home to arguablySydney’s best Portuguese tarts, with those burnished flaky morsels providing punctuation to the end of the menu, with or without cinnamon ice cream.