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…
Carlton Wine Room
After losing its way a little in its latter years, the Carlton Wine Room was acquired and rebooted, in early 2018, by somewhat of a Melbourne hospitality dream team, Andrew Joy, formerly of Marion and Cumulus Up, Travis Howe, of Coda and Tonka fame, and chef John Paul Twomey who opened Cutler & Co. as head chef with Andrew McConnell and then spent a decade in the latter’s very long shadow as his development chef and second in command. So, one of the best, and most decorated, front of house managers around, one of the top sommeliers and one of the country’s best chefs–three big ticks right there.
And while a trio like that could easily be pushing the boat out into rarefied dining territory, that’s not really where they’re at. There’s a calm affability to Joy and Howe, without any pretensions to coolness, that informs the whole tone. Like Marion, Joy’s last gig, there’s a blurring of the lines here, a friendly tussle between wine and food for primacy of identity. That they interlock so gracefully is testament to its success. Call it a wine bar, a bistro, a ‘barstaurant’– if you must. Call it what you will.
This is not the home of a vast leather-bound list, although there might be a couple of hundred or so bottlings hidden in the cellar or in the sleek gold-standard EuroCave wine cabinets that are nestled into less usable spaces, but rather a carefully curated offer, taking in an extraordinary amount of territory, both geographically and stylistically, though there is a gentle Italian lean.
The glass offer runs to 16, and unlike many venues, Travis shuns the Coravin, although this doesn’t preclude the opening of serious bottles, quite the opposite. He encourages his staff to open almost anything, and then to sell it all in a session. He sees it as a less lazy option. Open the wine for good reason, for a purpose, and back yourself to sell it. It’s a foundation that runs deep here, with a real sense of connection, of ownership, suffusing the service.