While 2004 is hardly that long ago, it is in the veritable mists of time in respect to how much the wine-dispensing game has changed in Melbourne. Back then, James Broadway, an importer of Italian wine and Slow Food evangelist, and chef Brigitte Hafner, who had worked with Neil Perry, Kylie Kwong, Guy Grossi, Greg Malouf, Jacques Reymond and Stefano de Pieri (a veritable who’s who of the era), swung open the door on their newly leased Gertrude Street terrace with the simple idea of reflecting the Italian enoteca culture that they so loved – a room full of great wine with a little appropriate food to ease the way. No kitchen, just a panini press and a meat slicer. A place for people to drop by, spend a little time and feel comfortable doing so.
Broadway, a lapsed architect, had designed the fit-out in modular plywood units, not so much for ease of construction, but for ease of disassembly, so they could decamp easily if the lease ever fell through, or perhaps if Gertrude Street never took off in the rocket-like fashion that it did. Well, the rest as they say. But, back then, when that door – bearing the iconic Le Corbousier Modular Man silhouette – had been propped open, Broadway had never served a table or indeed used an espresso machine before – though one sat gleaming in front of him.
Fast forward, and Gertrude Street Enoteca remains largely unchanged, with the quick-release function of the interior’s modular construction never activated. The menu is still simple and hand-crafted, though a chicken schnitzel has lifted the lunch game, and at night a single hot dish, think confit duck, braised chicken, slow-roasted lamb shoulder or veal polpettone, graces the blackboard.
Wine has always been eclectic here, with James’ curiosity running deep and the selection constantly evolving. You’ll see the inventive and the classic, both from here and abroad, as well as a strong selection of hard-to-find whisk(e)y, gin and amaro. Gertrude Street Enoteca was a pioneer, undoubtedly, with the likes of Radikon and Gravner gracing its list long before buyers started to look at wine through orange-coloured glasses, and it remains just as strong a force today.