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…
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 bottle at the threshold, which is encouraging, but with the word ‘Hellbound’ in the place of the more regular Chambertin, you’re probably still not that convinced. Then there’s the neon, that again seemingly celebrates the underworld, splayed out in script font across the back wall, spilling candy-pink accents across the room.
Ah, but then the other shoe drops – the wine on show, the stemware, the empty bottle trophies of fine times past… it all starts to tell a very different story. Founded by Mark Reginato and Louis Schofield, what was first pitched as a pop-up, has established itself as what will surely become one of Adelaide’s enduring institutions. Hellbound is very much a serious wine bar in respect to what it stocks, and how it sells it, but it just doesn’t take itself too seriously: “We wear t-shirts, but we have the nicest glasses and serve our reds at 14 degrees.”
The wine list extends to about 340 bins with 20-odd by the glass, with the most popular being an ever-changing mystery wine. Although the list carries plenty of ‘new wave’ producers, Reginato and Schofield employ one of the simplest guiding principles a wine lover is ever likely to hear: “Just beautiful wine. No mousey crap. No oaky jammy crap. We love farmers. We love delicious wine.” This sense of ease is felt throughout the venue, with a calm confidence and sense of hospitality deeply embedded in its DNA. The food is “simple, quick and wine friendly,” with the short menu divided into ‘Little Snacks’, ‘Big Snacks’ and ‘Cheese’, with nothing over $18. And if you’d like to have that bottle of Rousseau Chambertin for real, it’s available, too.