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…
Hobart’s Institut Polaire is housed in a distinctly cosy space, with the proportions dictated by one of Hobart’s classic historic building, which abuts the Customs House Hotel. And while the hotel spills over multiple classified buildings, Institut Polaire occupies the ground floor of just one, with 30 guests squeezing the interior to capacity. But although the building may be steeped in history, the style is coolly modern, with greys and whites dominating, and glass, marble and leather leaving the timber and brass to more traditional establishments.
Institut Polaire is both a wine- and spirit-focused bar and restaurant, as well as a cellar door for Louise Radman and Nav Singh’s other endeavours: Süd Polaire Spirits and Domaine Simha, respectively. And while all of their spoils are available at cellar door prices, the concept is significantly more expansive than that: “This cold climate wine and spirits bar and kitchen embraces Tasmania’s long held status as the gateway to Antarctica with a passion for everything coldhearted.” Chilling words indeed.
The wine section runs to 100 bottles, with 25 on the pour. Aside from the Domaine Simha wines and other local offerings, there is an enviable list of sought-after labels, think names like Keller, Raveneau, Robinot, Ganevat and Mikulski. And the spirits get equal billing, with English, Icelandic, Belgian and Nordic gin, Islay, Japanese, Finnish and Alpine malt whiskies, and Alpine amaro, absinthe and aquavit sharing the shelves with Tasmania’s finest spirits.
The food is far from an afterthought, too, with a deeply considered menu running from Bruny island oysters with yuzu and negroni sorbets, to a Scottsdale pork katsu sando, to a Huon salmon tartare with a 65-degree Kettering quail egg, to a more classically minded steak frittes.