Leigh Street Wine Room is one of those rare places that feels like it’s been there for decades, smoothed and polished over the years. It hasn’t, of course, with LSWR still shy of registering its first birthday. But Nathan and Sali Sasi’s temple to natural wine has made its mark in indelible fashion, anchoring itself as one of Adelaide’s most acclaimed venues.
The appeal of Leigh Street Wine Room starts at the front door, with the narrow venue crowned by an impressively towering arched ceiling that runs the length of the mid-century European-leaning 36-seater. Think terrazzo – bar and floor – fluted dark timber, retro bar stools and framed prints, while white spaghetti-strand acoustic panels evoke 60s Bella Italia while also softening the noise levels – clever. A moody mezzanine at the back, above the kitchen, adds depth and intrigue.
Nathan had a pretty stellar cooking career before opening Leigh Street Wine with Sali, including stints with Neil Perry and Peter Doyle. Overseas, he has worked at Sean Brock’s Husk and Dinner by Heston in London, as well as at legendary Moorish temple Moro. Landing in Sydney, he took on the lead role at Nomad, where a love for curing, pickling, fermenting, drying, smoking and cheese-making took full flight. That interest was fostered by his father, a Hungarian immigrant, who made everything from scratch for the family.
After launching and helming Sydney’s acclaimed Mercado, while also starting an artisan ice-cream business on the side, a move to Adelaide saw him taking the Executive Chef role for the Big Easy Group – NOLA, Anchovy Bandit, The Stag and Charlick’s (now Yiasou George). In 2019, Sali and Nathan struck out on their own, giving an old dry cleaner a new fit-out modelled on a melange of their favourite European wine bars.
The wine offer at Leigh Street Wine Room is pitched very much in the natural camp, though the selections aren’t dogmatically so, with the wines of South Australia especially well represented. “We have a fairly even split of Australian and International wines,” says Sali. “One thing we do focus on is showcasing our South Australian, in particular Adelaide Hills, winemakers. It’s part of the reason we opened LSWR. We couldn’t believe they were barely represented in their hometown and given we’ve loved their wines interstate, we really wanted to celebrate them locally.”
Leigh Street Wine Room is about wine first and foremost, the liquid wallpaper of over 400 eclectic bottlings on dark-wood shelves the length of the site attest to that, but it’s also home to some of the best food in the city. That deep obsession with fermenting and the like has not waned, with everything from charcuterie, smallgoods and cheese to cultured butter and sourdough bread turned out of the compact open kitchen at the rear. And the menu dominated by small plate offerings can be marshalled into a substantial tasting menu for two or more people.
Of late, Nathan has sidestepped from chef to the wine-buying and business development side of things, so they have brought Jake Kellie into the fold, both as head chef and business partner. Kellie has gone a long way in a short time, notably being crowned Young Chef of the Year at Scott Pickett’s Estelle and later becoming Head Chef at Dave Pynt’s lauded Burnt Ends in Singapore. A kitchen rejig is planned, with an already strong commitment to cooking over coals being extended to more wood-fired grilling options. Expect that future menus will be a reflection of both chefs.
COVID-19 conditions: Having only been operating for eight months when the national lockdown was enforced, LSWR supported their staff and suppliers by selling produce boxes, while also launching Juice Traders, an online wine store. They are now back to normal trading hours (though with reduced capacity), with the produce once again being used inhouse, but the virtual wine store will go on.