Love, Tilly Devine (named after notorious brothel madam and organised crime boss Matilda Devine) slipped into its long stride shortly after it opened in 2010. Although it’s hard now to imagine how it could not succeed, so firmly is it imprinted on Sydney’s identity, Matt Swieboda’s move away from the embrace of Peter Gilmore’s highly acclaimed Quay to the cramped quarters of the former storeroom of Best’s cellars was a bold one. At a time when Melbourne was thought to have the monopoly on laneway bars, hole-in-the-wall bars, and wine bars in general, Swieboda launched his 40-patron laneway homage to a new revolution in wine, and in particular an Australian one.
It’s fair to say that many sommeliers and buyers at the time had their eyes firmly fixed on Europe for inspiration, but Swieboda saw a quiet revolution of makers that was swelling both in number, and in quality. That revolution was indeed inspired by the natural movement fostered in Europe, which pursued wines of place that were made from organic or biodynamic fruit, and with no additions, except for the most frugal application of sulphur. Lower alcohol wines, typically, without the intrusion of oak. Back then, we’re talking about the likes of Lucy Margaux and Shobbrook, and the precocious toddler that was Ochota Barrels. Today, the field is somewhat more crowded, and happily so.
The menu at Love, Tilly Devine has remained compact and snack driven, with some larger plates, with what Swieboda describes as, “Italian in substance, Japanese in style.” Other than wine, the overlay remains local, even down to all spirits being from local, artisan distillers. Love, Tilly Devine’s mission statement hasn’t changed, but the landscape has. So there is now even less reason to tilt the 85/15% Australian bias back the other way. After all there’s more to celebrate, and besides, that’s what Swieboda’s other venue, Dear Sainte Éloise, is for.