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…
If Gertrude Street Enoteca and the City Wine Shop are the pioneers of Melbourne’s drink-in wine stores, then Andrew McConnell’s Cumulus Up and Marion can lay reasonable claim to capturing the essence of what are, somewhat inelegantly, known as ‘barstaurants’. Perhaps this pitching of wine and food in equal measure was not necessarily the intent, as they were, and still are, referred to as wine bars first and foremost.
Indeed, from early on, the clientele at Marion never seemed to preference one over the other, and given the largely seated structure with no bar as such, proper dining, albeit more casual, was always on the cards. Plus, having one of Melbourne’s best-loved sons orchestrating the food message was always going to draw crowds. Having said all that, with the shared resource of the flagship Cutler & Co., the wine offer has always been formidable, and deserving of just as much attention.
Directed by Liam O’Brien, also of Cutler & Co., the list runs to about 600 bins, with the nature of the small-batch and generally scarce bottlings that populate the list necessitating frequent dynamic change. This attitude informs the glass offer of 20-odd selections, too. Although some are more enduring, many being poured represent just a handful of bottles, or often a lone one, opened out of interest and then replaced with another.
And although the menu celebrates produce as it peaks, and moves on as it fades, the Portarlington mussels with nduja, fried bread and aioli have remained a constant, indelible due to demand. Otherwise, the brief menu strolls through the seasons, with beef grilled over coals and a constantly renewing pasta dish as staples. And vegetarians and vegetable lovers also have much reason to rejoice: “Vegetables at the height of their season will take centre stage in vegetarian dishes – think the very best heirloom tomatoes and zucchini in summer, local pine mushrooms in autumn, flavoursome root vegetables in winter, and all of the lush greens that are in abundance throughout spring.”