With Andrew McConnel behind it, a wine bar could never just be a wine bar. Even if it is just that, with a vast list and en pointe guidance. But if you were teetotal, you’d still come here for the serenely simple, confident and utterly delicious dishes.
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 Penny Vine, also of Cutler & Co., the list runs to about 600 bins (an ever-changing 100-bottle working list sharpens the focus), 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, along with exemplary cheese and a tart or two to finish. And vegetarians and vegetable lovers also have much reason to rejoice: “Vegetables at the height of their season will take centrestage 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.”
Although Marion’s serene charm is likely to lure you in for a glass of wine or three, with food to match, it also operates as a wine store, with anything from the list available at takeaway prices. Grab a bottle, or do what many locals do and opt for the Deadman’s Dozen, an eclectic mix of what the Marion crew are drinking at that moment.