Some years back, Christian McCabe left behind successful restaurant Matterhorn, in Wellington, to try his luck across the Tasman. That first venture was the celebrated, though now closed, Town Mouse in Drummond Street, Carlton. Along with Town Mouse chef and co-owner Dave Verheul (a Matterhorn alumnus), McCabe branched out further, and more boldly, in 2016,…
Old Palm Liquor
Old Palm Liquor is the new Lygon Street sibling of the already iconic Neighbourhood Wine. Opening in 2013, and expressly reflecting it’s anchoring in the local area, Simon Denman and Almay Jordaan’s Neighbourhood Wine has also become a destination for those further afield, drawn by Jordaan’s Euro-leaning menu and the vast collection of minimal-intervention wine curated by Denman. Old Palm Liquor takes leaves out of the same book, though the food gets a little more personal, riffing on Jordaan’s upbringing.
It’s hard not to compare Old Palm Liquor with NW. And there are some unavoidable parallels, but it’s no facsimile of the tried and true. A serious collection of vinyl and well-used turntables are present in both (no endlessly cycling Spotify playlists), and bottles lay on timber shelves behind sliding glass doors, which is a bit of a signature. Though in OPL, the collection forms an imposing wall behind the bar, while at NW the cellar is scattered through the warren of rooms in the former Carlton Crew gambling den.
The open kitchen, warm tones, and general sense of comfort and ease are also shared traits, but the proliferation of potted plants and whirring ceiling fans give OPL a colonial edge (an echo of Jordaan’s South African upbringing) with a 70s accent, in contrast to the 80s Victoriana of the older sibling.
For the menu, Jordaan draws on her heritage growing up on the Western Cape, a couple of hours out of Cape Town, where braai (coal-fired barbecuing) was a staple. The centrepiece of the kitchen is a wood-burning grill, both open and flat, with vegetables, meat, poultry, seafood, vegetables and the signature charred flatbreads – served with garlicky labne – feeling the heat. And while you’ll see a little more goat on the menu here than may be typical, with biltong popping up, too, this is no South African restaurant, with Jordaan’s creative impulses are given free rein.
Long-time manager of Neighbourhood Wine, Marc Banytis has hopped onboard as an owner at Old Palm Liquor alongside Denman and Jordaan. Banytis has done some serious hours at NW, and, in a former life, was the opening manager at Sydney’s ground-breaking The Wine Library a decade ago (back when Sydney-siders almost had to fly to Melbourne to get a glass of wine without a meal).
For those familiar with NW, it’s no surprise the wine list at Old Palm is very much in the minimal-intervention camp, with many of the classic ‘natural’ makers from around the world represented across a vast 400-strong collection. There are 20 or so wines available by the glass, with the measure kept to a clearly declared 120ml, rather than the common 150ml, making sampling across the list a somewhat less imposing proposition. And if the whole lot’s looking a bit bafflingly unfamiliar, Banytis and crew are never far away to offer friendly translations.
COVID-19 conditions: With Melbourne’s second lockdown seeing restaurants shuttered for a second time, Old Palm Liquor had already established takeaway and delivery pathways for both their wine and food. Hampers are also available for next day delivery.