Chef Matt Breen does compact particularly well. Following on from the success of his lauded bolthole of a restaurant, Templo, in Hobart, Breen went smaller again, opening Sonny in 2019. Both venues accommodate about 20 patrons in a sitting, but at Templo we’re talking tables and chairs and a focus on dining, while Sonny is a cheek-to-jowl wine bar, making the most of an impossibly narrow site, with the vertical space used to best effect for both storage and chalked up menus.
Enlisting the services of Alister Robertson, former manager of Adelaide’s Clever Little Tailor, Breen built Sonny on a foundation of handmade pasta – one of his great passions – music and, of course, wine. Robertson bundled his life into his car and headed south for the opening night, importantly bringing his significant collection of vinyl, which has taken up permanent residence at Sonny. That collection sits in easy reach of both staff and customers, with regulars just as likely to spin favourite tracks as staff.
“Sonny is a tiny wine bar dedicated to simple pleasures,” Breen says. “Fresh pasta, simple snacks, records spinning, friendly service and a good vibe.”
The heart of Sonny is the hardwood bar that runs down the centre of the room, which turns to stainless steel to the rear, where the sliver of kitchen takes over from the bar counter, a cherry-red flywheel Noaw meat slicer providing demarcation. Fresh pasta is made daily – ravioli filled with ricotta and goat’s cheese served with a thyme and hazelnut butter, or agnolotti filled with pork loin, mortadella and beef shin, for example – and is available from opening until late, along with a selection of small plates that rove with the seasons and the chef’s whims.
“Sonny runs from two induction burners, one toaster and a manual meat slicer,” says Breen. “We maximise the space by using local seafood and vegetables producers and roll out fresh pasta, and our mate Dino bakes the most incredible bread for us.”
The wine offer takes up a little more blackboard real estate than the menu, with 50 or so offerings at any one time. A gold star denotes bottles broached for that day’s service, with that by-the-glass selection typically blowing out to about 10 offerings. Anything on the board is fair game – so get in early for maximum choice. Robertson also keeps some surprises tucked into a wine cabinet, so have a chat to uncover buried treasures.
Although Tasmanian makers are particularly well represented on the ever-evolving selection, Robertson isn’t hemmed in by state borders, with due accord given to producers far and wide. If geography isn’t a defining feature, then approach to managing site and making is. The idea of a holistic, sustainable approach delivered by people that care underscores Robertson’s picks, so while you’d be pretty on the money to say that the list favours minimal-intervention wines, there’s not doctrine at play here.
“We like to focus on wines made by nice people, from nice vineyards,” says Robertson. “Well-farmed grapes make the best wine. You’ll always find great local wines on our small list, with a diverse mix of other styles. Think minimal-intervention Australia plus salty Sicilian drops, classic French hits and some wildcards for extra spice. Recently we’ve been exploring Croatia, Austria, South Africa, USA, Armenia… ‘Mystery wine’ is still our most popular offering, where we choose something we think you’ll like, to match the vibe or dishes you’ve ordered.”
And while it’d be somewhat of a crime to miss the pasta at Sonny, the casual visitor is just as welcome as those committed for the longer haul. “Sonny is perfect for walk-ins for a snack and a wine,” says Robertson. “You’re welcome to stay for a glass and a single oyster, one side of Led Zeppelin II, or stay for six dishes, plus vinyl and wine all night.”