28 March 2008

York Cafe Wine Bar

Foreign bodies in your Kleenex
You've got no taste at all
While your system is dyin'
The bugs are havin' a ball
You've got a beauty, a bad ass
The mother of them all
You've got a cold
You've got a cold



On the corner of York and Cecil Streets in South Melbourne is the remains of an old pub, which like many an old, possibly heritage listed buildings in the area, has grown a modern multi-storey building like a hump upon its back. This is where the York Cafe Wine Bar is housed.

Nearby is the revamped George Hotel, which having purged its old dirty raincoat brigade of regulars, is now getting a name for a casual dining offering and The Southern Cross, undergoing refurbishment, is hoping to do likewise. Across the way a new Tapas venture at South Melbourne Market is gradually building a following and a cluster of more established venues are full of regulars along Coventry Street.

In an area where Demographers recognise the potential for testing - as one of the few areas of Melbourne where the rich, the middle income and the poor rub shoulders, a new lease of life is being spurred on by two brand spanking new shopping centres, each with a major supermarket at its heart. The Clarendon Centre, where Max Brenner has recently opened a chocolate emporium, and diagonally opposite the market, the South Melbourne Lifestyle Centre is forming a hub for casual eateries, takeaway food and providores. This is the hump that has emerged from behind The York.

The excitement building here reminds me of the days leading up to the recession in the eighties. It is only a matter of time until this area becomes to South Melbourne, what the Park Street strip was when Ian Hewitson held court at The Last Aussie Fishcaf, Donlevy Fitzpatrick had a foothold in Middle Park and the Red Eagle was aflame with shoulder pads and ponytails who had cash to splash.

It's 2pm on a friday and a few ruddy faced, pot bellied men in their fifties are finishing their steaks when Chardon-Ange and I enter the York Street Bar and Cafe. Over the road, the South Melbourne Market is bustling, but the queue for Dim Sims is short. After the heavy rains, no one is choosing to sit outside in the mock rattan seating under chocolate brown umbrellas.

Some of the staff here look familiar to me. One - I found out later - is a refugee from the curt service culture of Rockpool, which we discuss as seeming anti Melbourne in ethos. The owner of this week old venue - taking shipment of some large lampshades and an antique style Indian screen - looks familiar. I could be wrong, but I place him as being once the owner of The Red Eagle in its heyday, and perhaps later the man who took The Albion in Port Melbourne from down at the heel to a thriving local hotspot. It would make sense, as only a canny, seasoned hospitality business professional would have had the foresight to choose this location.

If I'm right, then this venue is set to become another popular hangout for those with an interest in decent wine and quality food alongside good service in a casual environment. The precinct in which it stands, surrounding the South Melbourne market is emerging as an entertainment and shopping hot spot for the new affluence and empty nesters arriving in Port Melbourne, Albert Park and Middle Park, not to mention the sudden influx of a bachelor population inhabiting the newest sea side to city high rise apartment developments.

Decorated in Brasserie style with Thonet Bentwood Chairs and bare dark wood bistro tables, that are to be transformed by linen at night, the bar is the centre of focus here. A red leather Chesterfield, looking like a refugee from a St.Vincent's Place garage sale, sits oddly against a wall near the door. Newly opened, things are still taking shape. The wine list is odd and disappointingly short for a wine bar, but with a sigh of relief I spot a Hugel Riesling marked on a small wall painted black board, available by the glass at $9 or $36 a bottle.

For lunch, a light menu has be assigned for the time being, featuring oysters, focaccia's, pasta and risotto, side salads, but no obvious restaurant style main courses. I remind myself that lunch has only been available for a week. Behind me on another blackboard, a special of Minestrone is displayed alongside a vegetarian risotto, a steak at $34 and Bream at $31. We choose to share two entree sized pastas and a garden salad.

I trust that the food will be palatable, in spite of the lack of customers, for with chef Neale White at the helm, the provenance of the ingredients ought to be good. Prior to coming here, he left Pure South at Southgate - Tasmania's Gastro-Palace in Melbourne - for the eccentric French Bistro, Madame Sousou in Fitzroy. Before that I recall that he did a spell at Olivo in Byron Bay. His resume reads as being Indian born and having worked in London, Sydney, Malaysia and Brisbane.

The chef is not around this afternoon, but his Second is - formerly of Maris in Kew - and the dishes are executed well. Luke Morris is supposedly Michelin trained and is noted by management as having developed the menu alongside Neale. Their intention is to broaden the offering to service diners from breakfast to dinner, including Tapas and from April 9, a seven course $100 degustation, inclusive of wine, held every second Wednesday.

But enough of the waffle and back to our order; we enjoyed a perfect hand made gnocchi with goat and olives, rendered down in a rich braise. Unfortunately, afflicted with the remains of a crappy head cold, my Supertaster's palate was hampered and I am unable to give you my usual breakdown of the composition of the dish's seasonings. What I can tell you that there is evidence of a mirepoix and the peas dotted in amongst the other ingredients added both texture and colour.

We also ate a risoni coated in a sugo of perfect texture and taste, amongst which nestled mussels, pipis and wilted spinach. The two entrees and a generous garden salad with vinaigrette were a perfectly portioned lunch for two women. Had I been with Mr Stickyfingers however, we probably would have rounded out the experience with a starter of oysters. The coffee to finish the meal was flawless, as was the service.

I intend to return there soon. Less ostentatious in style than Hotel Nest, this place has great potential as a regular local haunt for me. Next week from Monday to Friday, the following set menu will be on offer, with 2 courses, a glass of wine & coffee offered at $30, or three courses for an additional $5:

Roasted pumpkin soup, goats curd & sage
Char-grilled calamari, chick pea, preserved lemon and green olive
Free-range chicken liver parfait, red onion jam

Blue Cheese, celery and walnut risotto
Seafood brodetto, saffron rouille
Char-grilled St Arnaud angus rump, mash, rocket and radish salad

Almond milk pannacotta, poached peach
Strawberry, basil and balsamic salad, vanilla ice cream
Cheese plate, quince paste and pear chutney

I think I ought to dive in before the masses discover it and the prices rise. Next time I hope to actually have a clear head and be able to taste more in the dishes.

York Cafe Wine Bar
Cnr York & Cecil Streets, South Melbourne, Vic. Australia
ph. +613 9690 3262


Anonymous said...

This reads like an advertorial

stickyfingers said...

Thanks for the compliment, just my own musings from a head cold fugged mind. It's too bad you don't have a name or a pseudonym anonymous - it would have been interesting to have added a personality to the observation. Never mind, I'll look you up on Statcounter instead, Cheers!

grocer said...

I disagree with the first comment. I sense pleasant contentment with a "must come back when I can be more critical" attitude.

sorry you're not well sticky.

George Biron said...

Hello Ms SuperT How do you go with chilli? and Campari?

stickyfingers said...

Right now George I can eat anything and just taste it, thanks to the head cold. It's interesting and frustrating, I don't feel like cooking as a consequence. But usually I can't tolerate bitter foods. As a child not at all, which is hell in Chinese circles because bitter melon is so popular.

Italian digestifs kill me - Campari included. Eating Broad beans hurts my tongue, chilli physically hurts too but I endure. Unless a coffee is perfectly roasted and brewed it can be intolerable to me.

I realised that is why I am not a sweet tooth, why I don't like milk chocolate unless it's fresh and why I can discern things in dishes that others can't.

When I was a kid we wondered why my tongue didn't really stain when eating icypoles. I guess the Super taster theory explains that. I suppose that being female and carrying Asian genes supports the theory that I have possibly four time more taste buds than non tasters too.

It's a freaky world.

Congratulations on the announcement of Sunnybrae's relaunch. I see John Lethlean has also announced it in Epicure today.