The flowy linen smocks in muted tones for sale at the shops of Armadale’s main drag want to seem casual, but there’s a self-consciousness to their boutique-ness. Not so at Auterra, where excellence is charmingly unassuming. Here, easy going neo soul plays and light streams in from the heritage shop windows over a beautiful but unfussy room in tones of white and deep red with accents of copper. It’s an inviting space, made more so by the warm greeting of the staff.
A glass of orange wine from ARC in Gippsland is recommended with a side of engaging conversation from our young but savvy server, and it’s just the thing to kick off on a sunny Saturday arvo - all soft peach skin, grapefruit pith grip and bright acidity without tipping over into kombucha funk. It goes great with the lighter seafood options on the snack menu, all super reasonably priced and probably reason #1 among many to settle in here.
The food is designed with wine in mind, and with some real imagination. Ranging from the Instagramable (fancy hot dog) to the high concept (cured bass grouper with hemp seed, quark and burnt citrus), there’s some serious skill and creativity on display, all infused with a sense of fun. If you’re worried it sounds too serious, the unpretentious service and the “F*ck it, we’re all in” feed-me option should prove that it’s more about sharing the quality than putting it on a pedestal.
A bite of steamed scallop with bonito hollandaise is a surprisingly light harmony of savoury, salty and creamy, with yuzu applied judiciously for lifting tang. Mussels with roe emulsion on a chickpea fritter puts the tasty little bivalve front and centre, its metallic, fresh ocean flavour supported by light, creamy umami from the roe and texture from the chickpea.
A note on the wine list says to ask for the off menu bottle on pour at any given moment, so we do. The result is a Spanish mencia with bright red fruits on the nose but a lovely dry, herbal palate that makes it a perfect red for the daylight hours and to go alongside the merguez hot dog with garlic labneh and Lebanese pickles. The flavour of the lamb is allowed to shine here and the pickle and garlic are both restrained enough to hit the spot while letting the light wine sing. It all points to a deftness and restraint to these dishes that many of the city’s high end restaurants could stand to emulate.
Other choices by the glass are limited but well balanced, ranging from $13 to $33 dollars with a clear eye to flexibility of palate and budget. On the full list, bottles are arranged by traditional European style and their Australian counterparts, a great way of showing how domestic producers have taken cues from their European forebears while allowing the budget conscious to explore within the style and learn along the way, with heaps of under $100 options.
There’s also a centrefold in the wine list cheekily called “OnlyFans... of wine” that contains the cult favourites wine nerds love, but still with some reasonable sub-$200 bottles. There are also $700 bottles of sake and $2,000 bottles of Champers, cos why not, right? We are, after all, in Armadale.
In a neighbourhood where it would be easy to feel like Julia Roberts’ character in Pretty Woman in the haute boutiques of the high street, Auterra is warm and welcoming, happy to share the great wine and playful, delicious snacks with all who enter. Well worth the train ride no matter where in Melbourne you live, this is clearly one of the city’s best wine bars right now.