Denton Wine Bar
Time Out says
This CBD wine bar draws in crowds with its neighbourhood sensibilities
Simon Denton has opened a wine bar in his building opposite Fitzroy Gardens for a number of reasons. Firstly, Kappo is gone – Time Out’s Restaurant of the Year 2015 closed due to its chef falling ill. Secondly, we’re going through a drought of high-skilled hospitality labourers at the same time as Melbournian diners are tightening their purse strings. Thirdly, Denton is betting that the extra 260 households in the new 35 Spring Street development (above Città) will probably not know how to use their expensive, designer kitchens and will frequently be in need of a drink- opening a wine bar on the back of his experience as a sommelier is a clever way to address all of these changes.
He’s offering a bottle shop service and an unfussy but precisely cooked menu of just six items (seven, if you include the special) that he describes as “food you’d get if your friend invited you over for dinner and isn’t a shit cook”. But that’s being humble. Kieran Hoop is the man in charge of the kitchen, and dishes change almost daily according to produce that is in season, or dishes he is craving. On our visit, there was a glorious slab of ricotta pound cake topped with a mountain of lemon zest-spiked frosting sitting on the bar for the simple reason that Hoop felt like a slice of pound cake. We can get behind that.
Beverage-wise, wine is the drink of choice. There is an offering of a few spirits for aperitifs or mixed drinks, and a Negroni is as complicated as the cocktails get. Beers come in cans, and you can choose from Furphy, Peroni Red and Moritz. Booze is available to take away, and wines are already marked at their retail price. Add $20 if you’re drinking in, and you’ll find yourself a bargain if you know how to navigate a cellar. Denton has a penchant for grower Champagne and Barolo while championing incredible local producers, so wine tragics can treat themselves to more-than-reasonable bottle service by one of the best (and overlooked) sommeliers in the business.
Value is the name of the game here. Although Denton is surrounded by some of the best fine diners on a very competitive strip – Cumulus, Grossi Florentino, Città – this is a wine bar designed to be patronised several times a week without worrying about the budget. Denton offers his Denton ‘Shed’ label wines by the glass at a very cheap and cheerful $11, with the most expensive by-the-glass offering topping out at $18 for the new release of Bindi ‘Dixon’ pinot noir. It’s a wine coveted for its power and clarity, made to be more approachable in its youth; this vintage shows strawberry and sour cherries on the palate with beautifully integrated tannins and a bright, acidic finish. It sits comfortably among more trendy wines following low-intervention winemaking such as 2017 Brash Higgins ‘Amphora’ Nero d’avola, 2018 Koerner ‘Rolle’ vermentino or the 2019 Ravensworth riesling. There truly is something for everybody.
It might be redundant to talk about the food as the menu changes every few days. What you can be guaranteed, though, is very few ingredients on a plate, treated very well, seasoned to perfection and delivered without pretension; wine-drinking food that is designed not to overwhelm what is in your glass. On this occasion, three perfectly caramelised scallops sit proudly on a chunky housemade romesco with a drizzle of olive oil; flathead fillets are doused in a buttery, parsley white wine sauce, draped with a branch of fresh green peppercorns; brussels sprouts come sauteed with large nubs of kaiserfleisch; and coq au vin is constructed simply with white wine and button mushrooms – the meat quite literally falls off the bone. A clever selection of cured meats and cheeses are available via the bar and, you guessed it, they change quite regularly. The most cheffy flourish you’ll receive is in the option of crisp, salted chicken skin as snacks, if the porcini salt-dusted crisps don’t take your fancy.
Denton Wine Bar might not be an Embla or Marion, which are more restaurant than wine bar, but judging from the full house and endless stream of locals popping in for a bottle to go with dinner, it’s the kind of wine bar the city has been waiting for: stripped back, old-world, affordable and a little bit daggy. Dare we say, just like Denton himself.