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There’s a beautiful den of wine made by women in Little Bourke Street, where we lay our scene
But soft, what light from yonder basement breaks? Describing itself as little sister to longstanding Punch Lane next door, Juliet’s industrial chic space is striking. Climb down the staircase from the street to find mid-century style chairs, dark and solid, giving warmth to the concrete and black steel infrastructure. There’s a big fireplace in the corner and one whole wall panelled in beautiful wood grain. Stools perch on iron rods that curve out from the bar like flower stems, illuminated by pink neon, while Art Nouveau chandeliers hang from the black-painted ceiling, jumbled with exposed pipes and air ducts. It all gives the dreamlike impression that fairies from the 1920s have taken over an office-block basement for their bacchanal.
On a Thursday evening, the playlist is set to chilled jazzy beats and the crowd is decidedly shirt and tie. Handbags are designer, the suits well cut. One of the bartenders looks like he's stepped from a cologne ad in Vanity Fair; tall, sleek and aloof, he presents a cucumber gimlet with a flourish. It's on the rocks, a little on the sweet side and certainly not quite in sync with the quality of this guy's wardrobe. But it's fresh and totally drinkable, and like everything else here, the glassware is at once pretty and solid.
Cocktails seem a bit of an afterthought anyway. The real draw is the wine, with a list heavily weighted to showcase female winemakers. The glasses on pour are determined by what happens to be open, and when a bottle ends you get to choose the next, but they recommend wines from Corrina Wright’s Oliver’s Taranga label in McLaren Vale. We do, too. Her fiano is the best thing we try, funky and textural but still clean enough to quaff. A Nikkal chardonnay and a Skillagalee riesling are less interesting but super approachable, and a Goodman pinot noir is the intense, aged style while still having some nice red fruits on the nose.
Snacks are there in service to the drinks, but you certainly won’t go hungry with good sized portions for reasonable prices. Braised chickpeas with chorizo and burata could use more spice, but the chorizo is beautiful and the rich braising liquid is perfect for soaking good bread. Hapuka ceviche is coconut milk creamy and bright, constructed with a light touch to not overpower the delicate fish and with a hint of spice from fresh chilli.
While the service is professional and friendly, it feels a little distracted. A greeting at the door, a coaster under an icy drink, or an empty glass noticed and taken care of quickly would go a long way to matching the experience to the beauty of the room. We can’t help but notice, too, that in a place focused on female winemakers, the floor staff tonight are all blokes. Juliet has nailed the aesthetic, and the concept is strong. With a little more attention to flavour and the fundamentals of service, it has the potential to long outlive its tragic young namesake.