Fame and foot traffic may make Hardware Lane one of the city’s most lucrative addresses, but recent times have seen it become more a hotspot for spruikers and snap-happy tourists than a place where locals choose to go. Amid all the mediocre pasta and manhandling, the warm glow of Kirk’s Wine Bar shines extra bright.
When Kirk’s opened in 2015 it immediately felt like a substantive thread in our city’s fabric, with its familiar, lived-in feel, confident service and mature wine list. At last, Spring Street sophistication had come to the shouty end of town. Years have passed, but it feels as essential as ever, proving that a classic wine bar, done well, never goes out of fashion.
Their list is as deep as it is broad, paying respect to all the old-world staples before giving equal ardour to trailblazing makers like Radikon and local innovators like Memento Mori. Such is the beauty of Kirk’s – you can start in style with a glass of creamy, mineral-rich Pinson chablis, then take an edgy turn with Pittnauer’s deep yet lithe Zweigelt-Blaufränkisch. The biodynamic blend tastes somewhere between a pinot and a shiraz, and is plush with stonefruit, chai spices – a lesson in the undersung wine regions of Austria.
They’re also a champion for fortifieds. Forget an Aperol Spritz: a pour of Maidenii classic vermouth over ice, with its complex murmurs of bitters, herbs and citrus, is the only thing we want to be drinking over a sweaty summer, while nips of sweet, berry-rich Niepoort ruby port turns a cheese course into an event.
Food is simple, familiar and delicious, criss-crossing Europe with faithful executions of everything from saganaki to salad Niçoise. Written on the wall is a pasta of the day and a plat du jour – today duck leg, tomorrow schnitzel – but small-plate snacking means you can order a slice of lovingly constructed ratatouille bruschetta, plus springy sourdough with a lush layer of ricotta and a tessellation of tangy veg, followed by crunchy hot croquettes filled with smooth goat’s cheese and pops of sweetpea.
There are shades of tapas bars, bistros and enotecas in Kirk’s DNA, but the fact that it has all three marks it as unmistakably Melbourne. It’s cosy in the rain and boisterous in the high summer heat, tables spilling outside for languid afternoons of people-watching. You might think it a shame that a great wine bar is wedged in such a touristy spot, but Kirk’s encapsulates that perfect slice of Melbourne that visitors to our great city are truly seeking and justly deserve.