It’s a brave thing to open a wine bar across the street from Neighbourhood Wine, and a couple of blocks from Gerald’s Bar. But after a year of operation, Little Andorra in Carlton North has proven itself worthy, carving out its own identity and nailing the cosy neighbourhood style in an area heavy on options.
Little Andorra makes its home in a classic Victorian corner shopfront, tangles of grapevine growing through the wrought iron lattice work supporting the corrugated awning. Well dressed clientele can be seen through wide windows as you approach, cheerfully sipping and chatting away. It’s like that moment in a movie where the lonely protagonist looks into a happy family’s gathering from the cold street. Thankfully, here you’re invited.
Pull up a stool at the long bar and get stuck into the tight but super engaging list of wines by the glass. A sparking rosé is sweeter than expected, but the Prosecco is all minerals and honey and way more interesting than most house pours. A white from Georgia, served in big, delicate glassware, is salty, chalky and tastes pleasantly like underripe cantaloupe. It’s perfect with a special of devilled egg powdered with excellent paprika.
If devilled eggs and kick-ass Prosecco aren’t enough to chill you out, the calm, casual and ultra-knowledgeable service will help. These guys are pouring wines they love, and you can tell. They’re playing the music they want to listen to as well, the turntable behind the bar playing records like NZ ’80s alt-pop rockers Look Blue Go Purple.
Keep your belly lined for more wine with pan-crisped chickpeas perfumed with whole cumin seeds and served with soft but still verdant broccoli, mild red chilli and labne for a dish of bright green comfort. Lightly fried mussels are served in their shells with a zippy romesco for a perfect bite of ocean, acid, creamy aioli and crunch. To match, a Spanish white from grapes usually used for blending into cava stands alone. Aged in a clay amphora instead of a barrel, it evokes new rubber, olive brine, sharp acid and ripe pears. It's a wild, surprising ride.
To back up the grape drink and settle your stomach, there are unheard-of amari (one in particular that tastes of mulch and matchsticks in the best possible way) and rare, single cask whiskies from the Boutiquey Whisky Co.
As the weather gets warmer, the little bricks-and-greenery courtyard out the back will be perfect for a Spritz or seven, made with esoteric aperitifs that they’ve sourced from the wilds of Italy. Recently they’ve also opened a private dining area upstairs for winemaker dinners on Wednesdays, and you can book in family-style meals, with big hunks of braised lamb shoulder in the middle of the table for you and your crew to share.
In the last couple of years, Melbourne has remembered that casual wine bars are one of the things we do best. Ranging from the classic to the experimental, recently opened venues like Heartattack & Vine, Embla, Liberty and Marion have updated the format with brilliant results. Little Andorra deserves its place among this new generation, and while it’s not breaking any moulds, it does break our hearts a little every time we have to leave.