Public Wine Shop is the very model of the modern-era wine bar. There’s soul spinning on the turntable, rows of wine bottles lining the brick wall and a communal table to rule them all. Altogether, it adds up to that incalculable feeling that you’ve somehow stumbled into a mate’s place rather than the new haunt of one of Australia’s most promising chefs.
On Fitzroy North’s increasingly interesting St Georges Road shopping drag, Public Wine Shop would probably prefer top billing for its wine. With award-winning sommelier Campbell Burton as its owner and an impressive quiver of natural, organic, oxidative and all-round minimally messed-with wines at the disposal of staff (including Sarah Fitzsimmons, co-founder of Hobart’s equally impressive Dier Makr), it could live and die on the booze alone.
But Ali Currey-Voumard (ex-Agrarian Kitchen) steals the show without betraying the un-shouty beauty that made her one of Australia’s breakout chef stars of recent years.
Her food leans towards Italy and France and is unfancy and as wine-friendly as it gets. Start with Sydney rock oysters with a squeeze of lemon and a wodge of baguette that also proves the perfect super-soaker to the ouefs mayonnaise – a gooey-centred egg cloaked in aioli with anchovies and celery leaves draped artfully over the top. It’s an early signature that fully deserves to be on the menu forevermore.
Currey-Voumard’s beef carpaccio is another example of her talent for taking a ubiquitous dish and elevating it above its peers – in this instance, by virtue of meat with full flavour heft and a bold hand on a buttermilk and parmesan dressing with a compelling lactic tang.
The beauty of a whole baby flounder with a summer vegetable caponata is more straightforward – order the dressed leaves on the side for a full representation of the food pyramid – and finish on a note of haute farmhouse with the roasted strawberries, vanilla cream and walnut biscuit that might conjure fond memories of Agrarian.
Between Burton and Currey-Voumard, PWS is the perfect neighbourhood hangout – one where you could be equally at home enjoying a glass or two and a few plates in blissful solitude or colonising some space with a bigger group (if that’s your intention, get there early to beat the no-bookings crowd).
It’s also a retail wine shop, so you can pop in to grab a bottle to impress your mates back home. But there’s a stickiness to the Public Wine Shop. Wander through the door and there’s a good chance you’re not going anywhere for some time. Resistance is futile, but succumbing is a joy.