Good things come in small packages in this petite and charismatic wine bar
Smalls is a new South Melbourne bar from Jess Ho, Melbourne’s resident entrepreneurial renaissance woman. The ex-blogger, Time Out bar reviewer, Chin Chin media manager and Restaurant Revolution reality show judge has turned her hand to opening her own bar, transforming the garage space next to St Ali café into a compact 24-seater.
From the outside, Smalls glows with a soft light; on the inside, it’s dark and intimate, with snug booths, handsome black-metal framed windows and a white porcelain bar. The clever maximisation of the space brings with it intriguing features such as hidden drawers and cubby holes for pesky handbags and coats.
On arrival, staff will present you with a short wine list and complimentary bar snacks (though this writer sadly lucked out on the latter, an unfortunate oversight on the part of the unaffected and obliging staff). The wine list, orchestrated by ex-Rockpool sommelier Wiremu Andrews, mixes products from antipodean and international boutique wineries. There are approximately 15 wine choices available by the glass, and they’re mostly priced between $9-$16.
While the wine list is changing constantly, you may be able to sample one of Ho and Andrews’s own efforts (a shiraz made during last year’s Wine Baptism of Fire competition), a Beechworth roussanne or from further afield, a South African chenin blanc. There’s also beer on tap (from Melbourne’s own Hop Nation Brewing Co), cocktails and sake.
The food menu is versatile – order a few small plates to tide you over till dinner, or order a lot and make a meal out of it.
Rich, salty and moreish, the single bites make easy eating. An Oyster Kilpatrick, topped with shatteringly crisp prosciutto shards, leaves a warm, sweet chilli tingle in the throat. The croque monsieur will surely be a favourite. This luxe cheese toastie for grown-ups is an artery-constricting combination of buttery fingers of bread, molten gruyère and pancetta, all covered in truffle shavings for some extra wow.
Larger dishes are mostly excellent, too. The de-shelled mussels are an absolute goer. Dressed in a buttery Champagne reduction sauce, sprinkled with breadcrumbs and topped with a lemony fennel salad, the combination is simultaneously creamy and refreshing. If you can, save the chargrilled bread for some serious sauce-mopping.
Listen carefully to the specials of the day and, if they include the beef short rib, order it. The meat is deboned, incredibly tender and, due to a tasteful percentage of fat, has a wonderful richness. Less impressive is the grilled cauliflower. Covered in a Rice Bubble-like savoury granola, it’s chewy and dry.
Jess Ho knows her market. She has successfully created a cosy and sophisticated place in which to share intimate conversation with an old friend or to clash knees with your significant other over some refined shared fare and drinks.
20-22 Yarra Pl
|Opening hours:||Mon-Fri noon-11pm; Sat, Sun 3-11pm|