If we were in charge of Melbourne’s planning, we’d mandate that every neighbourhood has a place like Westwood. A place that can make you strong coffee and a croque madame in the morning, send you away with a fresh baguette for lunch, and welcome you back for wine as the sun shimmies under the horizon. There’s cheese and charcuterie to tide you over until dinner, when you should stay for a meandering meal. Enjoying that wine? Take it home – there’s a tiny shop in the back. Whatever you need, Westwood is here for you.
It’s a modest operation dealing in at-home ease. There’s choice, but not too much, and all of it good. From a daily board of around 10 wines by the glass, all $15 and under, you’ll find favour with young, local and small labels. You could start with a modern chardonnay from Little Brunswick Wine Co that’s all cloudy apples and camomile with an off-dry, buttery edge, or opt for the single cocktail on the menu, a quenching Spritz of elderflower, prosecco, gin and fresh mint that tastes like the first day of spring.
From the small, open kitchen in the heart of the bar, British chef Rhys Bennett (Movida, Dinner by Heston) is enthusiastically pickling walnuts, putting kippers on soda bread and sneaking offal onto the specials. He is reviving forgotten favourites from his homeland with a gentle, creative hand so that even the most divisive elements of British cuisine will find new fans. Brightly sour, pickled carrot sticks are dipped in a contrastingly silky, sweet puree of more carrot and tahini dusted with nutty pulsed fennel seeds, while inside brown paper bags you’ll find halved pickled eggs, yolk still jammy, laid over a bed of wafer-thin potato crisps. Apparently this is a beloved bar snack in certain parts of old Blighty. The combined effect is salt and vinegar Smiths with a protein kick and it’s curiously tasty, much like the chewy duck hearts, braised in sherry vinegar to cut through all that earthy iron.
On a more broadly appealing but no less playful note, lamb 'ham' sees slices of tender, full-flavoured and fat-rippled lamb shoulder topped with picalilli, a turmeric yellow chunky relish of pickled cauliflower, onions and green beans. Double down on intense flavours with a glass of Giovanni Armani Giorgio’ super-ripe, tutti-frutti Sangiovese.
We want to go to Westwood all the time. It doesn’t boast the city’s most staggering wine list, an architecturally designed interior, or star dishes that’ll haunt your Insta feed for months. What is does have is an offering where the balance is always in your favour – the quality is high and the prices aren’t, so dinner and drinks for two could see you walking out of there for under $100. We'll definitely be back.