Southern-style fried chicken has nailed the eating zeitgeist, but the crew at Belle’s Hot Chicken have turned it into an extreme sport. If you want to simulate the experience of having your head blown off while angels sing the tunes of the Wu-Tang Clan, head straight for their "really fuckin’ hot" chicken. It has a body count. Cans of Moritz cool the flames, but the wine list cracks out unexpected moves in the orange/low intervention arena. It’s a list that will make you feel that much smarter while you hoe into your fatty chicken dinner served on a red plastic tray.
In its former life as a notorious gentlemen’s club, this terrace was a hub for some of Melbourne’s shadier characters, but there’s nothing insalubrious about its current incarnation. Take your time perusing Simon Denman’s 20-page wine list, peppered with natural beauties, impressive imports and little-known locals. Minimal-intervention, biodynamic and organic wines form the backbone of this commendable selection, and staff are only too happy to help you dip your toes into unfiltered territory. Settle in with a glass of textural ‘orange’ wine, or the sprightly, slightly frizzante riesling on tap.
The wine bar used to be such a simple concept. A bar, goddamn it: a bar with plenty of wine, and maybe a communal dish of mixed nuts or some toothpick-speared cheddar to nibble on if you were lucky. But these days nothing’s ever quite so straightforward and the wine bar has nicked off for a makeover. Case in point: Embla. With admirable brevity their website states that Embla is a wine bar in the middle of town. "Our tastes in wine might be slightly weird," it says, "but we think there are others out there like us." It might help to know French natural wine freak Eric Narioo is a partner in the business.
Smalls is a South Melbourne wine bar from Jess Ho, Melbourne’s resident entrepreneurial renaissance woman. The ex-blogger, Time Out bar reviewer, Chin Chin media manager and 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. On arrival, staff will present you with a short wine list and complimentary bar snacks. The wine list, orchestrated 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.
At Host, there's so much off-key coolness on the music streaming device thingy, so much now-ness on the menu and the organic-low-intervention-unrefined wine list. It’s almost obnoxiously hip, but the thing is, Host is very likable, although it’s so hot in the fashion sense that they keep it fridge cold. It’s a bold move from owners Nedim and Majda Rahmanovic, previously behind North Melbourne’s Twenty & Six Espresso, but one they rather impressively pull off.
At Bar Liberty, the pleasant surprises keep coming, without fuss. The leather-bound drink menus burst with scores of bottles from the old country – alongside natural Australian wines are knowing and bold offerings from Germany, France, Austria and Spain, as well as a handful of Japanese specialities. The love blossoms from pages dedicated to the more uncommon styles of Chenin Blanc and Gamay. Adventure even comes by the glass, with a deeply leathery, eye-watering Aglianico and tart, acidic Cabernet Franc ready to challenge.
Want more wine?
Whether you're looking for a bar in the north, south, east, or west of our fair city, Time Out Melbourne has got all points of the compass covered.
Who is making natural wine?
Ngeringa Estate, Mount Barker Summit SA
Jauma, Adelaide Hills SA
Blind Corner, Margaret River WA
Latta Vino, Coghills Creek VIC
Eastern Peake, Coghills Creek VIC
Stefano Lubiana Wines, Granton TAS
Sorrenburg Vineyard, Beechworth VIC
Cobaw Ridge Winery, East Pastoria VIC