Wolf and Swill is hot. Really hot. It’s barely sundown and the tiny corner bar on Thornbury’s High Street is a hive of activity, with staff squeezing and sliding past each other to take orders, pour beers and send food out to a swelling pack of hungry and thirsty punters. Add to all those bodies and kinetic energy a stuffy Melbourne evening and the result is an oppressive, siesta-inducing heat that threatens all Friday merrymaking.
Time for an ice-cold beer, then. On the taps are your no-fuss Coopers and Sapporos but also a rotation of craft brews from across the land. Epic’s Galactic Criminal snaps you out of a sweaty daze with a sucker punch of hops made palatable by pineapple juiciness. It’s fun, but sustainable heat busting calls for something more sinkable, like a fresh lager from Sydney’s Modus Operandi, or a tart, light Boatrocker Berliner Weisse, pink from raspberries and tasting almost kombucha-like. We’re feeling better already.
Given the divey, cobbled-together feel of the place, with its mélange of disco lights, wooden venetians, floppy pot plants and bolted spinny stools (from a previous life in front of the pokies at Brunswick RSL), you’d be forgiven for low expectations for the pizzas. But there’s wood-fired pedigree here – co-owner Ioreth Tudor also opened Lazerpig and A Boy Named Sue – which explains the steady stream of pick up orders for their puffy-edged, blistered, not-quite-Neapolitan pies.
With a kiss of extra time in the oven crusts get a little crunchy while staying fluffy inside, and cardboard-thin slices have just enough structural integrity to keep toppings aboard. There's a lush spread of porcini and brown mushrooms over confit garlic and globs of truffle cream – a final shower of lemony red sorrel reels the richness in. A garlic, mozzarella, honey and rosemary number turns out to be even more deliciously pungent than predicted, topped with bitey cloves of sous-vide garlic that blast through your airways. Even a well-intended side salad is high amplitude, comprised of chargrilled baby cos hearts lavished with smoky, savoury anchovy mayo and blanketed by a thick snowfall of parmesan.
Finish the evening with pizza’s best friend, wine. A moderately priced list of roughly twenty solid picks doesn’t try too hard to provoke – you could go for one of a handful of new minimal intervention drops or be equally pleased by a 2006 Yarra chardy with a tight mineral finish.
Wolf and Swill already feels like part of the local fabric. It’s got a freewheeling spirit that belies its newcomer status, the kind of place where it feels totally normal to swap slices with table neighbours, bring your dog, and chatter under a playlist constructed by staff flicking through crates of vinyls in spare moments. Our only complaint is that we wish we could stay longer –all night even – but without a lucky spot on the sidewalk trestles, the stifling heat inside precipitates a premature exit. This cracking new bar’s first piece of holiday homework is to work on ventilation, because once that’s done, it’s looking like a straight-A summer.