Update: The Dolphin Hotel has launched a retail arm in the form of an in-house bottle-O and providore, open Wednesday through Sunday from noon until 10pm. There’s a serious selection of natural wines from producers such as Radikon and Shobbrook, as well as what wine director James Hird describes as “rare B-sides” including back vintages. Don’t be intimidated: there are plenty of bottles around the $20 mark that pair well with a bowl of pasta or a meat pie, according to the tasting notes. The store will also stock pastas, sauces, cheese, charcuterie, freshly made focaccias, finish-at-home meals and other groceries.
Venue definitions have gotten very squiggly. Old watering holes are now fine-dining restaurants that still have a public bar with beers on tap; restaurants have opened great bars inside their venues so that you can just pop in for a drink; and bars are installing amazing kitchens so that you’ll stay for dinner. One of the best examples of these shifting boundaries was the redux Dolphin Hotel. Under the watchful eye of Maurice Terzini (Icebergs Dining Room and Bar), it transformed from a league’n’lager pub into a casual fashion party with an Italian dining room and an exciting new wine bar all inside its walls.
The Dolphin Wine Room is a long, narrow slice of the venue and once you tuck yourself into one of the tables along the wall or up at the bar, prepare to go home with an empty wallet and full to bursting with vinous delights. This is the kind of place that can turn your whole understanding of wine upside down by pouring you a Chilean skin-contact muscat that’s as savoury as an antipasto board.
Behind the bar is a wall of fridges with small doors so that it resembles a 16-day advent calendar, but instead of shit chocolate you get a whole lot of crazy, interesting, fun and smashable wine. A glass of the Latta Vino pinot noir looks like mulberry suede and is juicy, fresh and dangerously easy to drink. And you should definitely order the Lucky You French sauv blanc. It’s nothing like those acidic, citrusy New Zealand versions – this one is gentle but made with 20 per cent whole bunch grapes to give it just a little grip. The result is soft, elegant and easy.
At the end of the bar is the salumi cabinet, and no visit is complete without a plate of sweet, nutty salami, spiked with black pepper. The daily bruschetta on our visit is juicy ripe tomatoes that carry the flavour of the summer sun with them, mixed with an airy goats cheese and seaweed sprinkles for a savoury anchor.