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“It could easily have been a dog’s breakfast. Three owners of a venerable independent bottle shop (Philip Rich, Michael McNamara, Alex Wilcox of Prince Wine Store) decide to open a wine bar next door to their successful business despite having minimal hospitality experience. They invite the owner-chef of a small Fitzroy wine bar (Brigitte Hafner of Gertrude Street Enoteca) to consult on the food and the owner of a singular neighbourhood bar in Carlton North (Gerald Diffey of Gerald’s Bar) to give them a hand with the décor. They then plonk all these elements together in a starkly modern two-storey concrete box crouching behind an original Victorian terrace façade in South Melbourne and throw open the doors.
That Bellota, the result of all this Frankensteinian patching together of assorted elements, has emerged with only the occasional dropped stitch or loose thread is marvellous in the true sense of that word. The marvel is not so much because all the players involved here have come up with the goods (their track records speak loudly for themselves) but that the whole has so emphatically delivered on the promise of the sum of its parts. Even better, it’s done so in a refreshingly reserved and modest way. Far from feeling like the latest glitzy star in the Melbourne dining firmament, Bellota feels like it’s been around – and could be around – forever.
Much of this appealingly calm and experienced vibe comes from the ease with which the food and the wine sit together. Prince Wine Store has a hefty, somewhat intimidating cellar of 3,500-plus labels riddled with benchmarks just through the glass doors linking Bellota and bottle shop, all available for consumption in the wine bar ($15 corkage on bottles under $80, corkage waived after that) it would be easy for a kitchen to get stage fright. But Hafner (a regular Gourmet Traveller contributor) and Stephanie Britton, her former head chef at Gertrude Street who now fronts the stoves at Bellota, hold their nerve.
Understanding that restraint, simplicity and well-pedigreed ingredients are the best response when faced with a deep lake of good booze, they deliver a menu bursting with great wine-friendly Euro bistro flavours that neither scare nor bore the horses, instead keeping them both interested and willing to hand over $30 for a glass of 2011 Giaconda chardonnay or $18 for a 2010 Domaine Coursodon Saint Joseph.”
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