The Gods of the Grape
Claim to fame: The perfect hybrid of London and Melbourne wine bar styles
Reason to go: Great times augmented by outstanding juice and deftly plated food
To look out for: Ganevat by the glass
Didier Grappe Cotes du Jura Les Insouciantes. Agnes and René Mosse Majic of Juju. Suriol cava. Denavolo Catavela. And a whole host of other wines from the Loire, Languedoc and further hotbeds of the natural wine movement. Clearly we’re in some back-alley in East London, lolling by the Canal Saint-Martin or perhaps wandering along Ved Stranden in Copenhagen. But wait a minute: isn’t that chardonnay grown at Nagambie Lakes? Isn’t that a Gentle Folk Pink Fizz? And what’s that Bobar syrah doing there? No, we’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto – we’re in the central business district of Melbourne, and the central business here at Embla is artisanal wine.
It’s a collaboration between, among others, Christian McCabe and Dave Verheul, sommelier and chef, and co-owners of beloved local restaurant The Town Mouse, and Eric Narioo, a founder of such landmark London wine bars as Terroirs, Soif and Brawn. McCabe is a hospitality natural, and his easy charm sets the tone on the floor for Embla’s team of brilliant waiters. Narioo, a giant on the natural wine scene, keeps Embla’s cellar on the cutting edge, even by Melbourne’s best standards. And Verheul more than keeps the pace, producing plates that are wine-friendly but by no means have the character designed out of them.
While some of his creations at The Town Mouse over the years have been occasionally more baroque, at Embla he frequently works the “three good things on a plate” approach to winning effect. That might be castelfranco (radicchio’s prettier little sister) scented with bergamot and scattered with pumpkin seed, or Stracciatella paired with camomile and fennel to cut the richness of the cheese.
Fermented tomato brings unexpected funk to smoked ocean trout rillettes. The tang of soured buttermilk is played off the forest-floor musk of pine mushrooms. And the tiny bites are elegant in their restraint: crisps of toast layered with Cantabrian anchovies and rings of pickled onion. Pickled mussels with rouille.
Place your faith in the staff. Say yes to any and all wine recommendations. Order snacks with impunity. Drink deep of Embla and walk away taller, lighter and happier for the experience.