Since 2014, as Sydney's lockout laws steadily dismantled the city's traditional nightlife, its small bars have become increasingly vital. When two of them, 10 William St and Love, Tilly Devine, wine bars both, opened in the summer of 2011 on the back of changes to the state's licensing laws, they were symbols of a growing movement: places run by good hospitality folk with an interest in interesting things to drink and eat in settings more about buzz and energy than formality or pretence. Looking back, it's hard to imagine the city without them. Looking ahead, new talents are deepening their appeal.
At 10 William St, the food has always been a draw as much as the wine. For the vine-dedicated there's the chance to get lost in a deep list of minimal-intervention wines from Italy (organic sangiovese from makers Pacina in Tuscany, for example) and bottles from people doing exciting, preservative-free things at home and further afield. But waiting in the street out front, jostling for space between the tiny tables, and swiping the seeded pretzel through the whipped bottarga dip has become as much a necessity as ordering a glass of something fresh and juicy from the chalkboard.
10 William has also been a draw for talent keen to blur the line between Italian and whatever else they're into: think Dan Pepperell pre-Hubert, Luke Burgess post-Garagistes or Pinbone between pop-ups. The chef for the past few years has been Enrico Tomelleri, who kept a little closer to Italy. But as his focus shifted to developing the next venue for owners Marco Ambrosino and brothers Enrico and Giovanni Paradiso (who also own Fratelli Paradiso), the chance for someone new to jump in beckoned.
Trisha Greentree is that someone. She has a wealth of experience, but her most formative move was joining Dan Hunter at Brae in Birregurra. There, she dug the garden every day, learning about seasons, seeds and growing cycles. There's no garden behind William Street, but Greentree has made a point of befriending local growers and producers, and making their produce the defining factor of her menus.
Take the snacks. A single steamed baby zucchini from Sift Produce, say, dressed in brown-butter vinaigrette, its flower filled with just-set spanner crab mousse, the zucchini softened to the bite. Or white corn from Boon Luck Farm near Byron Bay under a grating of cured egg yolk and lime. Plant-forward, with flourish.
A caponata made with three or four eggplant charred, cut down to the stem, fanned out, and topped with a crumble of breadcrumbs, green olives and capsicum continues the theme, while stracciatella from Vannella in Marrickville, spread with anchovies and blackened spigarello leaves – sweet like broccoli after a frost, bitter like dark green kale – lets good produce shine.
Extra al dente pasta is part of the brief here, but the spaghetti alla chitarra, handsomely coiled with prawn and cherry tomatoes and tossed with a buttery, prawny sauce, is very extra. Consistently nailing the timing is the next step.
The ragù of veal and pork, however, underscored by pumpkin purée, reined in with radicchio and served with properly al dente maltagliati, hits the sweet spot. And there's more stracciatella on top. Winner.
Yes, there's still tiramisù, but for a clip of Greentree and 10 William St in one bowl, order the flan. The set custard, rich without being eggy, nods at her Filipino heritage, while an orange syrup seasoned with limited-run Partida Creus vermouth from Catalonia taps into the bar's love of both Spritzes and off-track drinks. Bitter, sweet, and one to savour.
Over at Love, Tilly Devine, Michael West riffs on his heritage with dessert, too. At least if his childhood was one in which Yogo featured heavily. The chocolatey snack inspired the single sweet thing on the menu, for which custard is poured over chocolate, left to set soft, then spooned over crunchy pepitas seasoned with sugar and salt and splashed with Fernet-Branca.
LTD leans more to wine than food, and owner Matt Swieboda has always kept a list of low-intervention, local bottles. He, and business partner Nathanial Hatwell (who also runs Dear Sainte Éloise), must be thrilled the trend has caught up. There's a range from organic vintners Manon in Adelaide Hills, bright pét-nat from Little Things and riesling from Koerner by the glass, plus a whole section of lighter reds. A clutch of internationals play off the locals.
It's more lo-fi here: distressed brick, even tinier furniture, windows fronting a back alley. West will often be alone in the nook that passes for a kitchen, and picking a day when he's there, rather than working the floor as he sometimes does, shows the menu in its best light.
Like Greentree, he's been getting to know the locals. He, too, uses Feather and Bone for meat, Vannella for cheese, and nearby growers for vegetables. But if there's a theme, it's Iggy's bread.
It's toasted and crumbled over fiori pasta tossed with sweet potato and burnt chilli, served fresh with olive oil, sliced thin, salted and crisped to go with tartare. Toasted, it forms the base of his headline snack, where it's spread with butter and a paste of soy and shio kombu before being dredged with parmesan. Crunch, umami, and a chance to dab up drips with the crust.
Why serve plain boiled zucchini with the burrata though? It's better a week later, replaced with pickled green tomatoes, sliced thin and flavoured with coriander seeds and dill. It's the acid the dish needs, and makes for good mopping with Iggy's.
West might have nicked the tartare from the time he worked at Clown Bar in Paris, but if he did its because he wants you to taste the beef, not the dressing. He uses topside, a cut with plenty of flavour, and dresses it lightly with soy, lemon and roasted hazelnuts, letting the crisps season it. Good sense and good snacking.
Two young chefs. Two established venues. Space to grow and experiment. These are jobs held by people destined for even bigger and better things. Catch them soon. Catch them often.