Melbourne has a long affinity with wine bars. Stalwarts like Jimmy Watson's and the Florentino Cellar Bar have been around for close to a century and the city's wine bar culture has been evolving ever since. The latest evolution, of which North Fitzroy's Public Wine Shop is a prime example, is particularly exciting. Small, owner-operated and tightly focused, this new generation of wine bar-bottle shop hybrids has a magpie sensibility, grafting European and Japanese bar tropes onto a casual Australian attitude. The style might be relaxed and casual but the foundations are solid with experience and expertise with food lists as tightly considered as the booze.
Looking at Public Wine Shop's cast list, it's not hard to imagine having a good time, whether you've come to eat and drink at the 20-seat timber communal table at the centre of the single-fronted shopfront or to shop for something interesting to take to a dinner party. PWS is owned by Campbell Burton, former sommelier at The Builders Arms, and his wife Charlotte Ryan, who started a wine wholesaling business focused on minimal intervention wine from near and far before they expanded the idea to this bricks-and-mortar incarnation. They've teamed up with Ali Currey-Voumard, former head chef at Tasmania's The Agrarian Kitchen, whose dedication to regional and seasonal cooking is fully committed and often brilliant.
Currey-Voumard has a particular talent for making minimal ingredients speak volumes. She might lightly pickle gorgeous asparagus spears and team them with a pitch-perfect gribiche sauce, the boiled egg silky, the capers adding small explosions of acid and salt. Briny Sydney rock oysters might be teamed with pickled chilli and lemon or chewy crostini stacked with half an artichoke, onions and olives. Calamari arrives in a tomatoey stew with chickpeas and bottarga while immensely flavoured poached ox tongue is teamed with lentils and red mustard. The menu is compact so it's not a stretch – and is highly recommended – to eat the lot.
Burton's drinks list is equally scintillating. His long experience with natural wine has the shelves and fridges stacked with excellent, well-made additive-free wines from across the world, whether you're talking a grenache-shiraz blend from the Adelaide Hills, a sparkling xarel-lo/parellada beauty from Spain or a glorious Loire Valley chenin blanc from Julien Prevel. There's a by-the-glass list but browse the shelves and chat with the well-versed staff (and owners) for the optimum PWS experience.
Sitting at the communal table, surrounded by wine you're going to drink and food you're going to eat (the kitchen is part of the room) while being beautifully looked after makes for a homely, comforting and enriching experience. Viva la evolution.