It's strange to think that not long ago, Sydney barely had wine bars. Before a 2008 liquor law change allowed small bars to flourish, you had to go to Melbourne to perch on a Bentwood chair and sip boutique vermentino while nibbling a snack. Today, this style of eating and drinking feels as Sydney as an Anzac Bridge traffic jam or a wardrobe of activewear.
Once they appeared, our appetite for European-style bars seemed limitless. Which is why, when I visit Paski Vineria Popolere, which sits over two storeys on Oxford Street, the ubiquitous Bentwood chairs (and bar stools and banquettes) are overflowing. It's buzzy to the point of clamour and the staff are parkour-ing around the closely packed tables – and each other.
Downstairs is walk-ins only, with a blackboard menu that focuses on small plates, along with a daily pasta and secondi. The bookable upstairs – Paski Sopra ("sopra" is "upstairs", of course) – is more of a restaurant set-up and the team's impeccable wine and food cred (it's the handiwork of wine importer and Rootstock co-founder Giorgio de Maria, Vino Mito's Mattia Dicati and 10 William St chef Enrico Tomelleri) is strong insurance of a good time.
Upstairs at Sopra we dive into the fairly clipped, all-Italian by-the-glass list – a gorgeous, blush-coloured sparkling from the northern Emilia-Romagna region and a bombastic white from Sicily. The rest of the list is vast and creative – and if you don't want a whole bottle onsite you can pick one up from 450-plus options downstairs to take home.
Our food takes a little while to rev up its engines: a mystery menu item that reads simply "pappala" turns out to be a cross between baccala (salt cod) and pappa al pomodoro. A muscular rather than dainty kingfish crudo is more fun, punching out strong hits of olives, capers and lemon myrtle.
The pasta, though, is when the food really starts to match the vibrancy of the atmosphere. A classic spaghetti ai frutti di mare, a dish that can easily fall victim to wateriness, packs savoury flavour into every slippery strand. And then the crescendo – the fusilli al ragù di cortile, a version of which has appeared on 10 William St menus over the years. "Cortile" means courtyard or barnyard, and this rustic dish gets its name from the idea of a farmer scouting around for whichever animals look tastiest that day and popping them in the pot. This one is made with guanciale, rooster and duck liver and it's rich and robust and wonderful.
A shared affogato rounds things off, keeping our buzz in tune with the room to the end.If you live in Sydney, chances are you've already snagged your favourite wine bar. Paski proves your dance card should always have room for one more.