Restaurant News

Coming soon: a Melbourne small wine bar with an even smaller kitchen, and one of the country’s best chefs

After shuttling back and forth between the mainland and Tasmania, chef Ali Currey-Voumard is keeping things simple at Public Wine Shop.

By Yvonne C Lam
Public Wine Shop co-owner Campbell Burton and chef Ali Currey-Voumard.
She's been to Melbourne, back home, then to Melbourne again. Hobart-born chef Ali Currey-Voumard – Gourmet Traveller's 2019 Best New Talent – knows the art of the hustle and the shuttle. As a teenager she talked her way into the kitchen at Tasmania's Agrarian Kitchen Eatery before moving back and forth between the mainland and the island state to work at any number of celebrated restaurants: Melbourne's Moon Under Water and Builders Arms Hotel, Franklin in Hobart and The Summertown Aristologist in South Australia's wine country.
Her last gig was pouring beers at pub and Hobart hospitality hang-out Tom McHugo's. "A lot of restaurants closed [during lockdown] and it was impossible to get a job. They basically employed everyone in Hobart," she says.
But back to the mainland, and more specifically Fitzroy North in Melbourne's inner-north suburbs where vino virtuoso Campbell Burton and his wife Charlotte Ryan are setting up Public Wine Shop. It was a pop-up retail space in November but come July it'll reopen with a permanent wine shop, wine bar and mini-eatery too.
"Cam is extremely high-energy – it's very intoxicating and contagious," says Currey-Voumard of her friend and former Moon Under Water colleague. "I just called him and said, 'Are you guys just a wine shop, or are you putting a kitchen in there? Because if so, I'd like to come in and cook.'"
It's a cosy fit. There's a communal table for 20 customers to drink and dine; Burton says they're aiming for a "living-room feel" to the space. Wines will be of the organic, additive-free variety of which Burton is renowned through his eponymous wholesale wine business, and as the co-founder of Soulfor Wines festival. Pick up a bottle of mineral-y 2019 Sylvain Martinez Goutte d'O chenin blanc from Anjou in the Loire Valley ("One of our favourite wines of the year," says Burton); or a 2020 Scintilla More Than White macerated pinot grigio from Adelaide Hills – "[There's] a lovely mix of fruit and earth and plenty of freshness and minerality." Drink them in-store for a $25 corkage fee; an ever-changing selection of wines will be available by the glass too, if that's more your thing.
At the galley kitchen – well, a kitchenette, really – you'll find Currey-Voumard armed with nothing more than a plug-in oven, a toaster grill and an induction stove, turning out a menu that leans towards Italian and French flavours, is local in produce, and wine-friendly in nature. Vitello tonnato or beef carpaccio, perhaps; grilled red mullet with mayonnaise and dressed sorrel, or Le Saupiquet des Amognes – ham boiled with celery and juniper berries, served in a piquant cream sauce with potatoes and greens. She'll make some of her own cheese; goat's cheese, for starters. Purple sprouting broccoli are looking good right now; they'll likely be plated up with some Bleu d'Auvergne.
There's desserts too. "Fruit-based ice creams, or granita and cream. Maybe a chocolate bavarois," she says. "But only ever one at a time, I should think."
The plan is to be in the kitchen five days a week. On her days off, there'll be snacky things – anchovies, terrines, charcuterie – to nibble on.
She credits a six-month summer job at Le Saint Eutrope in Clermont-Ferrand, France, and its chef-owner Harry Lester for showing her how to strip food right back and celebrate its bare-bones simplicity. "Harry's only reason for cooking was for customers to think it was delicious," says Currey-Voumard. "He would never fuck around with anything and make anything more than needed to be done."
It's the type of cooking that's always resonated with Currey-Voumard. But during her tenure at The Agrarian, and under increasing attention from media and diners, there was pressure to gussy up the menu to justify the restaurant's accolades.
"It was so easy to get carried away and tweak things, or add and build flavour, or even to get fearful as to whether people will feel they're being cheated by the simple nature of the food. As we received media recognition, it became even more difficult to keep things really pared back," she says. "That's not to say I think there was anything wrong with the way we were cooking at Agrarian, and I think the way Stephen [Peak] and the team are cooking there now is phenomenal."
At Public Wine Shop the workbench might be small, but it's exactly where she wants to be. "What's really exciting to me is to keep things as underworked as possible," she says. No bells and whistles. No airs and graces. Just simple, unadulterated food. It's home.
Public Wine Shop retail is set to open on Tuesday 29 June.
Wine bar and food service will commence in mid-July.
179 St Georges Rd, Fitzroy North, Vic
publicwineshop.com.au
Open seven days, noon-11pm for retail sales, wine bar and snacks (wine bar and snacks available from mid-July).
Full food service available Thu–Sat evenings, Sun lunch, Mon evening (from mid-July).