The Rockpool Group's loss is Collingwood's gain as two of the group's star Melbourne sommeliers, David Lawler (Rockpool Bar & Grill, Spice Temple, Rosetta) and Tim Sacklin (Rosetta), prepare to open their own business, a wine bar-bottleshop called Comptoir this September.
"We only started talking about this about a year and a half ago," says Lawler, who is leaving Neil Perry's restaurant group this month after a 10-year stint. "But both of us had been thinking independently of life after Rockpool and when we had a conversation we realised that our ideas of what we wanted to do were closely aligned."
The ideas were for a place where the two sommeliers could continue sharing their knowledge of wine but in a more hands-on way, something that they realised would only happen in a smaller venue.
"Being at Rockpool has been an amazing experience but because of the nature of my role there, overseeing three wine lists and different styles of service, there were few opportunities for me to talk directly to the customers, which to me is the cherry on top of the sommelier craft," says Lawler.
Comptoir (counter or bar in French) should give him and Sacklin ample opportunity to hit that sweet spot. The place will only seat about 40 people, including on an outside terrace, and the wine list/bottleshop will be kept to a compact 200 to 300 lines. Food will be limited to one hot dish and a small selection of cheese, salumi, olives, anchovies and the like.
"Everything will be there for a reason," says Lawler.
That everything will not include much in the way of natural wine. Lawler says that he's "copped a reputation" for not celebrating natural wines but is happy not to be "hemmed in by a dogma at the expense of giving people a good glass of wine".
"I've worked with some natural wines and think that some of them do work in a gastronomic setting," he says. "But just as other bars have their focus, Tim and I want this bar to have its own ethos, focused on the classic and where conventional is not a dirty word."
Given the sommelier firepower on display (together they've clocked up about 40 years), there's little chance that the list will disappoint, natural wine or not.
Comptoir is expected to open mid-October (updated from early September).
Comptoir, 60 Stanley St, Collingwood. Open daily 10am-11pm.