159 Spring Street
Melbourne, VIC 3000
Everyone knows The European, the quintessential, well, European restaurant and wine bar. Slightly less well known is City Wine Shop right next door, set back into an alcove with nothing but a small sign proclaiming ‘bottle shop’ to give it away.
But City Wine Shop is no slouch. With its food coming directly from the kitchen of The European, this little wine bar boasts a selection of nibbles, an impressive rotating menu scrawled onto a blackboard, and of course an extensive selection of wines.
I found service to be a little confusing, as I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to find my own spot, or wait for someone to seat me. But that’s understandable enough, as every other person through the door was only there to pick up a good bottle of red to take home with them.
Out of those who choose to stay however, you’ll find everyone from businesspeople typing on their laptops, softened by a glass of wine, to old friends catching up over a long dinner after a lengthy absence.
Listed under Wine Food is a tantalising platter of Charcuterie with Rillettes and Terrine ($15.5). Served with a side of crusty sourdough, this was everything delicious that has ever been pickled, smoked, and preserved. My favourite was the truffued salumi, the rich sausage underscored with a fragrant hint of earthiness; following in at close second was the terrine, the savoury combination of rabbit and duck studded with peppercorns. But that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the lean corned venison, the smooth pork rillette, or the thin slices of lardo, aka spiced pork fat.
I don’t have pasta a whole lot, so when I get a plate of Spaghetti and Meatballs with Parmesan ($22), it’s a big deal. And you know what? The combination of massive chunky meatballs and thick strands of al dente spaghetti, tossed in a rich tomato sugo with waxy shavings of parmesan on top, is just about the best thing in existence. It was the best bowl of comfort-pasta I’ve ever had – good enough even to rival the spaghetti of The Lady and the Tramp.
It just doesn’t seem very Italian to skip dessert, so we finished the meal with a slice of Lemon Tart with Clotted Cream ($8). I was duly impressed by the balance of sweet, tangy, and creamy in the custard, and the pastry was short without being overwhelmingly buttery. Topping it all off was a scoop of cool, thick cream flecked with vanilla bean.
It’s hard not to like City Wine Shop. With such a good combination of charm and warmth, it’ll draw you (or at least me) back time after time. Even the tuna nicoise at the next table looked like a wonder, and I was all about the spaghetti meatballs. I was amazed at how affordable our bill ended up being, and I’m looking forward to al fresco dinners on balmy summer evenings to come.
Rating: 15/20 – wonderfully classic.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.