Current Issue #488

Restaurant Review:
Leigh Street Wine Room

Sia Duff

As its name suggests, this west end laundromat turned small bar takes its vino seriously – but the food holds its own too.

In the seven years since the introduction of the small venue licence, Adelaide’s alleys and side streets have become crowded with speakeasies and dives inspired by everything from alpine chalets to Harry Potter. But a newer addition has a more subtle approach. Welcome to Leigh Street Wine Room, the wine bar masquerading as a restaurant.

If the venue’s name doesn’t make it suitably clear, the focus is obvious on entering. The long, narrow bar sits under an elegant arched ceiling, and the wall behind it is lined with hundreds of wine bottles. The first page of the drinks list is labelled “not wine”. After that it’s minimal intervention drops as far as the eye can see.

My eye is immediately drawn to the Maenad, and not just because it fits the Dionysian theme. This skin contact savagnin chardonnay brings together two of Adelaide’s great minimal intervention advocates in James Madden (Scintilla) and Jay Marinis (Son Of Dot) and promises to be the perfect pre-dinner drop. The sharp acidity means that each sip is like biting into a grapefruit. By the time the first dishes arrive, I’m salivating.

The menu ranges from bar snacks to substantial meals and we begin with the Jerusalem artichoke, which arrives as a mound of perfectly fried morsels. Each knob releases a cloud of steam as I bite into it, the crispy exterior giving way to creamy flesh with a rich, nutty flavour. Add in the lemon aioli and there’s an upscale fish and chip vibe that’s accentuated by the crumpled paper on which the dish is served.

Next to it, a burrata is splayed out on a dish surrounded by radicchio jam that hints at both bitter and sweet. The low lighting in the bar means that I don’t get to enjoy the full visual appeal of the dish, but it does make the dining experience intimate, even seated at the bar. The acoustic tiles lining each wall also play their part, meaning there’s a low hum of conversation and mid-90s hip-hop that allows for easy conversation.

Looking to order another glass, I browse the wine list, which is extensive without being intimidating. Reds and whites are grouped into categories like Lighter (“bright and vibrant, to invigorate”), Medium (“textural and structured, to contemplate”) and Fuller (“round and plush, to alleviate”).

The Foradori Teroldego falls into the middle category, and when I ask the waiter for some more information he starts telling me about the rarely used grape before digressing into a story about the owner of the family-run winery in Northern Italy. Rich and fruity without being overpowering, the wine hints at the minerality and wild berries of the Tyrolean Alps, and sits nicely alongside the house-cured meats that soon arrive.

Sia Duff

Even in the dim lighting I can see the vast contrast in colour between rosettes of deep red wagyu bresaola and pale salami alongside more traditional pork capocollo and mortadella. Thick slices of fennel and white wine sausage are nestled in this Jenga tower that feels like it will unravel with each piece taken. And yet somehow it holds, bound by the same imperceptible force that keeps the slices of rich, fatty wagyu salami from falling apart. The large serving would be ample for four people but the same can’t be said of the kitchen, which can barely fit two. It only makes it more noteworthy that everything is cured onsite.

The next dish to arrive is perhaps the greatest beneficiary of this attention to detail. The tongue is hung for three days, cooked sous vide and finished on a charcoal grill. Then, thinly sliced ribbons are packed onto a single skewer and topped with anchovy salsa verde and grated horseradish. Rich, sweet and slightly charred, it’s the kind of perfectly balanced dish kitchens strive to create. And that’s before coming to the texture; the meat is so soft that chewing seems almost superfluous, and it benefits from every second of the preparation.

As the meal reaches the business end, the food grows increasingly rich. Ordering as we go rather than in advance proves a shrewd tactic, and I scale back my ambitions slightly. But I can’t go past the gratin; paper thin slices of potato are interspersed with sweet red cabbage and gruyere in a dish that proves comfort food can be seriously elegant. Even more hearty is the Tuscan pork sausage (made in house, of course) and cannellini beans sitting in a broth that holds a rich, smoky flavour. The sausage is cut into thick slices so that it’s easy to share, as almost every dish is.

Leigh Street Wine Room lends itself to an informal, extended dining experience that was matched by a walk-ins only policy when it first opened. In the era of COVID-19 restrictions, there’s a new emphasis on pre-bookings (with $100 minimum spends) for the all-important Friday and Saturday nights’ trading. But, as the second seating finishes up, several groups wander in from elsewhere on Leigh Street for a post-dinner drink or post-work snack, a reminder of the venue’s true nature as a winebar that just happens to have restaurant quality service.

Like the meal’s highlight, the Leigh Street Wine Room is elegant without being fussy, and the effortless appearance belies the great deal of thought behind it. By offering the best of both worlds, this small bar with big ideas heralds another phase in Adelaide’s evolving dining scene.

Leigh Street Wine Room
9 Leigh St, Adelaide

Sia Duff
Sia Duff

Alexis Buxton-Collins

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