If Barrafina was the embodiment of modern, Spanish-influenced cuisine, The Wolf Wine Bar is its younger, wine-loving Italian cousin who recently moved in down the road. And I mean literally down the road; though The Wolf is far enough to separate it from its Barrafina and Contrabando relatives, it’s close enough to contemplate the possibility (and possible hilarity) of Executive Chef, Peter Varvaresso, running up and down the street in between venues, when needed.
The family resemblance can chiefly be seen in the common elements of The Wolf’s clean-lined decor, which fuse modern design sensibilities with a touch of rustic. It shares Barrafina’s relaxed, slightly moody but sophisticated vibe; this is a place to kick back with a glass and a snack after a long day of work at 7PM (or, considering the nature of its locale, enjoy your dinner break before getting back to work).
As its name would suggest, The Wolf Wine Bar prides itself on its ever-changing international wine list, which is curated by Varvaresso and Sommelier, Gloria Grecco.
“We want to find a good taste and give the customers something different,” Gloria tells us, as she takes us through the current wines on offer and talks enthusiastically about a Chilean wine they’re bringing in next week.
Though The Wolf started with the intention of primarily being a wine bar, the quality of food has drawn its own audience, as well as increased its popularity as a business function destination. You can definitely see more Italian influences in the menu, though there are also a handful of Greek and Spanish-influenced dishes, and even one or two familiar Barrafina favourites. Many of the plates are designed to be shared, so this is a good place to visit with a larger group, though you may have to puzzle your way through fitting all the dishes on one table.
We started with the mud crab, broad bean and celery mayonnaise with crostini ($16) small plate. I’m a huge fan of celery flavours as a counterpoint to creamy, mayonnaise-based salads that are liberal with onions, so I loved its appearance in this salad, and I also enjoyed the dense, natural sweetness of the broad beans. For its price point, I would have loved to see some more mud crab, as we only found a subtle suggestion of crab flavours in the sauce.
The duck cigars with sumac yoghurt ($10) is a very moreish dish – the sort of food you can definitely eat by dozen if you’re not careful. I was initially expecting the filling to be cuts of roasted duck, but it’s actually duck mince wrapped in a spring roll pastry. The mince filling doesn’t retain much of the natural umami of duck meat, though it is smoky and slightly sweet, with bits of sweet corn inside, and has a leaner texture than beef mince. The sumac yoghurt introduces a refreshing, slightly minty note of sourness to counteract the meaty flavours of the cigar.
The baked new season figs, prosciutto di parma, Italian blue cheese ($15) unites a trio of strong flavours and textures: the sweet, mushy texture of the figs, the tough saltiness of the prosciutto, held together by the melted, pungent bite of blue cheese. The bitterness of the rocket salad, as well as being a dream combination with prosciutto, is essential to balancing out the flavour explosion. For my predominantly Asian palate, this was perhaps a bit too much of an acquired taste and texture, but if you’re a fan of figs or blue cheese, the dish is designed to reward you.
We paired these small plates with two white wines, the Italian ’14 Tieffenbrunner Pinot Grigio and the ’14 William Fevre Petit Chablis. While both were quite crisp, I preferred the Chablis, which was lighter and easier to drink, with a tangy, sharper flavour.
The crisp pork belly, seared scallops and roast carrot puree ($22) has all the makings of a star dish, from its delicate presentation to the well-balanced combination of its peppery sauce and naturally sweet carrot puree. The cut of pork belly had a good distribution of meat and fat and was all cooked extremely well to minimise the richness and maximise the melt-in-your-mouth tenderness of the meat. Unfortunately, our scallop was overcooked (a pity, considering the amazing scallop I had at Barrafina), and the crackling was a bit too tough, in relation to the rest of the pork. Perfect those two elements, however, and you will have something incredible.
The braised lamb, burnt eggplant, feta, olives and mint ($22) brings The Wolf a little closer to the Spanish side of its culinary influences, particularly with relish and the essential burst of flavour from the olives. The lamb slices themselves were quite chewy and very lightly seasoned, intended to add a solid textural element rather than dominate the dish. You also have the slightly minty acidity in the feta dip to introduce additional flavour combinations.
We washed the mains down with a Massale pinot noir, which, with its smooth texture and slightly woody taste, was a great complement to the meat, and the Alamos Malbec Argentinian, which had a slightly fruitier flavour and a crisp bite. For the designated drivers or non-drinkers, The Wolf also does a selection of mocktails. My Virgin Mojito needed a touch more lime but, otherwise, was a reliable, refreshing alternative.
If the churros are anything to go by, The Wolf Wine Bar’s newly introduced dessert menu should be very promising. Beautifully presented as a medallion and served with a scoop of caramel ice-cream (with crunchy toffee bits), it’s chewy warmth inside, encased with a perfectly crispy, sugar-and-cinnamon-dusted skin. It is quite sweet though, so if you don’t want to overload your dessert stomach, it may be worth sharing with your dining companion.
I’m inclined to give The Wolf a little more time to iron out a few kinks, considering its young age, but it looks, in essence, to be a solid addition to the Barrafina-Contrabando lineup. At the time of our visit, The Wolf was gearing up to launch its fine dining pizza and dessert menu so, by now, these dishes should have settled in and are ready to be tested.
Get on it.
The Wolf Wine Bar
37 Blight St, Sydney
Phone: (02) 9235 1161
Web: The Wolf Wine Bar
I Ate My Way Through dined as guests of The Wolf Wine Bar.