MELBOURNE | Lilac Wine is a wine bar in Cremorne, recently opened by Nathan Toleman (Mulberry Group – Hazel, Dessous, Liminal). Nathan named the bar after a Jeff Buckley song from 1994, which brings back fond memories for him. It’s housed in an old brick workshop in the neighbourhood’s backstreets, with a simple fitout. Exposed brick, large paned glass windows, and some rugs, greenery, and wooden finishes to cosy up the place.
There’s a long bar with ample seating for walk ins and an impromptu wine and snack, along with tables and seats which you can book if you’ve thought ahead. There’s a few plush couches at the front, and a small courtyard out back. The space has a great feel, with a view looking up to the rail tracks and passing trains behind the restaurant adding to the trendy, inner city feel.
Lilac is a venue that’s very ‘now’. A wine bar where the food is as much of a star as the drinks list, where you can have a full meal if you like. A focus on fresh, seasonal produce, foraged and native ingredients, cooked over fire, and minimal intervention wines.
Michelin star-trained head chef Kyle Nicol’s menu takes cues from classic French bistro dishes, with a distinctly Australian influence. There’s a minimal waste philosophy, with offal and offcuts used in ways that are obvious, and less so. Beef hearts are smoked, sliced thinly and served with grilled greens, are a highlight. Order the “savoury mince on toast”, toasted brioche topped with a mince made from beef-and chicken-heart offcuts, topped with koji garam, and fresh horseradish, and you won’t even realise you’re eating offal.
Look to the kitchen pass, and you’ll see jars filled with all sorts of wonderful things. Fish heads in one jar, ferment into a vinegar which is used, amongst other things, in the savoury mince on toast.
Other dishes include things like cheese and charcuterie plates, all made in house; a black garlic, miso and honey glazed, chicken liver mousse filled éclair; and fish of the day, served whole with citrus butter and chives. It’s all very tasty.
To drink, sommelier Richard Buck (ex Aru) has put together a diverse, interesting list of around 150 wines featuring selections from small Australian and international producers. I enjoyed a funky orange from Chile, followed by a lovely Chablis. Sake lover and venue manager Charlotte Martin (ex Shobosho) has selected an interesting selection of interesting Japanese sake to pair with the food, and there’s also beer and a short list of house cocktails.
Keep an eye out for the special Sunday sessions that Lilac holds, where the open up magnums of interesting wines that you can try by the glass, along with experimental and work-in-progress special dishes that you won’t find on the regular menu.
31 Stephenson Street
Sun, Tue – Thu: 5:30pm to 10:00pm
Fri – Sat: 5:30pm to 11:30pm