Carlton Wine Room

Posted on October 11, 2011

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Despite being a novice wine drinker at best, I am strangely fond of wine bars. Not so much for the wine aspect as would be the usual case, but for the atmosphere. All the wine bars I’ve had the pleasure of dining in have been so cosy, intimate and relaxed. I love how they’ve got a more mature and refined air than a pub, yet they’re not as overly dramatic as a cocktail bar. Then there’s the food. Oh did I not mention that the wine bars I so adore also do very very good food. The Carlton Wine Room (172-174 Faraday Street, Carlton VIC) is a very fine example of that. And it was on a suitably cold and wet night that we found solace in this delightful wine bar.

It’s a pretty new place, having only opened in mid 2011, taking over the space that was formerly a bar that loosely resembled an Italian junk yard. Truly, there was a great big imitation of the statue of David in the center of the ground floor and the rest of the space was filled with other decorative things and huge low hanging chandeliers. I believe it was called Victor’s bar. Anyhow the Carlton Wine Room has done away with all the clutter and we’re now left with a clean calming dining hall. Big windows and a slightly minimalist feel of the ground floor gives a classic yet modern feel. The upstairs dining room is equally light and refreshing. The cellar however has a darker vibe and seats up to 14 diners for a private meal. Our party of 5 was given a circular booth upstairs.

The menu is made up of ‘tasting’ or ‘sharing’ dishes, with the tasting sized about a typical entree and the sharing similar to a main. Tasting dishes start from $9 to $24 with the majority being in the teens, sharing dishes go from $22 to $35. The whole menu is there to be tasted, but not all will come in the share size.

We started with a tasting size of one of my menu favs – chicken liver parfait, brioche, thyme and apple relish ($9). This rendition was silky smooth, perfect balance of flavours and the richness nicely cut with the fresh apple relish.

Next up was the salt cod croquettes in the share size which came with 5 pieces ($24). It was everything a croquette should be – yum.

Then came the confit pork belly with grilled leek, callower and mixed grains and seeds to share ($30). I may be biased because I seem to love anything that has been cooked confit, but this was the star of the night for me. I don’t believe I have ever tasted pork belly done so nicely. It kind of resembles Chinese roast pork in terms of the crispness of the skin, but it differs in that the meat was so very delicate. It almost just melts away in your mouth. And the complementary vegetables and mixed grains/seeds were a great match.

The roasted lamb with sweetbreads, quinoa and carrot to share ($32) was an exciting dish because there were 2 new things I was looking forward to trying – quinoa (a seed that has, in the past couple of years, gained much popularity) and sweetbreads (deep fried sheep’s brains…and it all sounded so innocent before you found out huh?). Lamb was rosy pink, probably just a touch too rare for my personal preference, but the other carnivores on the table seemed to disagree with me. The sweetbreads really were something else. It actually tasted quite nice, it’s covered in a light batter and the actual brain itself is rather creamy. In saying this, I am not a fan. I think the mental aspect of it gets to me. Despite being able to recognise that it did taste good, MY brain was rather freaked out that I was eating another brain. The quinoa meanwhile was perfectly delicious and I would have no qualms eating that many times again.

Finally we shared the quail, beetroot in consomme ($24) which was quite a lovely dish, but was unfortunately slightly overshadowed by our fascination with the brain in the prior dish.

Price wise, it goes without saying that Carlton Wine Room represents exceptional value. We would have had dessert here as well if we hadn’t another event to dash off to. The food was top quality and cooked with such finesse that I really expected the prices to be higher. And the service was the stuff of fine dining restaurants. Our waiter for the night was friendly, fabulously attentive and gave excellent recommendations when asked. This little wine bar really is a must visit if you like good value, good food, good service and fantastic surrounds.

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