Ask any Melbournian about a wine bar worth visiting, and Punch Lane is sure to be mentioned a couple of times. Located above Little Bourke street, in the heart of the CBD, Punch Lane has become a Melbourne institution during its two decades of operation. However, this month, owner Martin Pirc decided to target a more youthful crowd by opening Juliet Melbourne, a brand new intimate wine bar, tucked directly beneath the legendary Punch Lane.
In contrast to Punch Lane’s warm and vintage atmosphere, Juliet Melbourne is dusky, youthful and delicately romantic. A soft strip of neon-pink light elegantly runs along the edges of the large kitchen-and-bar-in-one, located directly in the centre of the intimate new venue. Depending on their preference and group size, guests can choose to be either seated around one of the small tables sprinkled around the bar, or get comfy in one of the luxe Danish leather couches and chairs, conveniently positioned near the corner fireplace.
Juliet Melbourne is, first and foremost, a wine bar. As a result, the drink menu is extensive, but the food menu is concise and designed for sharing. Featuring dishes such as Olive al’Ascolana ($9) – Mt Zero ‘Green Hardy’ olives stuffed with spiced meat, crumbled & fried – and Vitello Tonnato ($18) – slices of poached veal, ‘tonnato’ sauce, ‘Nardin anchovies’, fermented black garlic, quail eggs, and olives – it’s clear to see chef Gabriel Alonso has worked hard to complement the wide range of drinks on offer at the bar. However, the real star of the food offerings is cheese, specifically the signature raclette.
On our visit, my guest and I ordered the Heidi Raclette ($28) from the monthly specials menu. Made to be shared between two, the antipasto features thin slices of prosciutto aged for 30 months, fingerling potatoes, cornichons, pickled onions, and thick slices of house-made sourdough, with a generous serving of raclette shaved onto the plate, at your table. With such a classic set up, there was nothing to complain about the antipasto. Everything on the platter was just as they should be. The only difficulty was trying not to eat everything before the second round of raclette (yes, the raclette is served twice).
Besides their signature raclette, what distinguishes Juliet Melbourne from other wine bars, is their aim to champion both national and international female wine and spirit makers. The overwhelming majority of the drink menu is sourced from female producers such as Corrina Wright from Oliver’s Taranga in South Australia.
Although wine and spirits are their focus, if that’s not your thing, then Juliet Melbourne also has a short cocktail list featuring simple classics like the Sherry Cobbler ($16), Espresso Martini ($17), and White Negroni ($18). Being a lover of stiff drinks, I simply had to try Juliet’s take on the Old Fashioned ($17) made with Espolon Resposado Tequila, agave, chocolate bitters & grapefruit instead of the standard whiskey, brown sugar, orange and bitters mix. And it was not a disappointment whatsoever. The mix of grapefruit and chocolate bitters gave the drink a lovely bittersweet fragrance. And unlike Scotch, which can be overpowering at times, the Resposada tequila allowed for a very smooth and refreshing finish to the cocktail, making it a definite must-try.
Address: Basement, 37-41 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne
Hours: Thurs-Sat 5pm-late