Juliet is one of those places in Melbourne that have the magical ability to transport you somewhere else.
Sort of like Enid Blyton's Faraway Tree, where characters in the story would climb a tree and find themselves in another land, the Juliet stairway has a similar effect. When you walk down the stairs from longstanding Melbourne institution Punch Lane, an aromatic cheese fills the air. This is a good thing. A very good thing, in fact — because the cheese in question is a big ol' wheel of raclette. On Thursday nights, Juliet's world swings around to a very Parisian-like basement jazz club. Muted lighting, a charcuterie cabinet and the soft twang of a double bass are masterfully aided and abetted by the French waitstaff who greet and seat you.
Not only can you eat it as the French intended — all melted goodness, scraped off the wheel and over potatoes, charcuterie and cornichons — but chef Gabriel Alonso has put all those flavours together into another little dish: croquettes. These crispy morsels filled with cheese and jamon are all that's good about a raclette in one glorious mouthful.
But it's not all about raclette. While it's an ongoing staple on the menu — along with a couple of other items — the food offering changes each week. Alonso chats to suppliers to find out what's hot each week and then sets out to do something really special with it. Like the croquettes and the vitello tonnato ($18); with its blushing pink slivers of veal dressed with tuna-spiked mayonnaise, an elegant and fresh-tasting dish. There is also a beautiful selection of charcuterie and cheeses as well as other plates designed to be shared. The dry-ageing cabinet is also a feature and you can order a steak and then let the kitchen create a dish that fits with your wine and preferences.
Not only does the food offering change, but the wines by the glass rotate every night depending what bottles the first customers decide to open. There's something very appealing about only four whites and four reds open each night — here, the selection means that anything you choose will be wonderful.
For extra points, 80 percent of the wines on the list come from women producers, such as Corrina Wright's label, Oliver's Taranga. Try her stellar McClaren Vale Fiano ($13.50 glass, $68 bottle). The cocktail list includes some interesting ones — like a sangria made with ginger cider and bourbon, and a tequila old fashioned with chocolate and grapefruit bitters — although, in a bar whose walls are lined with wine bottles, you'd be remiss not to go the vino route.
And the best part is that you can go just for a wine — or just for cheese, or dinner. Juliet straddles that line between wine bar and restaurant perfectly which makes it a great addition to the CBD.