UPDATE: APRIL 9, 2018 — With the weather cooling somewhat, Black Bottle is changing up its menu — and it's placing cheese front and centre, where it belongs. Every Thursday from April 12, the Darlinghurst bar will serve "cheese in a box", which is similar to raclette, but smaller and better. For $39 per person, you'll get the hot goopy cheese with cured meats, roast potatoes and salad. Just note that the you have to have at least one mate in-tow as it's one cheese box between two.
Black Bottle is doing things differently. Look out for the neon-lit jellyfish on Darlinghurst Road, and enter the compact wine bar with bare brick walls, a pink ceiling, low lighting and high tables to find out why.
It's not immediately apparent what's going on. By the window facing the street, there are two short blackboard drink menus on display and a small dispense bar, but if you miss the 'order food here' sign, it's unclear if this is table or counter service. We wait to be served for a while before realising we need to head up to the bar, which sits next to a glass display cabinet full of food and a couple of chefs working in a tiny open kitchen.
Nonetheless, the wine list is tight: five whites, five reds, one sparkling and two rosès, all available by the glass, bottle and carafè. It's been put together by Nomad sommelier and wine writer Samantha Payne, and showcases some great producers at some really reasonable prices — a bottle of perfectly dry Les Charmes dry Provence rosè is an even $50.
The food cabinet is not a novel idea in hospitality but it's what differentiates Black Bottle from other bars in Sydney. Head on up and choose from raw scallops sitting in their shell with a herb butter (not quite so cheap at $6.50 each), marinated octopus that will be heated and served with chorizo, or a pork chop that's then sent to the kitchen to be chargrilled with a chunky green olive salsa and some watercress. Oysters are just $1.50 every day from 5–7pm.
The cooking is good and the way they're presenting the food on display is key to making this whole thing work. Jars of sardines, tins of mussels, chilli and garlic-marinated white anchovies are all up for quick snacks, as are arancini and marinated banana chillies. Everything comes out quick, either handed over the counter or fried or grilled and brought out.
The three house cocktails are all a bit sweet for our taste, so our pick is the Huntsman ($25), featuring a lomo-washed Hudson Manhattan Rye with bitters. While the house cocktails are all above the $20 mark, we'll be back for the $12 Aperol spritz.
The team are young, enthusiastic and, although very much influenced by Europe, the concept feels authentic and very DIY. Which we think has a place in the Sydney food scene. A more relaxed, self-determining experience might not be for everyone — but those who are happy to get their own knife and fork should head to Black Bottle pronto.