Many of us wine fans were saddened by the closure of 121BC, Surry Hills' much loved Italian wine shop and bar. In turn we've been waiting to see who will step into the space and make it their own, and (hopefully) be able to match the standard and fanbase of the previous tenants. Good news then, that the Porteño crew nabbed the space adjacent to their restaurant next door.
Looks-wise, not much has changed — yet — but the appeal of 121 was always the atmosphere and service. The service part is still front and centre with Gavin Wright opening bottles and pouring tastes at breakneck speed with Jo Valore, the wine arm of the Porteño team bringing the same charm onto this floor as all the others. It's a pleasure to watch hospitality professionals do their thing, and ordering is not so much a request as a suggestion. Chablis you're after? They'll take you straight to white Burgundy ($25) — but not before you've tried some funky Prosecco and a half glass of Manzanilla sherry, "just because". Nothing can't be opened, and somms like Wright and Valore have a way of selling wine that makes it hard to say no to anything they suggest.
The only gripe with that is that you often don't know what you're spending, and they do like to serve wine close to room temperature, which might not be everyone's speed. But if you're willing to put your wallet on the table and your palate in their hands, you're in for a sweet ride.
The menu is small, but has the familiar Porteño charm and way with flavours. The pickled octopus with scallop and romesco ($16) is a winning dish and clever mix of smoky depth, sharpness and texture balance. The bluefin tuna too — served raw with wafer-thin onion, gooseberries and bottarga ($26) — is playful and delicious. Less successful is the calamari with white beans and aioli ($18), simply because the beans would have been better hot, and the minute steak with bone marrow and crispy potato ($26) loses its magic with a heavy hand of a sweet onion sauce.
The atmosphere, similar to a dinner party of this size, is dependent on the vibrancy of its guests, but the warmth and ease of the staff ensure hospitality is truly felt. And while things like music and lighting are still being refined, wine fans can breathe a sigh of relief that, in lieu of 121BC, Wyno will be a firm favourite.
Images: Katje Ford.