48 Erskine Street
Sydney NSW 2000
By Becca Johnstone
Over summer Danny and I plan to bring you a few more bar reviews here on The Bon Vivant. The sun’s out, evenings are long, let’s all head to a tasty bar or four! I had heard a few rumbles of good things happening at Small Bar in the city, so when given a sunny afternoon and plans to catch up with my best friend, it seemed like the perfect option. With their logo being a wine stain and the insistence on getting ‘the big things right’, Small Bar was sounding right up my alley.
At a first glance, Small Bar is just that – small. In the dead of winter I can imagine it to be quite ‘quaint’ and ‘charming’, yet at the start of summer it was unfortunately just cramped and well, small. Split over three levels, I’d say close to 80 CBD trendy types were packed in like sardines, laughing frivolously while sipping boutique beers and predominantly local wines. We scoured the rooms for a table but resigned ourselves to having some drinks and snacks at the bar.
The space is definitely warm and welcoming though, keeping it in style with the building – a gorgeous old block in the heart of the city (though I will warn ladies in heels to watch the incredibly steep staircases). Dotted with candles, wrought iron features and fairy lights, it would be a great spot for a function, there’s no doubt about that. It struck me as rather Parisian, they really have that vibe of ‘we’re a wine bar, get used to it.’
We noticed that it was happy hour and the special was a favourite of mine – the Bellini. Made with the House Prosecco it was a little on the sweet side for me, but was cold and peachy and ultimately refreshing. One thing I did notice though was the absence of any real cocktails. Sure, there was a great selection of top shelf spirits behind the bar, but not much more. When they say wine bar, they really mean wine bar! And good for them I say!
A quick browse of the wine list and it was a strongly local occasion, with a few cheeky French numbers thrown in for good measure. Priced from $6.50 - $14 a glass and $28 - $110 the wines were actually very well priced for an inner city bar – so kudos to them! My friend went for the Marlborough Soho Sauvignon Blanc – and was so very, very, Marlborough (need I say more?). I opted for the Mountadam Barossa Chardonnay, which was all too pleasant. Captured all those fantastic stonefruit flavours and just the right use of oak. I followed this up with a glass of Nanny Goat Pinot Noir from Central Otago. I confess I was left a little underwhelmed with this one – it just didn’t have any real complexity to it. Just a little flat! Fruity… but flat. None of that gameyness I like in my Pinots unfortunately. All in all an ok wine list – nothing spectacular though, fairly well known brands, typical regions, and only one Riesling! Tragedy! But there is some safety in going with what you know, and again, very reasonably priced.
The menu was very honest, the mains consisting of 2 burgers, 2 salads, fish and chips, pasta and a risotto. We ordered a few items off the ‘suggested for sharing’ menu which included all your standard bar favourites: olives, hot chips, cheese board, dip selection etc. The house made chicken-liver pate was lovely, old-school, the way I remember my mum’s pate. Full of flavour and backed up nicely with a fig chutney and crusty bread. We also had the lamb skewers with tzatziki, and though they were flavourful were rather cold by the time they got to us. The antipasto plate does exactly was it says on the tin: cold cuts, preserved vegetables, olives, feta and some bread. It was a little lacklustre though, I think a bit over-oily and under-seasoned. But I am very picky with my antipasti.
The service in the place could not be faulted though – happy, smiley girls behind the bar, eager to make sure things are just the way you like them. My tips for Small Bar would be booking (such a novel concept!) and heading there at the start of the week. Reasons to go: it’s central, well-priced and familiar. If you’re after a little more excitement and above all some more space to unwind and relax, I’d head elsewhere.
Overall rating: 3/5
What’s your favourite inner city ‘small’ bar? Let us know firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @bonvivantblog.