It’s 6:17 pm. Every table is taken and there are 12 people huddling by the door.
Welcome to Friday evening at Millevini.
It seems Sydney has been hankering for some wine bars of its own for a while. Sick of staring southward and envying Melbourne’s secret, sauvignon blanc soaked hideaways, we’ve finally got a couple of our own.
The Hungry One and I have been firm fans of Vini, the perfect Italian enoteca down the hill in Holt street for a long time- their improvised wine bar out the back included. But -it’s worth being honest- it’s not really a bar- it’s a container. It’s a shipping container with some stools- and yet it’s still packed, with folks like us.
So it’s easy to see there’s a market for Millevini.
After teasing us for weeks, so questions of ‘are they open, are they not?’ run across our heads like banner headlines, Pizza e Birra eventually opened the doors to its baby-sister wine bar.
Finally there’s somewhere for Surry Hills’ black booted, pencil skirt wearing lasses and their french cuff and casual panted partners to sit on a Friday with a glass of wine and a couple of nibbles and wile away the hours at the end of a long week.
This Friday evening we were such keen beans that we got to Millevini at 5.30pm, only to be told that they don’t open for another half an hour. There’s your payback for running away from work at 5pm on the dot at the end of the week.
From the street Millevini is subtle- you have to keep your eyes peeled to pick it out of the Crown street line up. But inside it’s shiny and new, a beacon of wine sipping civility in a land of pubs- being just across the road from the Clock and within sprinting distance of the Dolphin, Forresters and The White Horse. It’s got stools lining the front window and butting up against a glass encasing smoked meats and pre made antipasto. There’s a banquette down the side, small tables flanking it and a courtyard at the back big enough for three people to line up and brave the elements while waiting for the co-ed bathroom. Then there’s more to the bar area upstairs.
For us, we’re lucky both our party of two are present and accounted for when we arrive at 6.02pm so we find our way straight to a table. The wine list that’s left with us is more like a leather bound reference text, with around 400 wines- not quite the 1000 as advertised by the name, but more than enough to keep you busy browsing. It’s a pity the first Italian blend we like the look of in our budget ball-park isn’t available. We eventually settle with a Le Bine Valpolicell. It’s $45, earthy, a little bit different and certainly helps us feel cosy while sheltering from the cold. It’s all we could have wanted from the wine.
So then we come to the food.
It’s suggested that it’s Italian tapas.
There are around 18 items on the menu, plus three specials, some cheese and two desserts. The prices vary; from $7 for three slightly stodgy potato, mushroom and parmesan croquettes with a vaguely limpid tomato dipping sauce, through to $18 for a plate of San Daniele prosciutto, air dried beef, coppa and mortadella. Also around the north end of the prices are three zucchini flowers, lightly battered and stuffed with a ricotta mixture. The middle of the price bracket shows a little more satisfaction with grilled calamari with rocket, raddichio and olives and some rib sticking coins of semolina gnocchi which are glugging about in a creamy beschamel and tomato sugo.
There’s complimentary bread with olive oil delivered to the table- though it might win more friends if it was warm. On that same vein, the rolled chicken with prosciutto, peperoni, sage and sundried tomatoes certainly would if it came with some warmth. If I was after stone-cold sliced chicken, I’d probably go foraging in my fridge.
The veal meat balls in tomato, white wine and parmesan are a little bit muted and the sauce lags a little. The tiramisu is fine, but nothing to sing about.
But the place is packed and more keep coming in the door. There’s a blow dried blonde perched next to us trying to explain to a friend where they are- ‘Come join us at Milli Vanilli’ she bleats.
Now-she may have had a couple too many glasses of the Plozner pinot grigio- but it’s not the first time I’ve heard Millevini referred to as Milli Vanilli- and maybe it’s not just because it’s more fun to say it that way.
All in all, like our faking pop star wannabe’s from 1990, Millevini has the style, but may be lacking a little when it comes to the substance of the food on the plate.
It’s making all the right moves, but not necessarily hitting all the notes. The bill, before wine for six little plates to share and a tiramisu comes to $80; which in light of the fact that there are palaces like Vini and Tabou with similar prices in spitting distance, makes it a little hard to swallow.
All in; Millevini/ Milli Vanilli is a little dark, it’s a little different and if you’re not paying, it’s pretty sexy.
But more than anything; it’s busy. You could blame it on the rain, but on a wintry Friday evening if there’s just the two of you and you want something to nibble on and a couple of glasses of wine, it’ll probably suit you just fine.
And it seems like there are plenty of other people who feel the same way.
Maybe Millivanilli were right; it doesn’t always have to be all or nothing.
Phone: 9357 3366
397 Crown St, Surry Hills