It’s early on a recent Friday evening, only two weeks after it first opened, and Dear Sainte Éloise is already at capacity. The 40 seat wine bar in Llankelly Place, formerly the site of Waterman’s Lobster Co., is proving so popular with crowds both post-work and pre-long night alike that the only conceivable space for one is out on the street. Being Sydney, my first impulse is to laugh, then cry – the prospect of enjoying a glass of anything outside after sunset has been reduced to a tragicomic punchline at worst, a cruel taunt at best. But Dear Sainte Éloise is serious about this and, as it turns out, so much more.
A collaboration between owner Matt Swieboda (of Waterman’s) and three of his alumni from Love, Tilly Devine – another Darlinghurst viticultural institution – including head sommelier Nate Hatwell (Mercado), head chef Ben Abiad (one of the Brickfields co-founders, amongst other ventures) and manager Jasmin Natterer, Dear Saint Éloise is a deeply pious venture, and their religion is the holy trinity of good hospitality, great food and better wine.
Their bible then is a 350-plus wine list that traverses the globe with labels trotting from Austria, Georgia, France and South Africa to Italy, Austria, California, Spain, Portugal, Australia, New Zealand and many more. Its word is gospel, too: divided by varietals or regions, each chapter is accompanied by a well-versed spiel on exactly why that wine matters most, where it’s from and what you can expect from a glass or a bottle made all the more digestible for it being written in manner that’s anything but preachy. It’s safe to say that you’ll not only learn something new about an old favourite – a “simple, objective and irrefutable” manifesto on Riesling, the “most refreshing and delicious of beverages” is particularly enlightening – but discover untold pleasures in the process (see the chapter on ‘Georgian wine’).
The bar takes its name from a scene in Down and Out in Paris and London, the first full-length published work (part memoir, part travelogue) by the English author George Orwell, who, destitute on the streets of Paris, recites a prayer to a photograph thinking its a picture of a saint who turns out to be little more than a well-known prostitute. The passage from which it’s taken, written at-length in white chalk against a black feature wall, is the bar’s most notable decorative element. The remainder of the space is discrete, eminently cosy and anchored by a beautiful burnished copper bar at which you’re able to perch and observe drinkers and committed diners alike enjoying a seasonal menu of around eight (very wine friendly) dishes.
“Dear Sainte Éloise, if you exist, please send me some money”, he prays. “I don’t ask for much — just enough to buy some bread and a bottle of wine and get my strength back.”
Ask and you shall receive. Amen.
Tile and cover image: Instagram