Dana Banana, an otherwise blessed morsel of curly haired ebullience - is generally a lucky girl. She can usually get her way, in life, love and almost anything. And what a way it is! Quick mouthed and sharp witted with an old-man-in-a-Russian-bath-house sense of humour, she doesn't generally settle for the same things the rest of us do. Yes, Dana could can get away with almost anything: speeding fines, cover charges, scarily opinionated directness that has left many a law lecturer not quite knowing how to reply. The lot of it doesn't raise a single worry line on that smooth Mediterranean skin of hers, she's fine. There is however, one man in all of Sydney who seems resolutely impervious to Banana's charms. She can't win him over. Can't scare him. Can't stop him. He's the only one - possibly in the whole wide world.
This singular specimen of manhood, this kryptonite to Dana's Supermanesque feminine wiles works in the Freehills Library at Sydney Law School. With a shy smile, a bald dome and some seriously kitsch taste in heavily patterned shirts, he always manages to find Dana when she's molar deep into a juicy, crunchy illicit apple. Doesn't matter what time of day or how subtle she tries being. Doesn't matter if she's hiding behind a contract law textbook or under a table in the Thunderdome. Time and time again, he finds her and he warns her: no eating in the library. Time and time again, she gets busted doing just that. Poor Dana. I could tuck into oysters kilpatrick and a steak diane without getting busted. I could munch popcorn and soft shell crab all day long and he would never say a word to me, but poor Dana.... If she so much as imagines nibbling half of half of an almond sliver, there he appears. Stern, unimpressed and threatening. They must be connected in some deep and soulful way that keeps screwing up her ability to stay nourished while she studies - either that or it's CCTV.
Not one to back down, Banana stands her ground, argues for the right to an occasional apple: law school is hard, hungry work after all. What's a girl to do? If you ask me, Dana's been pulling too many hours in the wrong kind of library. She should get her tuchus out of Usyd and into Woollahra's itty, bitty sleek slice of Sydney-but-all-grown-up drinking and dining Pow-Wow-ring: The Wine Library. A dusky, styled, tinkling and buzzing little jewel box of a bar/restaurant space that boasts a full bodied and hot blooded menu to accompany a veritable ocean of plonk and doesn't need to rely on a water view to sell it? Is this Melbourne or Sydney? It's Woollahra, baby. So pull your socks up, brush your hair, tuck in your polo shirt to a beige type of pant, prefabricate some casually informed opinions on the property market, stocks and modern art and, in the words of my good man Swearengen, act civilized, even if you ain't. The Wine Library isn't a kid's club, and thank god for that.
If you're expecting a token bar menu, shame on you. You should know better by now. The Wine Library has a cosy, dark nook of a restaurant at the back of it's Oxford Street fronted bar and you just might need a solid understanding of the Dewey decimal system to work your way through the generously proportioned menu that runs the glorious gamut from black truffle through english mustard-smacked pork pie and all the way to a beguiling blood plum + pine nut tart. The menu is hot and heavy, get ready to froth at your made-up mouth...
The moment I locked eyes on a little saucy something they like to call the toasted Stracchino + Black Truffle Quesadilla I knew this was a menu to get lost in. Forget all of your culinary parameters. Forget the no bread and cheese stuff. Forget the way your nose wrinkles when you think of Chicken Liver Parfait. Throw caution (and cholesterol) to the wind, it's time to eat the way the gods intended. A menu this wild and reckless is a bit of a challenge, a bit of a come hither to your darker side. Man up and take it all on. This thin, savoury black-truffle tortured toasted cheese seraph-sphere was a warm, molten and sultry Once Upon a Time to what became an absolute fairytale of a meal. Salted cheese with a black truffle bass line booming from beneath a perfectly diaphanous and floured quesadilla quilt: if your gob isn't smacked then i'll smack it for you.
Once you've said cheese once, it's time to say it again with the grilled haloumi + lemon. Forget America and it's claims to be the leader of the free world. Forget Russia and its communism. Even forget Rome and its long, straight roads. History needs to remember Cyprus for inventing haloumi. Haloumi has done more for the pleasure of females all over the world than men could ever hope to do. Some men like haloumi, but ladies simply love it. This gorgeous Wine Library version is hellish: you don't want a haloumi that's smaller and perfectly cut. The more rustic looking square like shape should be a sign that you're about to embark on a truly epic cheese. Salty-squeaky-burnt-gorgeous. A squirt of lemon and you close your eyes and dream.
Danny, who is a partial to a good pate, went as gaga over the Chicken Liver + Vin Santo Parfait w Toasted Sourdough as a laid back surfer boy with a permanently sleepy nature and a Barry-White-deep voice can. Watching him smear thick and swriling knifefuls of pale, creamy pink onto beautiful bread that had a slight and subtle smokiness was nice plate drama. Given that animal's livers aren't the most appetisizing things i can countenance, i consider it a great compliment to the chef that the bite I tried honestly didn't make me want to wretch: must've been amazing pate.
We sparked up all of this bread and cheese with an exquisite saladish side of cabbage, white balsamico + Parmigiano w mint. Tart, fresh, ferocious and alive. This was a gorgeous melange of cool, crispy cabbage with little shards of creamy parmesan that lent little dollops of delectable depth. It left a tart and terrific sheen on the palate and the mind.
Cured artisanal meats...
Green beans + red onion moshing in a mustard vinaigrette...
And then we arrive. It hurts. It hurts to relive this and not have it in front of me now. Oh My God. Vishnu and Apollo and Buddha and Jarvier Bardem. Oh-my-every-god-there-ever-was-and-is: baked polenta, fontina + duck ragu (pasticciata). This isn't a dish, no, not at all. It isn't a meal or a main or any other such pedestrian thing. What this is is a portal into the inner recesses of flavour. Every full and fabulous flavour you could ever imagine must have crawled into this little white dish, lay down side by side and gone to sleep under a scorching oven for a sweet, earthly while. This salty, steaming, messy, cheesy, molten, tender-aching duck shredded spectacular in baked polenta is the kind of meal that makes me violently happy. Riotous and salty and creamy and textured and full and oozing and dripping and strong and rich and well baked and set and smooshingly satisfying. Steaming spoonful after spoonful and the whole table was getting into it. This is alive. Incendiary. It is a very wonderful thing to do to each and every taste bud you have.
As is rita's eggplant parmigiana. Scorched devil in a pot. Layers of slippery baked eggplant drowning in cheese and tomato and burnt and scorched into its own inner self.
Lord help me. This was sweet like springtime and cosy and flaming like a fire inside on a blustery autumn day. The tomato had no acidity whatsoever, it was so full and flamed and gentle. I kept going between this and the ragu and all the while the circuits in my body were darting between my eyes and my hand my brain and my heart and my mouth and my toes.
I am surprised this menu didn't self combust. With an all day panini line up that features aged salami and mozzarella, spiced lamb, caramelised onion and gruyere, fennel pollen maionese and kippered herrings on toast, The Wine Library dining is absolutely anything you want it to be. The Brunch until 4pm section took the ends of both of my thumbs and raised them firmly and decidedly up. The idea of random huevos rancheros or fruit toast + butter or pikelets w blueberries well into the late afternoon tells me louder and clearer than anything else in this world ever could: there is a god, and he totally has my (pudgey) back.
Dessert? Duh. Treacle + Walnut Cheesecake. Scream, no one can stop you. This was a sublime little cylinder of heavy, sultry cream cheese sepia-sweet with sticky treacle and invisible walnut. Firm and glazed and glowing. Brilliant to lay into with a silver spoon and fork. Silver into cream cheese heart and spiked against perfect, crumbly-nutty-golden base.
A moussey detour into frothy chocolate and then...
The vin santo baked custard + caramel. There was no was something that sounded like this was ever going to taste bad. But the delicate little glass pot bearing baked custardly-caramel-kissed cloud swirls still surpassed every height of sweet-tooth imagination. Saucy and clinking and sweet and creamed. Ivory smudging into and against glassy caramel, luminous and luscious and so, so dainty. Not that the boys would describe it this way. Ahh. Dessert. What have I become, My sweetest friend. Every cake I love goes away in the end. When all else fails the only thing you really count on in this world is the ability of a phenomenal dessert to remind you why you are here and where you are going. Blood plum + pine nut tart and the raspberry and lambrusco jelly w vanilla ice cream are also there to show you the sweet, sure way.
Dizzy with wine. Drunken on soft caramel sugar with a belly full of polenta baked duck. Edges were blurred, shoulders were liquefied, sighs were rolled off the back of loosened throats and we all agreed that this was one of the most surprising and, I am sorry for the cliche, but also most seductive places to get your supper on.
The Wine Library is winning hearts, livers and mouths at 18 Oxford Street, Woollahra. Ph 9360 5686. The opening hours during Weekdays + Sat from 9am - 10pm with Sun from 9am - 12am make this a curious option for all day eating in a Sydney done to death with cafes and coffee bars.
One of my favourite things about The Wine Library is that it isn't too trendy. Rather than trying to appeal to fickle youths (god how I sound my age and/or like Vincent Gambini in My Cousin Vini), they've gone for a classic and sophisticated menu and feel that doesn't march to the beat of how we are used to eating in Sydney. There are lighter options but this is really a place to go when you want a good, solid old-school meal that will truly break your heart with joy.
Special thanks to go to the wonderful Sabry who guided us effortlessly through the menu to a damn amazing meal and to Dan and Dad for waiting 5-10 minutes before being allowed to try anything so I could get the perfect photos. Extra special thanks to bibliophile JB for tolerating a library with no books in it.
Get into The Wine Library. Go on, do it, if only because you won't find many places in Sydney were you can eat something delicious at 10am or 3pm.
The Wine Library: they're rewriting the book on how to eat out. Shhhh.