Melbourne, Victoria: Gertrude Street Enoteca

By Michael Harden
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Organic vegetables - Victorian Farmers' Markets

Organic vegetables - Victorian Farmers' Markets [©VFMA]

In recent years, Gertrude Street in Fitzroy has become one of Melbourne’s most interesting food and wine hubs. The mix of shops on the once seedy strip includes superstar pizza joint Ladro, the Gertrude Street Organic Bakery, Books For Cooks, Organic Gertrude, Yelza and, most recently Gertrude Street Enoteca.

Owned by former architect and President of the Australian Slow Food movement, James Broadway, chef and cooking writer Brigitte Hafner and their friend Rosa Mitchell, Gertrude Street Enoteca faithfully captures the spirit of the traditional Italian enoteca – a casual place with a bit of food where you can go to drink, buy and talk about wine – but does it in a quintessentially Melbourne fashion.

James (or Jamie as he is widely known) fell in love with the idea of opening an enoteca in Melbourne over many trips to Italy for his wine importing business. He found the typical suburban bottle shop with its museum-like air depressing and thought the whole experience of buying wine could be much improved with a convivial atmosphere, music, the smell of coffee in the air and the opportunity to sit down with a glass of wine. When the shopfront in Gertrude Street with its little courtyard out the back and the light filled front room became available the three partners knew immediately that this was the right shop in the right neighbourhood for the kind of business they wanted to do.

Gertrude Street Enoteca is a casually stylish place that is hard to define. It doesn’t fall neatly into any of the usual boxes – café, bar, wine shop – but cleverly amalgamates all three. There is no menu and the blackboard over the bar is more likely to contain poetry or a recipe on how to roast a duck than list what food is available. Brigitte is a big fan of artisan produce and the simple food she prepares – panini at lunch time, cheese and antipasto at night and whatever else she finds that is in season and interesting – reflects her preference for the hand made and organic.

The selection of wine in Enoteca’s middle room with its floor to ceiling shelves and glass cases full of cognac is always changing and reflects Jamie’s passions and biases.

“I guess you could call me a benchmarker,” he says. “I like to find the people who are hitting the nail on the head in some way with whatever wine they are making. It doesn’t matter to me what the wine costs – it could be $20, it could be $80 it could be $200 – as long as it is doing something right.”

He says that he likes hand-made wines that “haven’t been fiddled with too much” made by people serious about the world of wine and “with an interest in benchmarking”.

According to Jamie and Brigitte, people have understood the concept of what they are trying to do very quickly, though they’re not sure whether it is to do with the neighbourhood or whether Melbourne wine lovers are looking for an experience (and a panini) to go with their wine buying. Jamie sees a day when all the old bottleshops embrace the enoteca idea and the suburbs are full of people sitting around chatting about wine. Pop into the Gertrude Enoteca some time and you’ll agree that it’s not such a bad idea.

© Michael Harden 2006

First printed in Food and Wine Lovers’ Guide to Melbourne and Surrounds (2006)

The Gertrude Street Enoteca, 229 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, Victoria. (03) 9415 8262

Regions

  • Melbourne (VIC)
  • Melbourne and Melbourne West (VIC)

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