Swish new boutique hotel Alex in the Cultural Centre precinct has incorporated the long empty but eye catching bank building a little way up William Street. The sixties era building with slanting tiled facade has been transformed into Shadow Wine Bar and Dining Room.
Inside it is all exposed concrete, low steel beams with spotlights, attractive tables, chairs and booth seating, with a long bar, at which you can also perch and eat, on one side and at the back partitioning the rear wine bar from the dining room, a wall of racks and wine. It is all clean lines, well lit, welcoming, sun shining through the wooden slatted blinds on the windows looking out onto the street.
The wine list in both restaurant and bar is impressive. Grouped under headings designed to guide drinkers – bright and fresh; rich, full bodied and food friendly; fragrant, floral and lively; light and bracing – is a great range of Australian and international wines, across many varietals. It looks to me to be one of the best lists around and has a great selection by the glass.
I started with a glass of 2005 Kanta Egon Muller Museum Release Riesling (lovely developed citrus and mineral notes on the palate, lifted apple and lime blossom aromas), while Lady FWO plumped for an old favourite, 2013 Chateau La Gordonne rosé from Provence.
The food, too, shows innovation and flair and is, dare I say it, on trend. Among the entrées on offer were veal carpaccio with parmesan; grilled octopus with potato skordalia and salsa verde; and pecorino and goats cheese tortelli. Spoiled for choice we ordered heirloom carrots with Jerusalem artichoke velouté sauce, and confit of salmon.
The mains were equally appealing – the ubiquitous macaroni cheese served with mushrooms and cavalo nero; crispy pork jowl with spinach and sweet and sour leeks; braised lamb neck ragu with polenta. In the end a dish of baby beetroot with braised lentils, and Moses snapper with mussels, calamari and Calasparra rice, won us over.
All of our dishes were beautifully plated, the confit of salmon circling the plate, topped with thinly shaved fennel, sprinkled with crisp rye bread crumbs and dotted with delicately coloured saffron aioli. The salmon was incredibly tender, meltingly so, and the salty flavours of the fish were complemented by the aniseed tones from the fennel, all softened by the creamy aioli. Rye crumbs gave additional texture and mouth feel – it was a brilliant dish, both in its simplicity and its execution.
A bowl of variously coloured – purple, yellow, orange – carrots came with a velouté sauce flavoured with Jerusalem artichoke. The earthy flavours of the carrots, which retained a nice firmness, and the sweet, nutty, buttery sauce, combined with additional nutty flavours from a walnut pesto, provided more textural and flavour contrast.
Which leads nicely to the first of the mains, sweetness of the firm, lightly cooked beets, peppery notes from the lentils, sharp, creamy curd sitting on a bed of raw sorrel leaves – sour, acidic, crunchy. This was a very good dish, each bite bringing different notes of taste and texture.
Slices of moist, tender white fleshed fish, along with mussels in their shells, and succulent calamari, were served over saffron flavoured rice. Well cooked fish, firm, separate grains of rice, and an infusion of lifted zesty notes from smoked paprika combined to produce yet another excellent plate of food.
With our food we shared a bottle 2014 Mengoba Brezo Rosado La Vie en Rose. Spanish, made from mencia grapes, this is a little more full bodied than rosé from Provence; bright pink, raspberry aromas, a savoury, very dry finish, and a great complement to our meals. The design on the label is reminiscent of USAF bomber aircraft art adding a little fun to a fabulously refreshing little wine.
Desserts on offer included pistachio meringue with rhubarb; chocolate pavé with candied mandarin and our choice, lemon jelly with vanilla tapioca and almond sponge. This was served in a stemless wine glass, the jelly sharp, full of citrus notes, smoothed out by the gently flavoured balls of creamy tapioca, and nutty tones from the slivers of sponge; it was light and refreshing.
With the jelly, a couple of glasses of dessert wines -2012 Mas Amiel Vin Doux Naturel Grenache, a smooth, sweet red from Languedoc, and Domaine des Bernadins Muscat Noir with notes of orange, apricot, brown sugar and subtle ginger – provided a perfect end to a very good meal.
Shadow Wine Bar and Dining Room has been open for less than a week but everything that we sampled ticked all of the boxes, demonstrating a kitchen of skill and ability. If, as we overheard someone say, this is a work in progress, then I venture to say it could well be of Michelangelo proportions when it is complete. It is a splendid addition to the Cultural Precinct/William/Roe Street strip. We will be back soon to try out the wine bar itself, and the interesting bar food on offer.