It’s a rainy Melbourne night when we swing by Ines, Windsor’s ultra-stylish new wine bar.
The rain’s bucketing down, and Jane Bunn didn’t give us any heads up, so Chapel St is full of bedraggled hipsters running for cover, hands sheltering well-oiled beards, collars turned up against the cold.
Ines is built for nights like this. A little pocket of warmth and welcome. It’s the latest venture from Matteo Bruno (the genius behind Meatball & Wine Bar, Hana, and Baller in Collingwood). In fact, he’s here tonight, helping out in the kitchen, hand-rolling pappardelle so wide we could add a handle and use them as brollies.
“Yep, I’m going to be in the kitchen every night for the first month or so,” he says. “This is the fun bit for me. I love it.”
Ines is Matteo’s love letter to his grandma, Ines (if you’ve been mentally saying INES, rhymes with wines, don’t worry—we did too. It’s actually Ines—rhymes with fez). The menu is built around the old-school Italian flavours Matteo grew up with as a kid. They’ve just been given the cheffy treatment.
But before we get to the food, let’s pause and appreciate the design in here.
If you closed your eyes and pictured ‘wine bar’, this place would fit the fantasy, right down to the walnut panelling on the bar, the rippling Italian marble, the moody Astoria-esque lamps, the blue suede chairs.
The jukebox is set to a permanent medley of hits from the 50s and 60s—all groups with names like The Chordettes, The Supremes, The Hilltoppers and The Chiffons. You feel like an extra in a James Bond seduction scene (when we dropped by, there were at least three Tinder dates in progress).
Ines is a wine bar first and a restaurant second, so you can expect a hefty cellar. Raffaele Mastrovincenzo is the Somm at Ines, and you can tell he had a lot of fun putting this list together. It’s mostly built around French and Italian drops, but there’s a few interesting local bottles too. If your wine vocab extends to ‘drinkable’ and ‘grape-y’, don’t worry—barman and manager Stefano Cinelli can de-code it for you, recommending the perfect tipple to pair with your meal.
And speaking of meal...
Damn the food here is good. We tried a bit of everything, and there wasn’t a plate we didn’t lick clean. There are a few ways you can go—larger single plates that you guard with your life, or a selection of stuff to share.
Start with the fried olives, stuffed with Italian cheese and served with aioli and greens. The perfect salty appetizer. Next, it’s gotta be a selection of the Crostini. There’s a chalk menu up on the wall with today’s specials, but just tell Stefano to bring you one of everything (or you can get three for $10). Grilled cheese fans will be happy to see a Croque Signore on the meu: and this one comes with aged prosciutto, smoked ham and pickles.
For larger plates, we polished off a bowl of the pasta with prawns: handmade pappardelle folded through a creamy prawn bisque, topped with toasted breadcrumbs, grilled prawns and chilli oil. There’s also a wicked Bistecca grilled eye fillet, served with tarragon butter and roasted potatoes.
The spirit and cocktail selection revolves around your classics. Maybe a slow-sipping Old Fashioned, an Aviation or dry Martini. You can even buy your own bottle and keep it behind the bar (a nice little ‘membership’ perk more and more bars are starting to offer).
Last tip? Save a second stomach for the choc-dusted Tiramisu. There’s a good swig of booze in that one if we’re any judge. The perfect nightcap to the perfect night.
When we leave Ines, the rain is still coming down hard. Easy to forget you’re sheltering from Melbourne drizzle in this place. Like all good wine bars, Ines makes it easy to slip into a different state of mind—one where the conversation is sparkling, you’re much wittier than you thought you were, and the good times keep rolling all night.
If this is the future of Windsor, it’s clear skies ahead.
Want to learn more about Ines? Check out our Directory page.
Image credit: Griffin Simm