Friday, 22 February 2013

deVine is divine for food and wine!

I have only referred to a few restaurants in SAZ in the Cellar.  While I am willing and even excited to try new places, I feel most comfortable going to where I know I will get great food, great wine and great service.  In that regard, I go to Fish on the Rocks (29 Kent Street, Millers Point) quite a bit because they have great food and I can ensure I am having great wine because they are a BYO (Bring Your Own wine).  They are also licensed for wine and beer, but there is nothing more satisfying and fool-proof than taking wine from your own cellar!

I have also raved about Jay Huxley's cooking and Jay has just opened (on Thursday, 28 February) a new restaurant at 108 Pacific Highway in Roseville.  Hux's Dining is also a BYO and licensed.  And The Cut Bar and Grill (16 Argyle Street in The Rocks) is my favorite steakhouse and meets all the criteria.  They have a great and good-valued wine list along with great food and service and while they are not a BYO, if I asked ahead (and because I bring a lot of food business to them), they will let me do a BYO for special occasions.  I don't take advantage of this, but really appreciate that they provide me the option when I want to do a truly special dinner with special wines.

I hate and avoid restaurants which have over a 300% (and sometimes far north of 500%!) mark-up on wine over what I can buy it for retail or from the cellar door.  As nice as the food and view is from Cafe Sydney on top of Customs House and overlooking Circular Quay, I only go there at the insistence of foreign friends who marvel at the view.  A number of their wines cost two to three times what the same wine at Lord Nelson Restaurant in Millers Point does.  And I was at The Malaya at Kings Wharf a few weeks ago and they were charging $50 for a bottle of wine I paid $8 for retail!

I simply will not go to restaurants that screw you on the wine and those restaurants have lost all of my business over the last decade.  I don't care if it is for business or personally, I want good value and refuse to do business with businesses that do not provide good ongoing value.  Restaurants I will frequent include Fish on the Rocks, The Cut Bar and Grill, Hux's Dining, and Lord Nelson for four of my favorite outings around Sydney.

A typical guideline is that a restauranter should charge about 220% of what they paid for the wine to cover the cost, labor of serving and cleaning glasses, breakage, the 'insurance' risk of have a corked bottle, etc.  And I am comfortable with that.  I am glad to pay up to 250% of the price I could have bought the wine for at retail.  But I simply will not frequent or pay for wine that is over a 300% mark-up.

One of my very favorite restaurants is deVine at 30 Market Street (corner of Market Street and Clarence Street) in Sydney.  This is a magnificent restaurant, with the lowest mark-up I have ever found on wine.  I rarely pay 50% more for a bottle at deVine than I do retail.  And the service is magnificent, being both friendly and attentive.  There is always one, if not both owners, Terence and Andre, on the premises to take care of you.

Their wine knowledge is superb.  (I also value sommeliers like Terence and Andre at deVine and Gustavo at The Cut Bar and Grill who know far more about wine than I do.  Surprisingly, the 'wine person at most restaurants does not.)   And they have a wide range of domestic and foreign wines to choose from.  In addition to a great and often changing wine list, the owners at deVine have a collection of private wines from their own cellar and for the right occasion, they may recommend trying one of those.  I have never been disappointed (in fact - quite the opposite - I have been greatly pleased) with each and every time this has occurred, and I don't remember ever paying more than $100 for a rare and truly great find!  Again, I am not sure they would do this for anyone, but once they quickly understood my interest and appreciation of good wine, it just became part of their superb service proposition!

The location, ambiance, service, quality, value and just about everything else is divine at deVine.  Make sure to try them out if you have not already.

When choosing a restaurant, I look for the following things:
  • great food
  • diverse wine list
  • average wine mark-up no larger than 250%
  • great service
  • ability (if I prove to be a good customer) to do BYO and pay corkage (usually about $10 - $25 per bottle is reasonable at a good restaurant and for a very good bottle of wine this is a steal!)
  • occasional food or wine choice 'not on the menu'
  • ownership or senior operational management is on the premises
  • location helps if it is spur of the moment or I am pressed for time
The restaurants I have featured here meet those criteria.  Make sure to frequent them, and avoid the ones that are more interested in their profit than your experience and pleasure, regardless of how iconic they may be!

Steve Shipley
Twitter: @shipleyaust
My other blog (on business, tech, world issues):  Steve Shouts Out!

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