Ed Cutcliffe, the moustachioed gentleman behind the Little Marionette cafés, has added another title to his mantle - publican. He has converted the funny little space beneath the Balmain Lodge into a pocket-sized watering hole whose decor is part bordello and part terrarium. On a summer afternoon, grab a perch on the outdoor mezzanine among the hanging plants, or nestle inside behind the crimson theatre curtains when the weather is chilly.
It took an 18-month battle with the local council to get his latest project up and running but now that it's here Cutcliffe couldn’t be happier. “It’s not about having an empire, it’s about changing the landscape of Sydney hospitality,” he tells Time Out.
Although their inventory currently stands at more than 200 wines, Cutcliffe says the list is still unfinished. “I want to get it over 400. Plus I love port, and there is something about the number four for me so I am aiming for 40 ports, 40 whiskeys and 40 beers as well.”
If you arrive early then they will crack open the wine of your choosing, and once there are five or six on the go they become the options by the glass for the evening – the same system is in place at Gerald’s Bar in Melbourne and Timbah in Glebe. If the Argentinean La Flor malbec isn’t on offer yet and there is a spare spot, then throw it into the mix.
The beer list has some natty boutique brews on offer and new ones are still being added. There are two Hefeweizens – unfiltered German wheat beers – or if you like your beer with a feminine touch, the lasses at Two Birds have produced a sweet, refreshing golden ale. There is an organic Mountain Goat steam ale for the new-age beer drinker and a hefty 500ml Epic pale ale that requires a mighty bicep curl with each sip.
When it comes to bar snacks, it’s all about balance; chicken liver parfait with candied orange and parsley, chorizo with pickled watermelon rind, sobrassada with pickled peach. The strong flavours of the rich charcuterie are perfectly complemented by the sweet tang of the preserves. They don’t skimp on the parfait and we could have done with more of the accompaniments, but even on its own it’s an elegant snack. The chorizo is prime for sharing – though you might want to consider ordering extra bread.
It can be hard to go past a cheese plate when good wine is on hand, but trust us and order the ice-cream sandwich instead. The chocolate biscuit casing has the same texture as a chewy Anzac biscuit and combined with the cherry and coconut ice cream is subtly reminiscent of a Cherry Ripe – amazing.
At this point Cutcliffe could be forgiven for taking some time off to admire his handiwork, but instead it’s on to the next project, a new espresso bar in Bondi called Picnic where you will find him punching out excellent coffees while he dreams up more exciting venues for this fair city.