“Did you know a wine and cheese bar has opened on Norton Street,” my regular dining companion asks me, quite casually one morning. By seven that night we’re sitting inside Creek and Cella; so it’s probably an understatement to say that this spot is just what this suburb has needed.
The rustic vibe that this Federation bungalow had in its Le Pain Quotidien days, has been replaced by a neutral recycled timber interior, more akin to the tastes of modern day Leichhardt.
Along with a long bar, this plain fit-out directs your attention exactly where it should be: on two custom-made cold cabinets or cella frigorifera (as the nod to the area’s Italian heritage in the venue name infers).
One is filled with cheese, and the other charcuterie; separated by a shiny meat slicer.
Before investigating them thoroughly, I need a drink. What I wasn't expecting to find here were nine on-tap, locally produced craft beers, including my favourite pale ale: Shenanigans Winston American Pale Ale ($8.50/$10). We get stuck into a cold one as we chat to the friendly bartender about the team’s experience, which shines in both their craft beer and wine selections. Founder Aaron Edwards' other venues include Darlinghurst’s Bitter Phew, and a Newtown gin bar called Doris and Beryl's Bridge Club and Tea House, which both seem to have largely flown under the radar. Over some Cuca Razor Clams ($23) – a perfect, simple drinking snack against crisp bread and lemon – I resolve to investigate them both.
Prepare your palate for the excesses of meat and cheese with well-presented South Coast Smoked Oysters ($16) - probably the most unique selection from the short menu of dishes. Pitted on crisp bread against a pungent pickled chilli and some nori-topped aioli, these smoky bivalves make for a wonderful mouthful that’ll tickle every corner of your palate. Scrape the seeds out if you prefer your chillies to be more about flavour than heat.
Switch over to wine for the main events. You'll find the list here has been carefully selected, with an emphasis on natural winemaking. And before you screw up your nose and tell me you prefer something more elegant, give the 2016 Commune of Buttons ABCD Chardonnay ($75/bottle) a whirl. It's really soft and round for a natural wine; the flavour is fruity with juicy mandarin and white peach overlaying some of the more expected and nuttier Chardonnay elements that are lurking in the rear.
Bangalow Capicollo ($13) – air-dried pork neck edged with paprika – is moist and flavoursome. The thin slices seem to dissolve upon contact with your tongue, leaving you with the slightly sweet flavour characteristic of pork from this luscious green part of New South Wales. By contrast, Quattro Stelle Cinghiale Bocconcini ($12) made from wild boar, gives your mouth more of a workout. Its rich fattiness works best when contrasted with tart cornichons and Pioik Bakery’s (Pyrmont) excellent breads.
Your generously proportioned cheese selections arrive with another boutique selection of breads, fresh honeycomb and house-made quince paste.
Our plate is won by the combination of a buttery, ash-rubbed goat's cheese called Sante Maure Cendre ($14) with gorgeous honeycomb sourced from a collective near Byron Bay. This chalky sweet combination will make your Chardonnay sing. With a Marc de Bourgogne-washed, bright orange rind, the Berthaut Petit Epoisses ($16) is a strong smelling but easy-eating cheese that suits quince paste and fruit bread. We round out our selection with the perfect afternoon cheese - an American semi-hard called Sartori BellaVitano Espresso ($15), which is sweetish with an espresso-rubbed outer edge; and the Occelli Al Malto D’Orzo E Whisky ($18).
Dotted with malted barley grains and doused in whisky, the latter is a robust and difficult cheese. With the benefit of hindsight I’d consume it late at night with snifter of whisky. And spying a good selection of whiskeys running from Irish to Japanese, I file this idea away for a repeat Creek and Cella adventure...
Creek and Cella
54 Norton Street, Leichhardt
Ph: none provided