While bigger towns usually boast at least one regional fine dining gem, along with a quality café that shows off local produce for fewer than twenty bucks, they can often be a bit hollow in the mid-range category. Bathurst proved an exception to this rule with Vine & Tap, an Italian spuntini wine bar, set off the main street down a covered cobblestone pathway edged with dripping vines.
The walkway takes you behind the historic Brooke Moore Centre, built as a one-storey church house back in 1852, then extended skywards by another storey in 1900. It opens out into a lovely al fresco courtyard, slightly marred by restorative building works on the evening I dined, but still buzzing with a convivial hum.
With every outdoor table occupied, we're guided to the mezzanine level to enjoy our meal of contemporary Italian share plates against a backdrop of exposed wooden rafters and framed photographic scenes of Italy.
Be warned though, if you don’t like traipsing up and down stairs, ordering is done at the back-lit marble counter downstairs, and tap water is a similarly self-service affair.
Logistics and ordering taken care of, I soon have a Premium Negroni ($20) in my hand, and begin to relax into the pace of the place. Made on Tanqueray No. Ten, Rosso Antico and Campari, the cocktail is smooth and pleasantly bitter. I also enjoy The Outsider ($17) teaming gin, Campari and Lillet Blanc with bitters and lemon juice for a tart aperitivo that works against a bowl of Gorgonzola Stuffed Olives ($14). The piquant green fried olives arrive perched upon their promised stuffing, which, to my eye needs more bitey gorgonzola and less creamy filler to really sing.
Wild Mushroom Arancini ($17) however are a big hit. The crisp risotto balls offer up perfect texture and bags of flavour using grilled mushrooms, a surprisingly sweet mushroom pickle, a dusting of cheese and earthy truffle mayonnaise. They even managed to woo my canape-weary dining companion, after he spent a decade working at Sydney Opera House where Matt Moran’s catering arm trotted out arancini at every single event.
Beef Brisket and Bone Marrow Meatballs ($18) in tomato sugo look mild-mannered but cause a smoky bone marrow explosion in your mouth.
The beef is lean and good quality, but I found the marrow-based richness so intense, I struggled to eat a second one, even with the help of the See Saw Pinot Rosé ($9/glass). Locally sourced from Orange, the blush pink wine is a lovely, savoury and elegant rosé. Eating the meatballs on Grilled Bread ($10) also helped out a little with their intense fatty richness.
Roasted Cacciatore ($15) eats like late night stoner chef food. Crack the egg yolk, give it a mix, then eat the sticky-sweet hunks of Italian salami on grilled bread, and they actually make sense. This dish is too sweet otherwise.
While pricy for the size, the Calabrese Salad ($26) employs such amazing oxheart tomatoes you’re probably not going to care, especially if you're from Sydney (like me) where tomatoes are almost uniformly terrible. Here the thinly sliced reds are set off with creamy burrata, basil and anchovies, and lubricated by a drizzle of black olive oil. It’s a textural and flavoursome dish that’s only hampered by a fraction too much acidity; however after eating those hectic meatballs, you might be grateful for the palate strip. With the kitchen already closed for the night, it made me slightly regretful I hadn't ordered dessert.
Vine & Tap
The Brooke Moore Centre, 142 William Street, Bathurst
Ph: (02) 6358 0875