A superb, fun-to-browse wine list and next-level sharing plates in a moody but chic saloon-style bar. Add in great service and a lively vibe and Embla shows why it’s one of the must-visit bars in town.
Location: 122 Russell St, Melbourne, VIC 3000 Ph: 0455 122 121
When I think of Embla, my mind fills with smoky warmth and the soothing ambience of a dark, mysterious drinking den, locked in a perpetual nocturnal fug. Maybe it’s because Embla is close to ember in sound, maybe it’s due to me only ever visiting after dusk, or perhaps its the waft of wood-fire permeating from the kitchen, but for whatever reason, it’s an appealing combination.
And whilst Embla may describe itself simply as a wine bar, it is so much more than this.
After all, how many mere wine bars make it into the top 20 of the Herald Sun’s rundown fo the ‘Most Delicious Restaurants’ in Victoria?
Update: Embla has also been awarded One Hat in the latest (2023) Age Good Food Guide, consolidating its position as a must-try venue.
From the amusing, quirkily written – and beautifully diverse – wine list to the delightful tasting plates of seasonal fare – Embla set a high benchmark when it first opened and post-Lockdowns it continues to to cast a gastronomic spell.
Small, but perfectly formed, dark and moody Embla is in many ways the quintessential Melbourne wine bar.
A thin dining room runs to the right of a busy bar with shelves of wine and a lively open kitchen to the left. At first glance, you might mistake it for an old-fashioned saloon bistro with its textures of wood and chilled vibe.
But look closer and subtle flashes of very Melbourne chic begin to emerge. The limited space is given depth by velvety charcoal walls and the patina of the wooden tables and cabinetry is burnished by candles, warm lighting and golden pendant lamps.
And, of course, the incredibly professional and informed wait staff all wear predominantly black.
Everything about the place says effortlessly fashionable. And we all know how hard it can be to achieve the effortless.
If you’re interested in experimental cocktails in a gorgeous bar, see our review of Bouvardia, just around the corner from Embla.
As you would hope at a wine bar, you can spend a huge amount of time digesting the vast variety of reds, whites and everything in between on the wine list.
However, at Embla, dragging yourself through an almost endless array of vinos has never been more fun. Helpfully (and amusingly), the bottles are broken down into subsections that even the most uninformed of wine drinkers can appreciate.
So there is the Orange, Oxidised 0r Otherwise Weird, On Purpose. Intrigued? Well, this includes bottles such as Owen Latta Precarious 2021 (Ballarat, Vic) – $90. Whilst, the charming Things You Forget About That Are Actually Delicious is a diverse selection which moves from the sake and yuzu Heiwa Shuzo Yuzushu (Wakayama, Japan) – $17 – to the aperitif, Chinati Vergano Americano (Piemonte, Italy) – $16.
And then there’s my favourite, the Allegedly Medicinal…!
As it was early on a Friday night when we arrived, we veered from the grape for our first drinks and went the cocktail route.
I’m very happy to report that my Dirty Martini was strong, suitably briny and hit the spot.
My companions were equally chuffed with their Screwdriver and Tangerine Milk Punch (via the crew at the Caretaker’s Cottage).
They delved into the wines after that with a Two Tonne Pinot Noir 2021 (Henty, Tassie) – $87 whilst I moved on to a very nice G&T.
The Huski Wine Cooler isn’t only attractive. It has an award winning design that keeps wine cold for up to 6 hours.
As previous restaurant reviews show, I’m a huge fan of a liver parfait, so it was a no-brainer to kick off with the Smoked Duck Liver Parfait, Walnuts & Black Walnuts ($18). Silky and luscious, it came with crisp wafers of toasted bread and tasted divine. We were off to a great start.
Wanting something lighter after the richness of the parfait, we chose the Spring Garlic Ricotta, Peas, Basil and Yuzu ($22). It was a simple, but perfect, celebration of freshness with the crunchy, sweet peas popping against the soft, creamy cheese. What’s more, it looked like Spring on a plate.
Our third dish was a rare misstep. We were intrigued by the idea of the Murray Cod Terrine with Green Olive, Rocket and Bergamot ($22), but underwhelmed by the reality. The slab of firm terrine was cold – not what we expected. I’m confident the kitchen wanted to serve it chilled.
However, it made the texture of the fish slightly unpleasant and seemed to dial any flavour down to bland. Perhaps we were ignorant of what we’d get when we ordered it, but we didn’t finish it – a very rare occurrence.
Happily, we got back on track with the Beef Carpaccio, Globe Artichoke and Fermented Peppers ($26). This was a radiant sunburst of a plate. The vivacious zing of the slippery peppers lifted the earthy tang of the delicate beef. Yum!
Having grazed through a number of smaller offerings, we went large with the Chicken Leg, Artichoke, Meyer Lemon & Spinach Malfetti ($34). The chicken was juicy and moreish. However, the real star were the spinach malfetti. What could have been unexciting ricotta dumplings were light and utterly addictive. We fought over the last one and all declared so good, we would have been happy to eat a dish of them minus the chook.
And so to dessert. The promise of Coriander Seed Ice Cream got the Dried Fig Tart, Chocolate and Fig Leaf over the line. In the end, the ice cream was custard-smooth, but light on coriander. The fig tart, in contrast, was fabulous. Dense and gooey with a great biscuity base, it was proof that good cookery will always trump tricks and fads.
Easy to clean and with a powerful motor, the Breville Flow Jug Blender & Smoothie Maker whips up drinks and more in moments.
Embla Wine Bar has bounced back from Melbourne’s lockdowns as strong as ever.
The service is still exemplary, the food exciting and the wine list engaging – to both the mind and palate.
If you haven’t dined here, book at table. Then settle back and enjoy the many highlights of one of the best wine bars in Melbourne.
One of the great joys of summer in Melbourne is the number of outdoor cinemas in the city. And Embla Rooftop is one of the most popular.
The cinema is actually located on the rooftop of the building neighbouring Embla, The Melbourne Theosophical Society. Look for the signs at the doors and then head up to the rooftop via the lift and a flight of stairs. The address is 126 Russell St, Melbourne 3000.
The pale aqua rooftop is filled with candy-striped deckchairs and movies are shown on a drop-down screen. Add in food and drink from Embla and Lesa, and it’s a pretty wow date night. Or simply a lovely way to spend an evening with friends.
And whilst we are on the subject, if you’re looking for additional open-air venue options then please check out our popular guide to the best rooftop bars in Melbourne.
The rooftop cinema is open from 5pm each night and pre-purchased tickets are generally required. Movies begin just after sunset, usually around 7pm. Food and drinks are available throughout.
The rooftop bar is open for casual drinks and snacks from 5pm, Mon-Thu & Sun and 3pm Fri-Sat. No booking is required, but we’d recommend you call first to check availability on the day.
Delicious food (full meals, snacks and drinks) are available on the rooftop (both prior to and during the movie).
Before 6pm, the rooftop operates as a bar/restaurant and you don’t need a cinema ticket to attend.
After 6pm the rooftop operates as a cinema and priority is given to cinema ticket holders from this time onwards. If the venue is under capacity, there are areas where you can stay on the rooftop to continue your evening with your friends (as long as you’re not too loud).
The temperature can drop during the evening and so you should also bring something warm to wear (this should really not be a surprise to Melburnians, surely?).
If you do forget something there are sunnies, hats and blankets available to purchase.
Keep an eye on the weather as the cinema will still operate in light rain, so bring a waterproof jacket if rain is forecast.
At present, there is nothing from the Embla team about the Embla Rooftop Bar and Cinema opening again in 2023/4. However, it’s early days yet (our fingers are crossed), and we’ll be sure to keep you posted. It’s an awesome night out in the city.