To pinpoint exactly what the people want and then deliver it is much easier said than done. Bar Copains manages to do exactly that, and does it with a relaxed, unshowy confidence that’s rare among new openings.
If chef pals Nathan Sasi and Morgan McGlone are out to prove anything at the snug Surry Hills natural wine bar – their first venture together – then they certainly aren’t making too much noise about it. Instead, the respective Leigh Street Wine Room founder and former Belle’s Hot Chicken boss are leaning on familiar and almost foolproof tropes, with a clear understanding of what makes places like this tick.
By now, you’ve heard the Fugees and Faith Evans tracks pulsing from the speakers countless times. You’ve admired the curved shape of the bar at other demographically aligned establishments about town. You’ve sat in the bentwood chairs, flanked by terrazzo floors and rendered walls. And you don’t even need to glance at the menu to know it’s all shareable and that there’s a chicken liver parfait.
If it sounds like a bar à vins by numbers, know that none of it feels old hat. Unsurprisingly, the crowd is absolutely loving it, cramming as many plates (all handmade by McGlone himself under his Ryo’s Pottery banner) as possible onto the teensy tables and high-fiving the head honchos as they take turns stepping out of the kitchen. After all, when food is comfortingly familiar and grounded in good sense, frivolity will follow.
Consider the pig’s head fritti: neat little crumbed and fried blocks of sweetly spiced shredded meat, their richness relieved by the tang of Zuni pickles and a herby sauce gribiche. Uncomplicated, and exactly what you want in one hand as you swirl a frisky sauv blanc blend from the Dordogne in the other. You’ll need both hands for the devilishly good King George whiting sandwich, which sees tartare sauce and snippets of iceberg lettuce spread across two fluffy, crustless white bread slices with a plainly battered fillet in the middle. A salad of fleshy summer tomatoes and sweet watermelon works in a similarly simple way, needing no more than a few tuffets of goat’s curd and torn basil leaves to make it feel complete.
At $58, the 2GR Wagyu flank steak is pricey for bavette, but it’s a joy to eat, the thin blade of an Opinel knife meets with no resistance as it carves through its rosy centre. The beef is so full-flavoured that you don’t necessarily need any of the accompanying house-made condiments – zingy mustard, pungent mushroom ketchup, airy horseradish cream – though they double down on the pleasure.
Never once does it feel like you’re not in safe hands here, a testament not only to the chefs’ nous, but also to the assured service and the wine list by former Belle’s beverage director Christian Robertson. Those well-versed in the lo-fi landscape will be acquainted with most of the labels, but scattered conventional classics, rare back vintages and unicorn cuvées from overlords like Ganevat, Bornard and Pacalet lend considerable interest to the goings-on. Pop a bottle, and get amongst it.