There’s definitely something to be said for having a local anything – drycleaner, convenience store, tailor, espresso bar. That sense of familiarity and comfort, of knowing what to expect, and of course the little heart flutter when they remember your name and order for the first time. But there’s even more to be said for having a local wine bar. Especially when it’s one as good as Timbah. Timbah is the sort of place where you come for a quiet drink before dinner and find yourself looking down into the bottom of a bottle of shiraz and licking polenta chips from your fingers four hours later.
Part of Timbah’s appeal is that it feels a little like you’ve gone over to a friend’s place for dinner. A friend with an absolutely stellar cellar and a great taste in cheese, that is. Entering through a little door just off Glebe Point Road, you discover a warmly lit and low-ceilinged room dotted with small black tables marked with numbers in chalk, with a few slightly questionable bright cushions strewn across the bench seats. Although my friends might not have chalked tables, I have certainly seen my fair share of questionable bright cushions… The bar is a simple affair with friendly and experienced staff who flit casually between chatting amongst themselves and to the patrons, waxing lyrical about the extensive winelist, and delivering delicately constructed tapas boards from the kitchen out the back.
What truly reels you in is their modus operandi: Timbah has an extensive list of wines by the bottle from Australia and overseas, but each evening three reds and three whites are available by the glass at any one time. Whether it’s a Pinot Grigio, a Verdejo, or a Semillon Sauvignon Blanc alongside a Riesling or vice versa depends on who gets there first – they get to open the first bottle for by-the-glass-sales. This continues until there are three reds and three whites open. Once one of the chosen ones is used up, the next patron up to the bar gets to pick what will be opened as its replacement. Which all adds up to variety, fun, and another reason to keep coming back. It’s also a fantastic opportunity to try some exquisite wines that wouldn’t normally be available (or affordable) by the glass for your average punter.
Salivating yet? Don’t even get me started on the tapas. Chalked up onto a wall at the back of the room, they’re an eclectic mix that varies from week to week. Expect cured meats, quality cheeses, morcilla and other sausages, polenta chips, bread sticks, moroccocan carrot dip and baba ghanoush arranged artfully onto small wooden boards. A small sharing platter will set you back about $18 – $30, depending on whether you’re an omnivore, a herbivore, or a carnivore. If you’re just here for a glass of wine and a sneaky snack, you can order a few olives ($6) or almonds ($6) to nibble on as you watch the world go by.
My last Timbah adventure was a strategic part of my carefully constructed plan to convince my parents to fall in love with and move to Glebe. Meeting at dusk, we were shown to a cosy little nook next to the window, which was open to let in a slightly sweet smelling evening breeze and the chatter of an occasional passer by on the street outside. Bearing in mind it was a weekday, we sagely decided to start on a clean crisp Australian Riesling by the glass ($8) as we pondered the tapas menu.
Trio of Dips ($16) is not normally a menu item that I go crazy for. But this was my one request, primarily because I have a long-nurtured weakness for their polenta chip accompaniment here at Timbah. We also opt for a small meatlover’s Grazing Plate ($18) which includes Chorizo, Morcilla, and Proscuitto. Oh, and some Salt and Pepper Squid ($18) – I can’t resist aioli, especially when shared among friends rather than potential beaus.
The trio come out amidst a sea of carbohydrate-filled goodness including polenta chips, grissini and lavosh. Oh, and a few greens of course (including some nasturtiums, which is a cute touch). The dips themselves are exceptionally tasty, with a nice balance between the spicy Harissa, the smoky Baba Ghanoush and the sweet Carrot and Cumin Humous. It’s always a good sign when you can’t pick a favourite. I can’t decide between the challenging subtle burn of the Harissa and the smooth creamy softness of the Carrot Humous. As always, the polenta chips are cooked to perfection – golden, crispy, and only a little bit grainy inside from the polenta.
As much as I wish it weren’t so (ever been served a bad meal at a friend’s house?), the squid is a little disappointing. It comes out as thin tendrils rather than thick, soft, moist rings. It is (somewhat) redeemed by the smooth and creamy aioli and the freshness of the batter. We eat it anyway, but I wouldn’t be ordering it again – especially since salt and pepper squid is something that’s done well, and pretty cheaply, at most pubs around the inner west.
Somewhere in between these courses I venture up to the bar. It’s time to move to red. I ask the bartender to tell me which red I feel like. She smiles, and gets out three glasses – “Well, you’ll just have to try them all first!” Already feeling quite lightheaded from the white, I say tentatively “Okay, just a little bit of each”. (Who’s going to say no to sampling a 2004 Shiraz?) We move from the house red at $8 up to the 04 Shiraz at $13, with the bartender pouring almost a half glass each time. By the end, I’m feeling more than a little lightheaded and definitely quite cheery. Also, I can’t say no to the Shiraz (although by now I’ve had more than my fair share of wine for a weekday…). What I enjoy about this whole experience at the bar is that I know she’s not letting me sample them all just to upsell me to the most expensive option; it’s an educational experience from a passionate teacher. As she pours each glass, she tells me about the grape and the production process, and then she asks me what I think of each one. And she absolutely won’t let me get away without finishing each glass before she pours the next one.When I go to the bathroom, I’m sure to use the chalk provided to express my love for Timbah on the bathroom wall (alongside a few other year-5 style love declarations).
This is the epitome of the neighbourhood wine bar; a cosy little nook where you can lose yourself and your worries for an evening at least. Much like going to a friend’s place for dinner, they might not nail every course every time. But you’ll forgive it all when you look up a few hours later and realise you’re still here having a rollicking good time. And even if the staff don’t know your name and your Shiraz preference yet, you can bet your bottom dollar they will soon.
Best Bits: a novel approach to wines by the glass, polenta chips in the trio of dips, attention to detail in plating up the tapas, staff service, being able to book a table.
Worst Bits: salt and pepper squid, having to walk home after one too many tastings.