Does Saint Urban perfect the holy trinity of great food, smart wines and real-deal service? Leanne Clancey pays Melbourne’s latest a visit.

Sure, we’ve all heard of Saint Francis, Saint Patrick and Saint Valentine, but Saint Urban? Not so much.

Centuries ago, the French bishop was known as a champion of the wine industry, and now – thanks to a team of seasoned Melbourne restaurant industry pros – the Saint Urban name is enjoying a welcome revival.

Wine-fancying locals are counting their blessings with the arrival of a stylish new wine bar named in the bishop’s honour.

Open since June last year, it’s the brainchild of co-owners (and Richmond residents) chef Daniel Schelbert, his partner, front-of-house manager Pia Tatjana-Tukiainen, and restaurateur Martin Pirc, owner of iconic CBD wine bar, Punch Lane.

Like their polished-yet-genial floor staff, the trio are all local industry veterans, and there’s a wonderful sense of proper, seasoned professionalism to the service.

They know their food, and they really know their wine, so it’s very much a case of “tell us what you like, relax, and we’ll look after you”.

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The venture is the team’s take on the kind of dream neighbourhood wine bar they’ve always wanted in the area, and as a mid-week visit proves, there’s a rather sizeable and receptive market of fellow locals happy to have Saint Urban in the ’hood, too.

Entry comes via a hidden door off a cobbled alleyway (very Melbourne), and once inside you’ll find a handsome space that effortlessly pulls off the same timeless European charm that the city’s best wine bars do so well.

The combination of distressed walls, great lighting and arched Art Deco-style windows relay an understated sophistication, while the ersatz lived-in patina conjures memories of that particular brand of backstreet Roman enoteca or Parisian wine bar you always just stumble across.

Taking a broad sweep of culinary cues from across Europe, Schelbert’s share-friendly menu mines the chef’s back catalogue running kitchens at the likes of Cecconi’s, The European, and Punch Lane.

There’s a conviction apparent in well-executed starters such as the wonderfully tender octopus with smoky chorizo, guindilla chillies and tart lemon cream, though a dish of char-grilled ox tongue with horseradish and mustard fruits – while winning on all other fronts – can veer a little too far into salty-ville.

Mains, such as the perfectly seasoned confit duck leg with creamy parsnip purée and pleasingly citric preserved cumquats, showcase Schelbert’s aptitude for well-balanced European comfort food, and cheese fans should save space for at least one pick from the thoughtful international list.

Like its sister venue Punch Lane, fine wine is very much front and centre here and you’ll find an extensive selection of interesting old and new world wines, as well as back-vintage releases and a considered spread of wines by the glass.

When it comes to low-lit, Euro-inspired wine bars that pair great service with a high-standard culinary offering, Melbourne pretty much owns the genre, and this wonderfully atmospheric newcomer totally fits the archetype.

With its approachable, come-anytime informality, Saint Urban is the kind of neighbourhood haunt that might just have you checking the property listings so you can be local, too.

Details: Saint Urban, Melbourne

Where: 213 Swan Street, Richmond, Vic;

Verdict: Richmond’s dining scene has finally come of age and with such a switched-on team at the helm, Saint Urban is the kind of grown-up local the area has been crying out for. Ideal as much for a solo post-work wine mission as it is for a long weekend lunch, it has all the hallmarks of an instant classic.

Score: 4/5

We rated: A seat at the marble-topped bar just screams ‘drink wine’, and the savvy staff know how to guide you to the good stuff.

We’d change: Richness abounds on the menu, so it pays to take ordering cues from staff to avoid lard-on-lard mishaps.

All AT reviews are conducted anonymously and our writers pay their own way – so we experience exactly what you would.

Australian Traveller issue 67

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