It’s an Eastern bloc party at this neighbourhood wine bar.
IT’S COMMON FOR immigrant parents to work their arses off in underappreciated industries like hospitality to give their kids a better life. The kids are raised in the restaurant and in turn, end up running restaurants themselves. This is the case with Ukrainian siblings Sofia and Stefan Soltys, who grew up in cult venues Café Paradiso and the Paragon, and have opened up their own neighbourhood hangout, Little Odessa.
Along with high ceilings, dark timbers and grand American oak bar, this deeply romantic room boasts a feature wall draped in a family heirloom. It’s a mural painted on a World War II army tent depicting the siblings’ great uncle among his comrades with screen sirens wrapped around them.
Pierogis are still the carb-on-carb potato dumpling the siblings grew up with, but at Little Odessa, they’re larger, crisper and lighter than the traditional version and soothed with a dollop of sour cream. Borscht is a steaming bowl of beetroot-stained root vegetables brightened with shavings of fresh cabbage and a cool, anise-heavy, dill-spiked sour cream. Plates like the vodka and dill salmon tartare and the braised veal shin are a little lacklustre and would benefit from a heavier hand of salt. Unfortunately, this is magnified by the absence of seasoning on the table. Do yourself a favour and finish on the traditional Russian honey cake: thin layers of dense, honey-infused sponge discs sandwiched together with a vanilla cream, under a crumb of tooth-shattering honeycomb taken to the very edge of bittersweet.
Little Odessa offers perfectly approachable drops from Romania: 2014 Cramele Recas chardonnay and feteasca regala blend in the whites, and the 2016 I Prefer Pinot pinot noir in reds. Beers are local, with the exception of Budvar coming directly from the Czech Republic.
The cherry on top of every visit is that the Soltys siblings are as excited to greet a stranger as they are an old friend. 274, Rear, Brunswick St, Fitzroy 3065. 03 9417 0526. littleodessa.com. au. Wed-fri 5-10.30pm; Sat 1pm-midnight; Sun 1.30pm-midnight.