Where wine is the king

Ex­cep­tional drinks list is as wide as the bar is nar­row.

Metro Magazine NZ - - Restaurant Review - TEXT — SI­MON FARRELL-GREEN

Whenour Restau­rant of the Year judge

Pat Nourse came over from Mel­bourne in March, he wanted to know where all the lit­tle nat­u­ral wine bars were, and I had to tell him we didn’t have any. Now, sud­denly, they’re sprout­ing all over the city — the lat­est be­ing Clay, which opened just be­fore Christ­mas on K’ Rd in a long, thin space that used to be a mo­bile re­pair shop.

It’s a part­ner­ship be­tween Bren­dan Man­ning, Garage Project’s Jos Ruf­fell, and Daniel Gil­lett, who runs Wine Di­a­monds, a dis­trib­u­tor that spe­cialises in bio­dy­namic and or­ganic wine. And that’s very def­i­nitely the fo­cus here; there’s a long list, with plenty by the glass and two ro­tat­ing taps of wine that comes by the litre-carafe. And, since it’s also an off-li­cence, you can drop by for a bot­tle on the way home at 20% off the menu price.

It’s a great space. There’s a long high wooden table right down the length of the room, and a floor laid with a rough mo­saic of tiles. The walls are green and there are fridges down the side wrapped in oak, which makes it feel a bit like you’re drink­ing in a shop — and that’s a good thing. (Though I’m not en­tirely sure how you’re meant to ac­cess the fridges when there’s a full house; that table is al­most com­i­cally gi­gan­tic, and dom­i­nates the space.) The menu is short: a few snacks, and three pizete, which are round and puffy and nicely burnt.

It’s very early days for Clay and, on the whole, I love the place. It’s fun, and there’s a whole list of wines I’ve barely heard of. It feels like some­thing the city needs.

The food’s good — ca­sual, nicely put to­gether, plenty of veg­e­tar­ian op­tions (try the beet­root with crème frâiche) and a slow-cooked, unc­tu­ous press of beef cheek — but it’s mostly there as a back­drop to the ex­cel­lent wine list.

Which is big and po­ten­tially be­wil­der­ing. In­tim­i­dat­ing ter­ri­tory for some and ex­cit­ing for oth­ers. It’s the kind of place where you want some­one to tell you how fab­u­lous this wine is, and why you must or­der it — but that doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily hap­pen at Clay. Even­tu­ally we or­dered, al­most at ran­dom, a bot­tle of Kin­deli La Zorra chardon­nay from Nel­son, for a very rea­son­able $52. It was fresh and sup­ple, en­er­getic with a bit of skin flavour, but not too much. Wine like this shows how ex­cit­ing the world of nat­u­ral wine is. I’d like Clay to im­part just a bit more of that ex­cite­ment — but I’m look­ing for­ward to spend­ing rather a lot of time there re­gard­less.

ABOVE— At Clay, the food’s good, but it’s not the bar’s rai­son d’être.

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