When others talk about LL Wine and Dine they usually refer to its history of being an adults bookshop and, legend has it, an illegal gambling den – but what makes LL Wine and Dine stand out for me is that it’s a mini oasis of style and tranquility in, let’s face it, a pretty hideous area of Sydney.
Perhaps I’m being harsh – there are other pockets of salvation in the Cross, from the 24-hour Café Hernandez that’s a remnant of the area’s bohemian past (it always makes me think of Tom Waits) to the European charm of Bootleg Bar & Italian Food – but LL Wine and Dine is still a rare find.
From the laneway this looks like a decent enough place for a meal with diners sitting at tables outside while backpackers walk (and, later in the night, stumble) by. On the inside, however, you realise it’s so much more. There’s a great bar counter topped with a solid wooden beam that you can sit at, the floor is covered with blue tiles that curve up onto the counter wall like the floor of a swimming pool, the bar’s liquor shelving has an Asian circular design and there’s a back room that looks like an opium den (see photo below).
However, it’s the corridor leading to the back that’s the real eye opener, thanks to the wall being plastered with vintage black and white adult photos and one of the store’s old lit signs proclaiming “ecstasy” in a sinister shade of red.
The drinks here have an Asian twist with lots of fresh fruit used and, since my second-last visit, LL Wine and Dine have hired Samantha Reed, previously from The Victoria Room. I order The Swinger ($18), which is made from poached spiced plums, Bombay Sapphire gin, Aperol, star anise and cinnamon syrup and lemon and served short. The result is faultless – a classic tasting, well-balanced quenching drink that’s neither too fruity nor too strong. I could drink it almost every night of the week.
In the past I’d also tried the LL Cool Sling (Bacardi 8 rum with fresh lime, pineapple and orange juice, passionfruit and a dash of vanilla) and the Dragon Eye (pressed coriander and raspberries shaken with peach schnapps, cranberry juice and chilli-infused 42 Below Vodka – and it is cool to see the vodka bottle containing birds eye chilies floating in it – served in a short glass with a lychee in the middle of it).
Both tasted great at first sip (the Dragon Eye was particularly interesting, with the chilli giving it an edge without being overpowering and the raspberries providing most of the flavour) but didn’t hold up so well by the time I got halfway through them – although I am a slow drinker. Having said that, the Dragon Eye is unique enough for me to want to taste again, especially now there’s a new bartender behind the counter.
Foodwise I’ve tried the salt and pepper squid, which I loved – the batter’s flavoursome, delicate and not greasy at all while the flesh is tender and beautifully cooked. Next time I’m here I’ll have to try some other dishes, especially the pork belly buns and soft shell crab.
Unlike some bars with overtly funky décor, the service at LL Wine and Dine is down to earth and friendly and while its history may have been unsavory the bar itself is in good taste – making this one of my favourite in Sydney.
LL Wine and Dine, 42 Llankelly Place, Potts Point NSW 2011. See the LL Wine and Dine website or phone 9356 8393
Now it’s your turn – how do you rate LL Wine and Dine?