Spensley’s is located in that quiet, village-y part of Clifton Hill bounded by the Eastern Freeway, Yarra Bend, Hoddle Street and Heidelberg Road. There’s not much else nearby, which makes this classic, timber- and brass-clad wine bar a real anchor for the local community.
When the sun’s up, prams and dogs cruise past sporadically, their owners frequently stopping for chats or waving to friends through the site’s generous windows. By night, the timeless, bentwood-filled room acquires a more clandestine cast, with the soundtrack shifting a few gears up from Beach House and other dream-pop bands.
The one-page menu includes a few snacks and about 10 larger plates. An early menu included a riff on South Indian bonda dumplings, paired with masala-spiced onions, plus an arepa (a spongy Latin American corn cake not unlike a crumpet) paired with tangy goat’s cheese and herb-y mojo verde sauce. More substantially, you might run into a flank steak with “secret butter”, ricotta gnocchi matched with capers and cavolo nero, or a blushing pink mound of tarama topped off with shaved daikon.
Despite this elevated fare, Spensley’s has something of an egalitarian streak. It’s the kind of place where you can pop in for a quick tap beer at the handsome timber bar (say hi to the business’s mascot, Larry the brass lobster) or stick around and explore the single-page wine list. Natural and skin-contact wines are favoured here, alongside as aromatic whites such as riesling and pinot gris, and leaner reds such as pinot noir and gamay.