Ante is modelled after the Japanese concept of jazzu kissa, a jazz cafe or bar where customers come for the records as much as they do the drinks. To that end, Matt Young (who also operates Black Market Sake) and business partner Jemma Whiteman have put great effort into creating an atmosphere that transports customers far from the bustle of King Street.
Tunes come courtesy of Young’s personal collection of 2500 records and are the ideal accompaniment to junmai (pure rice) saké by the glass, carafe or bottle. But the best place to start is a tailored flight of three. Whether you prefer fruity, dry or a cross section, there are more than 60 sakes available, including premium varieties aged for up to 40 years. A range of other spirits such as whisky and gin round out the offering.
Whiteman’s menu has clear Japanese influences, with ingredients such as kanzuri (fermented chilli paste); katsuobushi (bonito flakes); and mirin. But her dishes also reference ingredients and inspiration from around the world, and reflect her time at groundbreaking restaurants Pinbone Café Paci, Lankan Filling Station and Billy Kwong.
Expect a range of snacks and large dishes that pair incredibly well with sake. You might find beef kare pan; polenta with fried comte; tagliatelle with fermented shiitake mushrooms; and crispy rice, red pepper butter and katsuobushi.
The moody bar bears no resemblance to its former life as a hot chocolate cafe. A blackbutt bar top on a honed brick foundation is at the centre of the charcoal space, and Young has taken advantage of the large room, generously spacing out the timber and leather seating.