Restaurant Manager, Callum McCrorie and Head Chef, Tom Swapp were the new additions heading up Pony Dining in Brisbane late last year. Together, they embarked on a mission to rejuvenate the already alluring proposition of wining and dining at the waterfront of Eagle Street Pier.
“The move to Pony dining has been an exciting one. The venue, the menu and its prime location is a recipe for a great experience and I can’t wait to ensure all our guests receive the full Pony experience” says McCrorie, who was part of the original launch team of Eagle Street Pier neighbour, Chef’s Hat awardee, Sake Restaurant and Bar. His ability to retain that status during his tenure undoubtedly attributed to his Edinburgh stint at Michelin rated, Castle Terrace and Brisbane venues, London Fields and Gerards Bistro. His long career being held to a high standard sets the benchmark for his connoisseurship in wine.
Four months on, one of the major projects he has been working on has been the complete overhaul to 85% of the venue’s wine selection. Its curation based on preferred favorites of regular corporate clientele, while also being deliberate in sourcing unusual and obscure wines based on the interests of tourists, interlacing those with ‘on-trend’ bottles for serious wine lovers and foodies. “I have a couple of wines on the list at the moment that you won’t be able to get anywhere else in the Brisbane dining precinct. Two I’m pouring under the coravin – in the Mysterious Mr Black range, I have a Barossa Valley Shiraz and an Adelaide Hills Chardonnay. They are very, very small batch productions and the guys who supply them are very particular about who they sell them to. If they sell a chardonnay to one restaurant, they will not sell it to any other in that area.” McCrorie says, as he gives an overview of the 110 bottles they now carry. The rationale shaped by what 2019 in a wine glass will taste and look like based on his years in the business:
1. Skin contact – Orange is the New White
Now before you get the wrong idea, this refers to the method whereby white wine grapes are fermented with their skins on before pressing — a practice that mirrors the way red wines are made. The method dates back thousands of years but has been revitalised in recent times with most restaurants now offering a selection of Orange or Amber wines.
“Amber wines develop a lot more texture, a lot more mouth fill.” describes McCrorie, “This trend started probably three or four years ago and in the last 12 months it has gone through the roof. You pretty much can’t read a wine list without having something that comes out as ‘chewy’”.
2. The name of the Rosé
While rosé is well and truly having it’s moment, it’s worthwhile delving briefly into the history of rosé, because it has a chequered past. It could well be the oldest known type of wine as it is the most straight-forward to make, and whilst the Ancient Greeks and Romans were big fans, the path of rosé took a dramatic turn after World War II. At this time a couple of brands of sweet and inexpensive rosé were released and successfully marketed to women and the younger generations. While they sold very well, it planted the idea that all rosé was cheap, syrupy and poorly-made swill! A reputation that was hard to kick! For decades it seemed that rosé would be relegated to the annals of history. But then, along came Instagram! According to some wine experts, the fact that rosé is just so damn pretty and photogenic has led to a surge in its popularly, particularly with millennials.
‘As well as it’s attractive appearance, rosé is generally more affordable and approachable”, says McCrorie. “It is a great way to introduce people to wine as it covers so many bases – it can be sweet, dry, powerful or subtle. Plus, you won’t get as many people turning their nose up at you if you throw a couple of cubes of ice in the glass!” Instagram accounts such as Yes Way Rosé & celebrity-created rosé vintages from the likes of Drew Barrymore, John Legend and even Jon Bon Jovi indicate that rosé is going to continue its global domination in 2019!
3. Coravin-Poured and Coravin Wine Lists
“Any restaurant with a wine list worth pouring will be using a Coravin in 2019,” states McCrorie. So, what is it? “Basically, it’s a system developed by an American surgical supplier who really enjoyed his wine and wanted a way to be able to open a bottle and have a glass without having to drink the whole thing in one sitting. He developed an injection system that works using inert gas, Argon, and displacement. You stab a needle into the bottle and pump in the argon and displacement causes the wine to be pumped out. The gas creates a seal on top of the wine which stops it from oxidising and keeps the bottle fresh for up to 40 days.”
This system has revolutionised the restaurant and wine industry as it means they can now sell wines by the glass that were previously only available by the bottle. At Pony Dining, McCrorie offers a separate Coravin Wine List which will increasingly become more selective and exclusive, allowing customers to sample wines that are extremely rare and unique.
4. Biodynamic Winemaking
According to McCrorie, winemakers are increasingly using biodynamic farming methods. “It’s a very old-school holistic method which relies on things like the lunar cycle, crushed quartz, herbs, composting and the use of other natural methods rather than using chemicals and pesticides,” he explains.
And it’s not just boutique vineyards, some of the larger vineyards are taking biodynamic practices, without embracing the system completely. “It puts the focus more on natural wine making which is essentially just growing grapes, picking grapes, pressing juice and letting it go – the truest expression of wine making.” This style is in direct contrast to what we’ve seen in winemaking for the last 20 years or so where there has been a lot of work put into wines: temperature control, sulphites added etc. “This gives you a very consistent and controlled product – you get the same bottle of wine year in year out, with very little difference in vintages. With natural & biodynamic wine, there is unsurprisingly going to be a lot of variation from year to year.”
As this form of farming and wine production becomes more common, it stands to reason that the prices will become less inhibitive, making it more accessible to mainstream consumers.
With more than one million vineyards under cultivation in Italy, a country 26 times smaller than Australia, it’s no wonder we associate the Boot with great wines. But forget your usual Sangiovese, Chianti or Lambrusco, according to McCrorie, people are starting to look for more interesting grape varieties.
“Regions from the old world and Italian varietals are becoming more popular, especially the likes of white varietals Fiano from the Campania region of southern Italy and Garganega from the Veneto region of North East Italy. If red wine is more your thing, the Nero D’avola variety is gaining well-deserved recognition in Australia after long being acknowledged as the most important and widely planted red wine grape variety in Sicily.”
Increasingly Australian growers are experimenting with different grapes, particularly those varieties, like Nero d’Avola, that are suited to Australia’s warming climate, so expect to see more of these Italian drops in 2019!
The challenge for McCrorie is managing those expectations from external trends while complementing the culinary vision of Head Chef Tom Swapp whose accolades are just as steallar having led a team of 14 chefs at another hatted venue, Spirit House on the Sunshine Coast.
“The immediate focus is on being consistent, serving good-looking and great-tasting, produce-driven food and nailing it every day. The long-term vision, is to continue being consistent and creative whilst maintaining a sustainable kitchen culture. I’ll also be giving it my all, to push Pony towards its first chef’s hat!” sats Chef Swapp.\
Boasting one of the best views in Brisbane of the famous Story Bridge, and at home upstairs above Eagle Street Pier, the heavy doors of Pony Dining signal entrance into a world where flavours rule – the smoky wood fire aroma is the first sign of this daily homage to local, regional and international taste profiles. Inside Pony Dining is sophisticated yet cool and a little on the irreverent side; a restaurant that takes diners on a flavour-filled journey.
Pony Dining Brisbane
Upper Level, Eagle Street Pier, Eagle Street, Brisbane QLD 4000
Reservations: +61 7 31813499
Pony Dining The Rocks
Cnr Argyle Street and Kendall Lane, The Rocks NSW 2000
Reservations: +61 2 9252 7797