Project Team

design: Allistar Cox

Photography: Kristoffer Paulsen, Sarah Anderson

Tucked away on Melbourne’s burgeoning Russell Street, Embla, takes its patrons on a journey of historical refinement from the moment they step through the door with its moody lighting,  bluestone floor, variant recycled timbers and pre-loved blackboard announcing the daily wine specials.

Embla is the second Melbourne venue by hospitality operator Christian McCabe with chef, Dave Verheul, the first being The Town Mouse, and the duo partnered once more with NZ designer Allistar Cox to deliver a space that complemented their offering of natural and traditional wines with dishes to be enjoyed with a drink.

Designed to evoke the sentiment that this newly opened wine bar is embedded in Melbourne history, the brief was simple: pare the space back and don’t over-design.

“Our vision for Embla was that it wouldn’t be precious or pretentious, but somewhere guests can unwind and enjoy themselves, rather than being on their best behavior. Our aim was to create an everyday local, not a special occasion venue, where visitors will always feel at home,” says McCabe.

Cox stripped the building back to its core, exposing the history of the site and providing a blank canvas to work with.

A beautifully carved linoleum bar top greets you on the left wall as you enter the long and narrow wine-bar, the wall continues to become the kitchen, with bar stool seating looking in on the meticulous chefs working the equipment, including wood fire smoke oven, and plating the food.

“We were careful to select materials that enhanced the feeling of history in the venue, decorating it with one off antiques the team stumbled across over time, including old cast iron wheels found in New Zealand and an old menu board, which helps to give the space its distinction, old-world charm and boisterous personality,” says Cox.

Recycled timber tables line the right side of the space, gently lit from above with antique glass light fittings the designer found along the design journey, as well as natural light from the neighbouring Melbourne laneway through the re-discovered windows.

Having worked together on previous projects, Allistar Cox and his Wellington based staff have formed a longstanding relationship with McCabe on a foundation of trust and mutual understanding, allowing beautiful work to be delivered and enjoyed by patrons.