Review: Vesuvio Courtyard Bar

EUROPEAN FLAVOUR: Vesuvio's wine and food list has a Mediterranean influence.
EUROPEAN FLAVOUR: Vesuvio's wine and food list has a Mediterranean influence.

Frankly, it'd be nice to keep this gem a secret; Vesuvio is so petite it is likely to feel too crowded with 20 people in the bar.

This redux version of an old CBD hangout might be the size of a single garage, but it is perfectly formed. Owner Matt Lingens, who cooks and shares bar duty, has a fine eye for detail. Practically everything you see in the bar has been handmade, from the leather-topped tables to the tiles on the floor.

The long, thin, grey marble leaner on one wall used to be one of the marble steps that led to The Press's first floor. (Pre-quakes, I trod on that step several times a week.)

The newspaper motif continues with satirical cartoons hung on the wall (including some by The Press's Al Nisbet). Plus, the stairway and the bathroom upstairs are decoupaged with 1970s newspaper pages (one eyebrow-raising story tells of Mosgiel solo mums throwing orgies).

In the early 2000s, Vesuvio was one of the restaurant/bars along Oxford Tce. Today, in a mini reincarnation, the emphasis is on the small pleasures in life. Vesuvio redux is definitely quality over quantity.

This eye for the finer things includes the classy glassware - all Spiegelau - note how the special IPA glasses are designed for enjoying the hoppy notes of craft beer.

Chalkboards tell of the food, beer, wine carafes and champagne cocktails on offer. On our lingering visit, we enjoyed a stunning handmade duck liver and madeira pate with roast aubergine, pepper and artichoke with roast bread ($15.50); some classic tomato, garlic and basil bruschetta ($12.50) and spicy Moroccan lamb with harissa ($14.50).

The boys had beers, including Tuatara pilsner and Emerson's pale ale. The girls shared a carafe of Albarino (Spanish white), one of five listed wine varieties. Similar to a gewurztraminer, it was great value at $14.50. 

The super-heated, charcoal-fired Kamadojo cooker in the far corner of the compact bar cooks everything, but we can also recommend the cured Italian meats (coppa, pancetta, prosciutto) and a fine range of epicurean cheeses. We chose the piquant gorgonzola and zingy pecorino and were very glad we did.

The attention to detail might be high-end, yet Vesuvio also functions well as a neighbourhood bar, albeit in a posher part of town.

The expensive sound system provides music that somehow makes you feel summery, even when it's overcast. It is loud enough to enjoy, but not so loud you cannot enjoy a quiet tete-a-tete.

We finished our evening with some excellent Hummingbird coffee and wished we could stay longer. 

Let the sweaty masses crowd into the latest noisy hot spot and jostle for shots and fries elsewhere. For appetising tapas to go with your bruschetta and bold red - somewhere you can enjoy some Mediterranean ambience, conversation and fine wine - then Vesuvio has what you need.

Where: 4 Papanui Rd.

Service: Sociable and welcoming.

Prices: Tapas and antipasti from $12.50. Wine $12 a glass or $14.50 a carafe, and beer from $6.50.

Ambience: Mediterranean elegance, mature and intimate.