The gods must be smiling

Bacchus is a sliver of a shop that has slipped into the buffet of Balmain frockeries, eateries, accessories and pubs like a wedge of French comte cheese.

It is opposite the London Hotel, down the quiet end of Darling Street, with a front window filled with huge jars of cassoulet and duck confit, and empty bottles of good French and Australian wines – signs of good times future and past.

Inside, Kristin Lynch, a former chef, sells an 18-month-old Comte Marcel Petite. She has it in a display fridge with more than 35 imported and Australian styles, including cheeseboard stars such as Vermont Cabot cheddar, Californian Midnight Moon, French La Tur and Cabichon Poitou.

Other dinner-party darlings she offers include Affineur pate and rillettes, Martelli pasta, the Stock Merchant’s stocks, Ornella organic pasta, dips by Balmain restaurant Efendy, Kakawa chocolate, Sweetness the Patisserie marshmallows, Tartuflanghe truffle products and a sensational range of Galateo & Friends taggiasca olive oils.

All the products on Lynch’s shelves are packaged beautifully. Moreno Cedroni, the chef at  two-Michelin-star restaurant La Madonnina del Pescatore, in Ancona, Italy, packs jams to be eaten with cheese into heavy-bottom glass jars that could be mistaken for hand-blown perfume bottles.

Lynch points out she isn’t selling these products just for their good looks. They have to taste good, too. ‘‘People are surprised when I tell them there isn’t a product that has passed through the front door that hasn’t passed over my lips,’’ she says.

She is also quick to admit she lives and dreams food. She set up Bacchus partly with the idea of creating a pantry of all the foods she loves and with which she loves to cook. ‘‘I’m well aware I’ve made it so much about me,’’ says Lynch, who was a world traveller while still at primary school and left school at 14to work in commercial kitchens.

She was  head chef at Hunter Valley wineries Margan and Tatler for 10 years, then came to Sydney in 2006 to help set up the city wine bar and bistro Fix St James. She left after three years. ‘‘I’d had enough of 16-hour days on concrete floors,’’ she says.

By this time, Lynch knew she wanted to go into food retail. She was also aware she didn’t know a thing about it. So she did a kind of mature-age apprenticeship, working for Jones the Grocer, Simon Johnson Purveyor of Fine Food, Signorelli Gastronomia and Bottega del Vino.

After three years, which included starting up Jones the Grocer in Abu Dhabi, she felt she had stockpiled enough knowledge about fine food retailing to head out on her own.

She opened Bacchus in November last year with the aim of stocking products not available at  supermarkets. Bertoni espresso coffee, roasted by the eponymous cafe nearby, and Harney & Sons teas from New York, flavoured with chocolate and mint or hot cinnamon spice, are two favourites, along with American McClure’s Pickles and New Zealand Glasseye Creek Wild Meat Sauce.

Bacchus, as the name suggests, is as much about wine as it is about the fine food. Lynch worked hard to get her licence, as she wanted to bring a restaurant approach to her shop, especially when matching food and wine. Spain and Portugal are her current passions. Her winter drinking tips are Argentinian malbec, Italian nebbiolo and amarone, and Spanish drops from Ribeiro.

Lynch matches her own zucchini and parmesan soup – she makes about eight hearty take-home meals– with a Tasmanian Josef Chromy chardonnay.

She notes her suggestions in super-neat handwriting on a sandwich board outside the shop. It’s all inviting, from the homely old Australian soft-drink crates to the bold-striped cushions in French espelette fabric.

Best buys

Galateo taggiasca extra virgin olive oil, $65/500ml.

Moreno Cedroni smoked sturgeon sauce, $10.90/290g.

McClure's Pickles, $17.90/907g.

Bacchus Fine Food and Wine

207 Darling Street, Balmain, 9818 8081.

Tue-Fri, 10am-6.30pm; Sat,

10am-5pm; Sun, 10am-4pm.

The story The gods must be smiling first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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