Flotilla will next week introduce a new wine bar to Newcastle.
It's called Vecina, which is Spanish for "neighbour" or "place adjoining", and it officially opens at Wickham on December 6.
It has been another successful year for the Flotilla team and they're looking forward to an exciting summer of wining and dining.
Under new head chef Jake Deluca, Flotilla held on to its coveted The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide Chef's Hat for the second year running. Flotilla was also a finalist in the Good Food Guide's Regional Restaurant of the Year award.
Also, the unassuming Deluca won the popular vote at this year's Hunter Culinary Association Food Fight, defeating fellow chefs Jason Dean (O Bar & Dining), Sarah Knights (ex Automata) and Richmond Rodrigues (Muse Kitchen Pokolbin).
We want Vecina to be a place for everyone, a place where you feel like you are always welcome.- Eduardo Molina
In demand and with a wait list in operation most weekends, it made sense for Flotilla to take on the lease for the vacant space next door.
Designed by Derive Architecture's Jason Elsley (responsible for the fit-out of Flotilla in 2019), Vecina will no doubt be one of the hottest venues in the city this summer.
But it will also be a friendly neighbourhood bar; a warm and welcoming place to meet with friends and colleagues and explore the world of drinks and clever bar snacks.
Vecina is Flotilla co-owner and resident wine guru Eduardo Molina's baby. He excitedly showed me through the space a couple of months ago, while it was still under construction, telling me a wall would be removed to allow access from the bar to the restaurant.
He is confident Flotilla's Chef's Hat-worthy standards will flow through to Vecina.
"We have been wanting to expand our current offering for a while and finally got our chance when the site directly next door became vacant," Molina says.
"It allows us to add a new offering to what we already do so well, and for what people have become so loyal to us for - great hospitality.
"It also allows us to add a new experience for Novocastrians - more accessible, casual, yet equally as great.
"A place where you can pop in for a quick glass of wine, a couple of bites from the bar menu, a place where you can get lost among conversation with friends.
"We want Vecina to be a place for everyone, a place where you feel like you are always welcome."
Vecina will be home to Newcastle's largest by-the-glass wine list, cocktails and a bar snacks menu curated by Deluca and his team which will include guildas, chicharrones, Appellation oysters, gnocco fritto mortadella, steak tartare and fish rillettes.
You might also consider the sweet and spicy walnuts, chicken liver parfait, burrata with stewed tomato, parma ham, Manchego croquettes, and the lamb and Manzanilla olive empanada.
Wednesday night is steak night at Vecina, when Deluca and his team will fire up the Mibrasa charcoal grill. Choose from the one-kilogram, 60-day dry-aged Black Angus ribeye or the 400-gram 60-day dry-aged Black Angus sirloin with all the trimmings.
Deluca trained under Robert Molines and worked at the hatted Bistro Molines for several years. He shared the kitchen with Yellow Billy Restaurant's Sam Alexander in his Reserve Wine Bar days before heading abroad.
Working in London at Lorne, Deluca was mentored by Peter Hall and Graham Brown, then moved on to the Michelin-starred La Trompette working under Rob Weston. His overseas experiences taught him new techniques and gave him the confidence to expand his creativity, which is evident today at Flotilla.
The quietly spoken but driven Deluca is a chef who prefers to let his food do the talking. He has previously described his cooking style as "Mediterranean with a lot of French, Spanish and Italian influences going on".
His hyper-seasonal menu at Flotilla changes every four to six weeks, ensuring the kitchen sources only the freshest and best quality local produce (that may be in season for only a matter of weeks at a time) to feature on the menu.
Flotilla's current summer menu includes honey-roasted duck with cauliflower and apricot; Black Angus flank with smoked oyster cream, Tropea onions and pickle; ocean trout with finger lime, avocado and fennel; and the Pina Colada dessert with mango ice-cream, buttermilk granita and pineapple sage.
That same hyper-seasonal ethos flows through to the drinks menu at both Flotilla and Vecina, where cocktails are curated to complement the season and wines are expertly paired with the ever-changing seasonal menu.