• Boris Portnoy working on the coulibiac before the opening of Gray and Gray in March. (Gray and Gray Bread and Wine )Source: Gray and Gray Bread and Wine
There are only good things that can come from a menu starting with a selection of breads and fats.
Audrey Bourget

25 Jun 2021 - 1:03 PM  UPDATED 25 Jun 2021 - 1:23 PM

Boris Portnoy of the All Are Welcome bakery and cafe in Northcote, Melbourne, was coveting the law office next to his popular bakery for a long time, wanting to expand. Eventually, he decided to open a second location in the neighbouring suburb of Thornbury. "As soon as we signed the lease, next door to the bakery became available," he says. Luckily, he had a plan.

Together with winemaker Mitch Sokolin, they opened a wine bar with a menu dedicated to the cuisine of Georgia and other Black Sea countries like Russia. "Mitch and I both grew up in New York and his parents are Russian Jews like my parents. We connect to that region easily. Growing up in the Soviet Union, Georgia was the land of plenty," recalls Portnoy.

"I've been going to Georgia for quite a long time, about 10 years. I always think about ways to stay longer and put roots down there so I bought a little vineyard, about 1,000 vines," he says. In 2018, Portnoy and Sokolin made wine together with the dream of opening up a venue where they could serve it.

Cue March 2021 and the old offices of Gray & Gray Barristers and Solicitors is now Gray and Gray Bread and Wine. The original gold leaf sign, vertical blinds and shades of seafoam green and blue remain, but the desks have made space for a kitchen and tables.

Gray and Gray Bread and Wine has kept the gold leaf sign of Gray and Gray Barristers & Solicitors.

 The majority of dishes at Gray and Gray are Georgian, but Portnoy also borrows from other surrounding countries. There are no steadfast rules. “I want to do what I want to do and I don't want to do what I don't want to do. We don't have everything at the bakery and the wine bar will be the same, we'll do stuff that we like," he says.

The set menu starts off strongly with a "selection of breads with various fats," like preserved corn butter and whipped lard sprinkled with adjika (a hot red pepper condiment) salt.

"You get to give people the experience you want to give them."

Dishes like the blue mackerel selyodka sing thanks to the addition of preserved blood limes and fish sauce made in-house. Underripe fig jam, pickled green tomatoes and tkemali (sour plum sauce) are some of the other punchy preserves that Portnoy has been working on during the last year.

Gray and Gray Bread and Wine has a menu dedicated to the cuisine of Georgia and other Black Sea countries like Russia.

His take on khashi, which took some time to perfect, is made with fresh beans, tripe, a soft-boiled egg and broth. "You'd usually eat this at 5am in the morning after a big night," says Portnoy of the traditional version, which is an offal soup.

Being next to All Are Welcome has its advantages since the chef can easily make light puff pastry for the salmon coulibiac. The bakery's famous medovik cake, with its 10 layers of honey biscuit and buttercream, also travels next door to conclude the set menu.

Russian medovik cake and makoviy fig torte.

Gray and Gray will probably have an à la carte menu as well in the future, but Portnoy has been enjoying the set menu: "It's nice to control the narrative. You get to give people the experience you want to give them. Especially because the food we're serving is not as well known as western European cuisine, it's nice to introduce it to customers that way."

The wine made by Portnoy and Sokolin is not on the chalkboard just yet (though there are a few Georgian wines to try among the Australian and European bottles). They're waiting on a shipment to arrive by boat, which will probably happen around September. It will no doubt feel special to match the food with the wine that inspired it. But you shouldn't wait until then to visit.

Love the story? Follow the author here: Instagram @audreybourget and Twitter @audreybourget.

Gray and Gray Bread and Wine
88 High St, Northcote, Victoria 
Wed–Sat: 6–11pm

Recreating my mum's bacalao takes me back to Manila
Cooking bacalao for the first time in Melbourne brought back the flavours and memories of Lent in the Philippines.
You'll only find this bolognese-stuffed panzerotto in Melbourne
Ettore Donnaloia of Italian food business Il Panzerotto Taste of Puglia has put a fresh spin on the traditional panzerotti from Puglia in the country's south.
Feels like home: Breakfast straight from the Japanese countryside
Cibi's breakfast has a big following in Melbourne. For owner Meg Tanaka, it’s what her grandma prepared when she was growing up.
This cafe's menu revolves around fluffy Japanese milk bread
Shokupan is the star at Melbourne's Le Bajo, which serves fruit sandwiches, azuki bean toast and Nagoya-inspired breakfast sets.
The West Sumatran nasi kapau that saved a struggling restaurant
These business owners turned to selling Padang food to survive the Melbourne lockdown. They didn't expect its popularity.
This Melbourne cafe sells more than 12 kinds of onigiri
The owners of West Melbourne’s 279 experimented with nine different rice cookers to ensure their rice balls would be perfect.
The Turkish-Australian chef remixing family traditions
Melbourne locals keep coming back for this chef's modern spin on Turkish cuisine.
Feels like home: Israeli semolina cake for a Friday night in
A Melbourne restaurant owner connects with his Syrian-Israeli grandma based near Tel Aviv over one simple Middle Eastern cake.