At Riot Wine’s city bar and restaurant, fun and flavour is the only goal.
Bar Riot’s ‘punk hospitality’
In March last year, at an event in Brompton, chef Trent Lymn looked up from the paella dish he was stirring to survey the raucous warehouse he’d found himself in.
It was Riot Wine’s fifth anniversary, held at their production facility The Cannery, and Trent was catering the event alongside his wife and co-chef Ceci Lymn.
Across the room, Trent saw people dancing on top of the bar as a fire juggler nearby hurled flaming objects into the air. The room was alive. Through all the commotion, he’d hardly noticed the contortionist whose legs had been dangling over the paella dish the whole time.
A smile crept over both chefs’ faces.
“What I saw, I was just eyes wide open. Like, ‘This is crazy’,” Trent recalls. “I’ve always just loved places that are a little bit avant-garde, a little bit crazy and a little bit what I think hospitality should be, and doing that party… I was like, ‘Nah, this is it’.”
This was the first meeting of Trent and Ceci with the Riot Wine brand. Less than 12 months later, the two parties would come together again.
When Riot’s The Cannery first launched in 2019, the facility had a hospitality offering. Following the wine brand’s Carlton & United Breweries buyout later that year, production quickly took over the entire facility.
To Riot founder Tom O’Donnell, the brand is made for fun and fast venues. “We’re sort of unashamedly the volume-offering of wine,” he says. “So it’s very much fast, fresh, easy-drinking style by the glass.” To no longer have an official Riot venue felt wrong.
By 2022, with the financial dangers of the pandemic mostly subsided, Tom was scouting for potential venues. While looking through another property, he was notified of pizzeria Madre’s intention not to renew their lease. He loved the site, and could envision Riot taking over the front bar. For the kitchen at the back of the space, though, he knew he needed a partner.
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“I don’t know what I’m doing, so partner with people who do,” Tom sums up with a sly grin. “I didn’t want Riot to run a venue. Probably selfishly, we thought it would be a distraction to our main business, as well.”
One of Riot’s earliest clients was The Palmer Group, through 2KW, who’d stocked the brand not long after Riot’s inception in 2016. Tom reached out to the group’s general manager, Simon Adami, to gauge interest in a partnership.
“You look at the group and it’s arguably the most serious high-end hospitality operator in South Australia,” Tom says.
Simon took the pitch to Trent and Ceci, and their interest was immediately piqued.
“We just thought what we saw from when we did the function there, and it became real,” Ceci says.
Tom describes Riot as “a rosé brand”, and the company has a well-understood range of wines and pre-mixed spritzes. Tom describes their offering as complex enough to give thoughtful drinkers something to analyse, but “if you’re just a punter off the street and want a glass of wine, you can come in and drink it and say, ‘That was great’,” he says.
He had a two-word pitch for his new venue’s food concept that would match Riot’s fun and frivolous approach: “Tasty morsels”.
This was fortuitously close to an idea Trent and Ceci had been mulling over for some time. Though the chefs are best known locally for their work at 2KW (Trent as executive chef and Ceci as pastry chef), the two also run catering company Barrio, which once operated an Argentinian street food canteen in Grange.
Street food is close to both chefs’ hearts, particularly regarding serving size. Outside of their own restaurants, the couple loves exploring a menu through the small-plates section.
“Ever since Trent and I met, we’d go out to dinner, lunch, whatever, and we’re always drawn to the starters,” Ceci says. “We’d, many times, just order all the starters on the menu, because they’re just more fun. You don’t get stuck with a big chunk of meat or a big dish.”
Phrased another way: tasty morsels only. This became the Bar Riot concept.
There are references to Trent and Ceci’s experiences cooking in Patagonia, Cordoba, Mexico and Spain, through which they “deliver something so easy as tomato on bread, but make it delicious”. But, more than a particular type of cuisine, Bar Riot is instead engendering a particular style of dining.
“I don’t think it’s all about the food; I think it’s about the experience, the conversations that are happening over the table,” Trent says. “The whole point of hospitality is the meeting of people, the coming together of people.
“We want the meal to be perfect and executed well and tasty, and it can be a little bit messy and family-like on the table.”
Ceci concurs, adding, “it’s loud and people are talking and they’re trying a little bit of this, little bit of that, and it’s fun. It’s not structured.”
The menu is as fast and fun as Riot’s wines. Many of the options can be consumed in a couple of bites, but it’s an adaptable choose-your-own-adventure experience, with exciting and surprising flavours, and ingredients sourced from small suppliers.
Something as simple as the summer greens tartlet bursts with nostalgic flavour from its pea mousse. Native Akoya oysters are served with tomato consommé and fermented jalapeno. A simple steak is levelled up with an equally simple chimichurri.
“We’ve put a lot of heart and soul into all the sauces, but at the end of the day it’s a chimichurri,” Trent says. “But it’s a bloody good chimichurri, and we just think that’s enough for the steak, that’s all it needs.”
Just as the wines can be analysed if a drinker really wants, there’s plenty to pull apart on the food menu. More than half the dishes are vegetarian, and 90 per cent of those are vegan. Ceci is plant-based, but this weighting of vegan dishes was accidental. There is only one philosophy underlying it all.
“It’s just kicking the seriousness out of hospitality a little bit. Just bringing back the fun times,” Trent says.
“We want people to leave feeling like they’ve had a bit of a party at the end… I was mentored in hospitality that way, so it’s something that I’ve always had a pull to. It’s a little bit punk, I guess. Punk hospitality.”