If we weren’t already convninced of the food and drink renaissance taking place in Richmond and its hinterlands, the opening of Lilac Wine Bar was irrefutable proof. Nathan Toleman’s edgiest Mulberry Group property found quick success in the industrial backstreets of Cremorne when it opened in February last year, peddling a big-flavoured French-leaning bistro menu cooked largely over fire.  

One year on, Lilac – named for the Jeff Buckley tune – is roaring as hard as ever; here’s chef Kyle Nicol with his take on the first 12 months of Lilac Wine Bar.

How did Lilac first come to be? Nathan Toleman, founder and director of the Mulberry Group, had a vision for a warm stripped-back space for the local community to call their own. I wanted to get back to my roots cooking simply, and trying to evoke a feeling of being at Nan’s on a Sunday. The thoughts around what Lilac would be aligned very naturally.  

Lilac, is best known for French bistro food given the wood-fire treatment in a stripped-back and humble setting. Plus, the éclairs, the epic wine list and the disco ball. 

I celebrated Lilac’s first anniversary by setting the record for the biggest rum baba and pouring custard from magnums!   

My favourite dish is savoury mince on toast. Inspired by my childhood, it’s nostalgic, simple and full of flavour. I use beef garum, beef hearts and chicken livers to push the savoury flavours even further. 

Some challenges I’ve faced have been smoky dining rooms, plus a few injuries this year. Navigating a new business always has a few unexpected turns but that’s also the most rewarding part of it; seeing the hard work put into action and diners having a good time is priceless. 

My greatest supporters have been… I’ve had a lot of support in the opening of Lilac Wine Bar, from old mentors to new young guns. The Mulberry Group really lifts each other up. The team we have at Lilac are all passionate about their craft and helping them get where they want to go is what gets me out of bed in the morning. 

An unexpected new skill I’ve learnt is making charcuterie seated (post-surgery) – it’s much more difficult than I thought it would be. 

The piece of equipment I never knew I needed is speed racks – lots of speed racks. 

If someone asked me for advice on opening their new venue, I would tell them surround yourself with people that love their craft. 

I’m most proud of… what the team has achieved personally and professionally over the last year has been pretty awesome to see, especially when I was out injured – the kitchen team absolutely crushed it. 

I’m excited about the future because we’re hitting our stride now at Lilac. There are a lot of cool projects on the horizon and a lot of room for growth. 

Lilac Wine Bar, 31 Stephenson St, Cremorne, (03) 9973 2061, open 4pm till late Tuesday to Thursday and noon till late Friday and Saturday, lilacwinebar.com.au, @lilacwinebar