We stuck our heads around the door of Melbourne’s much-anticiptated Eau de Vie (sister of Sven Almenning’s award-winning Sydney bar) a few weeks back, liked what we saw (click here for our initial thoughts on the fit-out and decor) and promised to be back to check out the degustation menu.
So here’s the verdict. Last Wednesday saw the very first cocktail-matched five-course dinner to be served at the unmarked Malthouse Lane bar.
The evening started with a mini tour of the dimly lit basement space – from the main bar area with its massive spirits collection housed in wall-mounted trophy cabinets, set above leather banquettes, to a ‘secret’ room concealed by a sliding door painted with sturdy, leather-bound tomes. Here, patrons can buy a bottle of whisky and keep it in a locker for a mere $200 a month. Then on each visit they present their key and it is served with all the accompaniments and piety of aplomb. Old-school gentleman’s club? You said it, but definitely not stuffy and right up-to-the-minute with their creative and experimental cocktail offerings.
We start with a glass of champagne at the bar, admire the cut crystal glassware and watch on as a couple of moustachioed barmen decant liquid nitrogen from a large bomb-like cylinder into stainless steel vessels. We are then lead through to The Library, an intimate anteroom in which the main feature is the custom-made high table, complete with a built-in ice well that runs its circumference.
At one end of the room is the kitchen and guests have a great view of the pass and the evening’s service in session – there is also room for manager and cocktail-whizz Greg Sanderson to announce and explain each course. Which is lucky, as menu-less diners need to get to grips not only with what is on the plate but also in their glass – the food and drink offerings here are carefully matched and comprise many elements.
A palatte-cleasing Campari, blood orange juice and liquid nitrogen sorbet is made before our very eyes (smoke issuing out of canisters – all very Heston) and served with citrus sherbet (to be liberally sprinkled over the orange-pink ice) alongside a pistachio cornet rolled from brik pastry. Good news if you like your sorbet bitter – it was refreshing but possibly an acquired taste for many. Luckily, the cornet offered a slightly sweet crunch to take the edge off.
Next, presented on slate sharing platters in the middle of the table, was a selection of fruits der mer – vermouth scallop ceviche, prawn and lime escabeche, Brilla Bay oysters (served natural), and vodka and lemon cured ocean trout. But before we caught tuck in to these fresh-as-a-daisy marine treats we created our very own DIY martinis in pretty shot glasses chilled in the ice well.
Having picked vodka or gin as a base, Greg talks us through the best condiments for each element of the seafood – mixers and additions included lillet blanc, noilly prat, grapefruit bitters, orange bitters, anchovy-stuffed olives, pimento-stuffed olives, lemon twists and grapefruit twists. Phew, and all we wanted was a drink. Effort aside – it tasted good, added to the sense of fun, got people talking and matched the seafood excellently.
The next course saw more ‘audience’ involvement as everyone was presented with a mini pestle and mortar and a plate of cloves, fennel sends and Macadamia nuts to be diligently crushed and sprinkled over a perfectly pink duck and mango salad, with a side jug of tangelo dressing.
Good mix of textures – tender duck, sweet mango and savoury, nutty crunch. This was served with a punch made of Ketel One Citroen vodka, lemon juice, sugar, elderflower liqueur, grapefruit bitters, Russian caravan tea and oolong berry tea. Amazingly boozy and lots of garden party-style fun – big bowls in the middle of the table with everyone ladling the orange brew into each other’s glass tea cups.
Greg is clearly keen to see everyone interacting and has come up with several ways to help get the party started – including serving instructions and quotes concealed in envelopes dotted around the table for people to read out. Such ice-breakers did add a sense of fun, but really, serve anyone this amount of booze and they are likely to get pretty sociable pretty quickly.
Next, seared venison loin on a celeriac puree served with pickled baby beets. Oh boy, that was a puree and the meat was really juicy. And the complementary cocktail? Deconstructed Red Snapper – basil-infused Tanqueray gin, lemon juice, sugar syrup, beetroot juice and yellow chartreuse, with a white truffle salt rim and served with spiced noodle and diced celery on the side. This is where we started to struggle a bit – we are all used to wine-matched meals, but one intricate and bursting-with-flavour cocktail after another served alongside one intricate and bursting-with-flavour course after another all began to add up.
Maybe we should have gone a bit easier on the punch. I don’t have one word of criticism, I’m just aware that while many people start an evening with cocktails they might not be used to drinking them throughout dinner. That said, with quality creations like these there is no reason not to.
For dessert, chocolate and chicory brownie served with rum and raisin ice cream. Is it a cliche to say heaven on a plate? Yes. But it was. I make brownies and I think they are pretty good, but these were just on the right side of cooked with an amazing gooey centre that mingled with the ice cream just right.
A warm cocktail complemented the hot and cold dessert – a Zacapa hot stone drink – Ron Zacapa (23yo), PX, muscavado sugar, cinnamon quill and anise pod, heated with two Japanese garden stones. There was more theatre in the serving of the hot stones with a blowtorch and barbecue tongs.
But just to be sure the evening had been enough of a spectacle, Greg made a final toast to the evening – opening a bottle of Moet with a sword sabrage-style. Blimey. It was a wobbly departure for all involved.
Head here for drinks, food or opt for a degustation dinner ($130/head). The mixologists are on hand:
1 Malthouse Lane
Off Flinders Lane between Exhibition and Spring Streets