The first time I went to the Rabbit Hole Bar, I was absolutely blown away by the pure aesthetic beauty of the handful of cocktails I tried. When I went back the second time, I had the opportunity to talk at length with Doug Laming, owner of the Rabbit Hole and resident ‘mad inventor’ of amazing mind-bending cocktails.
As I spoke with Doug, I started to see a bit of Heston Blumenthal in the way that he approaches mixology. He talks passionately and at-length about the thought process and the practical aspects of creating each cocktail on the lengthy cocktail list. Each one has its own peculiar background story and reason for existence – whether its based on Doug’s passion for a clever new product or process, or a master stroke of inspiration.
Unlike many other bars, his custom cocktails are never the result of a few late nights haphazardly creating drinks by mixing a few different spirits together with a splash of fruit juice. Instead he spends months in thinking about traditional cocktails on a molecular level to redefine the texture, taste, and appearance of a standard drinks menu.
The first cocktail that we try on the night is an excellent example of this reinterpretation of a classic. Now I’m not going to lie – when I’m out for a good night and I don’t care about the quality of what I’m drinking (just the fact that I’m drinking is enough!), slushy margaritas are my first point of call. If I’m looking for something that’s more clever, classy and cultivated though, this is where I would go.
This cocktail of pearls (a style unique to the Rabbit Hole in Sydney) is just about one of the most original non-liquid cocktails I’ve ever tried. The custom pearls of Cointreau and tequila along with the finger limes combine incredibly well in a splendorous riot of flavours. The unique display of spheres also makes for a pretty picture. The margarita is a complete experience in itself, and is a great way to start the night off at the Rabbit Hole.
There’s no question that Doug knows his liquour. He’s keen to make sure that every person who goes to the bar walks away knowing that they’ve had a cocktail that’s best suited to who they are and their preferences for alcohol. He questions K and I about what we like (sweet, sour and fruity for me, with cider being one of my favourite drinks), and builds the rest of our drinks menu for the night around our own individual preferences. It’s this attention to detail and the commitment to a great customer experience that really sets the bar apart from other options in the CBD.
K gets to try the Abbey’s Fruit next – a cocktail that just happened to win Urban Society’s Spring Cocktail Challenge, listed as being “both divine and insane”. It’s easy to see how this cocktail won the challenge – it simply takes the prize not only in deconstructed mixology, but also in pure inventiveness – serving part of the cocktail within the fruits and vegetables that make up its contents? It’s simply a work of art and almost a meal unto itself if you decide to eat everything on the plate! This is a wonderfully fruity cocktail with a fantastic tart edge, and one you can definitely recommend to others for the ‘wow’ factor.
Doug serves me up a Smoked Apple cocktail next – completely fulfilling my request for something light and fruity like cider with more depth of flavour. While it looks very simple, the different layers behind the cocktail are anything but – the freshness of cider is combined with the flavours of cinnamon and spices, the sweetness of apple juice and the smoky linger of the scotch. You can consider this a grown up, more mature, and spiritually darker version of your everyday supermarket cider.
We start our dining experience with a small selection of their smaller plates that are perfectly designed for sharing. First up are the scallops – seared to near caramelised perfection on the outside, and perfectly cooked throughout without the raw centre that you sometimes find with flash-seared scallops. K theorised that they were sous-vide before searing, which would make a lot of sense. The highlight on this plate though, is definitely the house-made sheets of nori – its crispy flavours linger on the tongue long after you finish the dish.
I think I’ve proven in previous entries that I’m a massive donut fan – I enjoy donuts even in the form of donut-flavoured schnapps! Savoury donuts don’t often find their way across my path though, so I was curious to see how the prosciutto and ricotta donuts would work. They were surprisingly yummy – the salty bite of the chunks of proscuitto cut through the creaminess of the ricotta, with both flavours contrasted by the smoky maple syrup. You know how Canadians are reputed to love maple syrup and bacon? Imagine that in donut form – and this is what you get.
I admit it – I was sceptical about the idea of including wonton skins in a taco. After all, there’s fusion food, and then there’s just crazy concoctions – am I right? Colour me surprised – the taco filling of large chunks of prawns was very simple, without much dressing and were definitely designed to be the star of the show. Combined with the crunch of the fried wonton skins, the very basic flavours worked well as a light and pleasing snack option.
What you can’t see in the above photo is the trail of smoke from the lit cinnamon stick, leaving a lingering sweet spicy aroma in the air. Take note though – this cool feature really only lasts thirty seconds so take your photos quickly and then snuff out the burning cinnamon before it disintegrates into the drink! K really enjoyed this cocktail, and it’s definitely one for those who prefer a rich, smokey, and strong drink.
I got to try a super fun two-cocktails-in-one creation – Persephone’s Pain and Pleasure. Crafted around the ancient Greek myth of Persephone and the pomegranate seeds that Hades tricked her into eating to ensure her annual return to the Underworld, this cocktail is a feast for the eyes. The spheres in this cocktail of pomegranate liqueur actually look like pomegranate seeds, and the dual nature of the cocktail mirrors the time that Persephone spends both in the Underworld and on Olympus with the other Gods. It’s a beautiful and delectable visual representation of one of the most enduring myths of ancient times.
I have an incredible distaste for raw meat. I find myself wincing and semi-gagging whenever I have to handle raw meat at length in the kitchen, and steak tartare most definitely does not make it onto my menu anywhere. When I asked Doug for a recommendation on a smaller main though, this was his immediate suggestion, and he even gave me the guarantee that this dish would change my stance on raw meat forever. And honestly? He was right. While I still am unlikely to order steak tartare when I dine elsewhere, this was beautifully seasoned with delicate Asian-style flavourings. Unfortunately the egg yolk wasn’t as runny as I would have liked, but the melt-in-your-mouth truffle meringues (which reminded me of elven lembas bread!) more than made up for it.
Keen for a heartier main, K ordered the house wagyu beef burger which came complete with thick chunky hand cut chips. The chips were fried beautifully with a crisp flavoured shell, and soft insides. The highlight of this meal was definitely the melted brie cheese with the wagyu beef patty though – I always make myself turkey and brie toasties, but never thought that brie could be so lovely when paired with heartier beef. I think good quality beef makes all the difference here!
We finished our meal by sharing a dessert recommended by our waiter – pineapple brulee. Now this I found fascinating – the pineapple brulee was created in a cigar with a toffee-like outside and creamy centre – how would you even do that? Would it be a case of making the shell first and then injecting the brulee inside? Mysteries of the kitchen…in any case, while the brulee was very nice, I actually thought the standout part of this dish was the chilli lemon nube – light as air, sour on the tongue, with a slight chilli burn in the aftertaste. There’s definitely different levels to that one single element, and real depth of flavour.
As we left the subterranean Rabbit Hole late on a weeknight, I started suggesting options for our next visit to K. The best idea (in my humble opinion) was to get a smallish group of our friends together to come here on a late Saturday afternoon boozy session stretching into the evening – ordering every single cocktail on the menu and sampling them all between the half dozen of us. The Rabbit Hole Bar is somewhere where you can do that, as you know that each cocktail will be as innovative, original, and moreish as the one before it.
Overall, I rate our drinking and dining experience at the Rabbit Hole as a solid 8.5 out of 10 – the cocktails were unbeatable and the dishes original and thoughtfully designed to complement the drinks menu.
Gourmanda dined as a guest of Rabbit Hole Bar and Dining. The meal was complimentary, but all words and thoughts are my own.