Small bars are definitely the flavour of the year, and I’ve been to a few this past month! Here’s a quick roundup of four small bars I’ve been to recently: Rabbit Hole Bar and Dining (Sydney), The Passage (Darlinghurst), Shebeen (Melbourne) and The Botanist (Kirribilli).
Rabbit Hole Bar and Dining, Sydney
I’ve been to the Rabbit Hole a few times before, but I find that it’s always worth going back. The extensive and ever-changing cocktail list combined with the fresh and innovative menu means that there’s always something new to try down the Rabbit Hole.
I attended the launch of the new menu in early February, designed by newly appointed chef Jeremy Metivier. I tried some of my old reliables (the Smoked Apple cocktail is the bomb!), and also some new favourites. The piece de resistance was definitely the climactic flaming dessert though – chocolate skulls set alight to the delight of everyone at the event.
Delicious berry cocktail with a strong sweet edge to the tartness.
The bartenders churning out one elaborate cocktail after another – this particular cocktail was topped with some coloured alcoholic powder.
One of my favourite nibbles of the night – scallops on beetroot shortbread. The scallops were cooked perfectly – seared to caramelised heaven on both sides, but lovely and soft on the inside. The beetroot relish worked surprisingly well on the shortbread, which seemed slightly Scottish in style.
And of course, no visit to the Rabbit Hole is complete without tasting their famous powdered cocktails. As one of the only bars in the world doing powdered cocktails, you know you’re in for a unique treat.
The Rabbit Hole Bar always gets it right, and I do encourage everyone to visit if you haven’t already. Treat yourself to a cocktail or two, and order a few dishes from the menu to share with your friends. The scallops and the salmon gravalax is a must try!
The Passage, Darlinghurst
Valentine’s Day is a lot less exciting when you’re in a different city to your partner! Knowing that I would be in Melbourne this year for V-Day while K would be in Sydney, we decided to go out for a meal in advance to celebrate the holiday. We make our way one weekday afternoon to The Passage in Darlinghurst, a long narrow bar with entrances on both Victoria St and Darlinghurst Rd that caters for both the work lunch crowd during the day, and the post-work drinks at night.
Having just started my diet, I order a salad in an attempt to be good. The staff are very accommodating as I explain my preference for non-dairy options, and the kitchen swaps out the ricotta that is normally in this salad for cherry tomatoes instead – a great replacement. This is a simply delicious and light-ish lunch at just over 1000 kilojoules, and is very filling. The soft-boiled egg is a nice touch as the yolk runs throughout the salad as a pseudo-dressing – though you almost don’t need it as the smoked trout is so flavourful by itself!
K orders some crispy chicken wings to start, and I have to admit that I tried one of the wings despite this diet. I’m very glad I did though, as the chicken skin had that beautiful crisp and crackly texture, with a good depth of herby and slight chilli flavour without being too oily. Great bar snack if you were there for a few drinks on a Friday night!
K opts for one of the lunch specials as he’s after a healthy serve of red meat – and the standard pub fare of steak, fries and salad jumps out. The steak was very thin – so even though K technically asked for it to be cooked medium, it really didn’t matter as there wasn’t enough depth to the piece of meat to warrant anything beyond a quick grill on both sides which essentially cooked it straight through. Not the choice if you want a thick juicy cut of meat…but a great choice if you’re a fan of super crunchy and crispy fries!
We share one of the sliders to finish – a roast pork belly slider in a Chinese-style steamed bun. Now I know everyone raves about Ippudo’s pork buns (I’ve done it myself), but I think this actually beats Ippudo’s version. When I reviewed Ippudo’s pork bun, I mentioned that it lacked a certain something to give it an edge and contrast in flavours, and suggested a Chinese-style pickle as a potential addition. This version by the Passage includes that pickled cucumber, and as predicted, it simply takes this bun to the next level. The sweet and sticky hoisin sauce and melt-in-your-mouth pork belly definitely helps!
Overall, I really enjoyed our meal at The Passage and would rate it a 7.5 out of 10 – the slider and salad were both excellent, and though K’s steak was a little on the ‘meh’ side, he did order from cheap $10 specials menu so really, got what he paid for. If you’re there to order specifically from the bar or food menus and enjoy a few drinks, you can’t get much better than The Passage in that area near Kings Cross.
On my recent visit to Melbourne, I had an hour to kill in the city between appointments. What better way to spend that time than in one of the many small bars that line Melbourne’s laneways? (Well other than shopping…) I dropped into Shebeen in Manchester Lane for a quick drink and snack in the mid-afternoon, long after the lunch crowd have dispersed and before the after-work crowd starts to come in for drinks.
Shebeen is a very interesting small bar – the interior of the joint is decorated in a somewhat rustic fashion, and the bartender explains to me that it’s styled after the ‘shebeens’ of South Africa, which were makeshift bars that could be shut down very quickly during the apartheid period. Even more interesting than this, is the fact that it’s a not-for-profit bar where the purchase of a drink will see a portion of that money go towards the funding of welfare projects in the developing world. Now that’s a good reason to have a drink or two!
Given that it’s only the afternoon, I decide not to have a beer and instead order a (marginally) healthier freshly squeezed juice of apple, celery and lemon. The blend of the juice is somewhat on the tart side with quite a large amount of lemon and celery juice that isn’t tempered with enough sweeter apple juice.
This was…a strange experience. The presentation was definitely lacking, with each element of the slider out of proportion with the size and shape of the slider bun itself. The cucumber spears, the miniscule eggplant and tofu…this was a slider where your first bite could possibly just be of the bun with no ingredients because of its lack of structural integrity. The tofu and eggplant was also nothing home to write about, leaving the tangy and spicy chipotle aioli as the only memorable element of the slider.
Shebeen was a little disappointing, in the 6 out of 10 category. However, if you’re wanting to support a good cause while having a good time, simply ordering bottled beers here on a night out would be a perfectly enjoyable experience – just go elsewhere for dinner first!
The Botanist, Kirribilli
Finally, just quickly, I dropped into The Botanist last week for their first birthday celebrations. I’ve been back to the Botanist quite a few times since I was last there, as it’s one of the few small bars on the North Shore where you can lounge around all night and catch up with old friends. K and I stayed long enough to have a few cocktails each, with my pick being the Barrington Boutique for pure sweet satisfaction!
With the music pumping, the crowd started to strategically position themselves near the kitchen service window, so as to have first pick of the canapes as they came out. Choosing not to fight elbow-to-elbow for prime canape-choosing space, K and I finished our drinks and headed off into the night to find dinner elsewhere.
Happy birthday The Botanist! I’ll be back!
Tell me – what was the last small bar that you went to? Are you a fan of small bars in general?