” I’m going out to dinner…with my brother-in-law”.
Now isn’t that a sentence to make you pause and raise an eyebrow?
I had been invited to a dinner titled Cocktail Concepts & Culinary Craze at Rabbit Hole Bar and Dining one evening a couple of weeks ago, and for the first time I was taking along my brother-in-law as my plus one. While I’ve taken a few different friends along to various events, it usually ends up being the same people as I have quite a limited number of people with no food allergies, drink alcohol and are willing to mingle and idly chat with others while I adjust settings on my camera and blind people with my flash. My Sister once suggested she loan her husband to me for an event sometime; he has an excellent ability to discern fine flavours and spices in dishes – some of which I’ve never ever been able to spot. With the invitation accepted, I asked if he was available and so on a wet and miserable Sydney evening, we made our way to the eastern side of the Sydney CBD with our taste buds willing and open to a new experience.
Rabbit Hole Bar and Dining is located underground on Elizabeth Street, as the name so aptly suggests. Follow the spiral staircase down and you’re in a quiet, spacious room softly lit with candles, with the hushed whisper of a few people lingering for an after work mid-week tipple and the occasional clink of glass from the bar. The bar is split into two, with a corridor extending between. We made our way along to the back bar, which had been closed to the general public for our event on the evening. This event was a preview: the bar is planning on holding ticketed events matching exquisitely crafted food with creatively designed cocktails, so keep your eyes open.
We start the evening with a “Magdalene’s Marvel”: Remy Martin VSOP, pomme verte, elderflower, strawberries and apple served champagne style. It tastes not unlike a fruity champagne mixed with that awesome childhood sweet Whizz Fizz, and it goes down too easily. The glasses are also rimmed with a sweet-sour sherbet, adding a lovely tingle to our lips when you raise your glass. This first cocktail was matched with a Poached oyster with yuzu jelly, green apple foam and liquid nitrogen kiwi spheres.
I’m not the biggest fan of cooked oysters, and it was unusual to have it garnished quite sweetly. It was undeniably fresh, but I would have preferred it even just with some old school lemon juice.
We moved to our tables and were given an introduction for our next cocktail, the “Ay Caramba”: Yellow Chartreuse, blanco tequila, grilled lime, agave, jalapeno and coriander, served spherified.
Now what does spherification involve? Basically the ingredients for the cocktail are dropped with a small pipette into a bath containing calcium lactate (a natural, food-safety-friendly salt that occurs from lactic acid) and hey-presto, out come little dew-like droplets packed full of an alcoholic flavour punch. Served on a grilled lime, the idea was to “sip” the spheres and then bite down into the lime – almost like a tequila shot but ten times more intense and zesty.
We enjoyed this with our first formal course: the Scampi, bloody mary emulsion, coriander and tomato cous cous and crispy legs:
The scampi flesh was tender, sweet and succulent, matching extremely well with the bloody mary emulsion and the tomato-infused cous cous. It was a delicate, finely-flavoured entree which was very popular among all present.
Our palate cleanser was served with a theatrical flair. Our bartender for the evening, Douglas Laming (with executive chef Jeremy Metivier) proceeded to bring out a bottle of liquid nitrogen and prepare the cleansers in front of us. It was Liquid Nitrogen Mojito Air, and of course we all clustered around to have a look!
The palate cleanser had a highly unusual texture – tasting like a hard, cold foam when you put a chunk in your mouth, and almost as soon as it came into direct contact with the heat of your tongue, it dissolved into air. It was very refreshing and by the time I had finished all of mine I couldn’t detect one trace of scampi or cous cous on my palate.
Our next course was the Glazed Pork Belly, butter bean puree, radish, pickled carrots and passionfruit, to be served with “The Rabbit Hole, White Negroni”.
The pork belly was a little too gelatinous for my taste, but combined with the other elements on the plate the flavours and techniques were definitely impressive. I particularly enjoyed the creamy butter bean puree and the little bits of pickled vegetables scattered around the plate with their little pops of sharp flavour. I had sips of my “The Rabbit Hole, White Negroni” as it was very strong: a combination of “Rabbit Hole redistilled bitter lemon gin”, No. 3 gin and Solerno blood orange, served short on an ice sphere containing a lily.
We moved onto the last savoury course of the evening. A Spherical gnocchi of mascarpone and savarin, black cardamom and mushroom consomme.
For many people this was the standout dish of the evening. The gnocchi was unlike anything I’ve ever tasted in my life. To call it gnocchi seems almost wrong. You picked up the little spheres with your spoon, placed the whole thing in your mouth and it was as though there was a thin gel coating around the outside of it. Once it popped, a warm, savoury custard of mascarpone and savarin literally oozed across your tongue – a burst of flavour and texture. There was not a single one of us at our table whose eyes did not widen in wonder at our first taste. Combined with the gorgeously chewy texture and wholesome aroma of mixed mushrooms in the dish, it almost tasted quite healthy. The black cardamom and mushroom consomme was a little over-salted for me, but nothing you can’t water down…or you could just have a couple of sips of your “Rosemary’s Got the Blues”: Bowmore 12 year, rosemary syrup, fresh pressed blueberries, apple and maltic acid, served cocktail style. Stunningly beautiful and simple to look at.
I was greatly anticipating dessert after reading the description on the menu, and the presentation did not disappoint. The Toffee apple sugar sphere, cinnamon foam, almond, nougat and apple was a real beauty when it was placed in front of us.
I almost felt like I was in an episode of Heston’s Feasts, and half-expected Heston Blumenthal to come striding around the corner to greet us. The skills of Jeremy Metivier are truly incredible. I didn’t wait for everyone to receive theirs first before I dove in; cracking open the toffee apple sphere and digging into the cloud-like cinnamon foam hidden inside. With the combination of nougat, almond and apple it tasted not unlike a morning granola but in a good way.
What was also amazingly novel was that dessert came with a “Wonka’s Wasted”: Fireball whisky, “Rabbit Hole” coffee liquor, vanilla and chocolate bitters. Served as a bitter foam inside a gold edible glass. Non-coffee drinkers beware – this one is potent.
Lick the foam, take the shot and nibble on the glass. Trust me on the last one. I nibbled and gnawed at mine blissfully for quite some time and probably would have taken it home to continue nibbling on it had I not been afraid it would make everything in my bag sticky. Such a treat.
Overall, it was one of the most eye-opening dining experiences I’ve ever had. While I wouldn’t say I agreed with all of the flavour combinations, the skills and technique are definitely there. For those looking for something completely out of the ordinary: prepare to be astounded.
Rabbit Hole Bar & Dining
82-88 Elizabeth Street
Sydney NSW 2000
(02) 8084 2505