The distinction between bars and restaurants gets harder to make every year.
Initially, it was the rise of the bar snack – punchy small plates that could turn catch-ups into dinner and drinks in an instant – that led to boundaries being redrawn, closely followed by the trend of bartenders and chefs working together on house-made spirits and bitters that also helped reduce waste. Today, forward-thinking bars are placing their faith in seasonal cocktail menus that, like many high-end restaurants, tell guests a story as well as helping them unwind at the end of the day. This week, two of the city’s more ambitious drinking establishments launch their latest mixed-drink collections.
Over at Long Chim, David Thompson’s homage to Bangkok street food at the State Buildings, bar manager Eoin Kenny has launched the second leg of the venue’s Lone Traveller cocktail program: a deep-dive into the tastes and cultures of different regions within the Thai kingdom. When it kicked off in 2019, Lone Traveller took inspiration from the capital, Bangkok. Two years later, the focus moves south to tropical Ko Samui, a popular holiday destination where seafood, coconuts and spice rule. The final eight-drink menu references Ko the south-eastern island in cool, subtle ways – from cold-pressing fresh lychees for a highball made with Republic of Fremantle gin to flavouring an elegant tequila sour with hibiscus tea. At the boozier end of the spectrum, coconut-infused vermouth steers the martini to the Andaman Sea, while durian lends funk and savour to a rum-based milk punch. There’s detail in the drinks, no question, but the finished cocktails are light on pretence and, like all good beverages, straightforward in their appeal.
“The service style here is fun, energetic and high energy, and the food packs a punch,” says Kenny, the opening head bartender at Rockpool Bar & Grill Perth, who went on to run bars around the world before returning to Perth in 2019. “I wanted that translate to the cocktail menu, but at the same time I wanted the drinks to be colourful, playful, sophisticated and delicate.”
The cocktails will be on the Long Chim menu for the next year. They’re available à la carte and as part of a tasting menu that features six drinks matched with southern-style Thai food, including a turmeric-laced coconut curry, fish cakes and a dessert of grilled banana with sticky rice. The tasting menu will be served at the Long Chim Tuck Shop, with numbers limited to five guests per seating.
At Songbird, the rooftop bar at the shiny Ritz-Carlton Perth, manager Frazer Courts has looked to home for inspiration. Named after Australian birds, the 10 drinks making up the bar’s latest cocktail menu put the focus on native flavours, often via house-infused spirits: the buzz of mountain pepper leaf in the whisky-based Rainbow Bee-Eater, say, or the Davidson’s plum and lemon myrtle underpinning the bar’s eponymous Songbird cocktail. In addition to these indigenous flavours, local ingredients of fruit and honey are another key component of the list.
“We want Songbird to be a distinctly West Australian bar, so it makes sense to feature West Australian ingredients in our cocktails,” says Courts.
There’s a similar West Australian focus on Songbird’s new share-plate menu, which features takoyaki (savoury Japanese dough balls studded with local octopus), and lamb ribs with dukkah and native greens.