Newly single and with Gilbert Sullivan’s song Alone Again Naturally on a permanent loop in my mind, I find myself propping up the Gin Garden’s bar in The Establishment – although I’m here more for the gin-obsessed cocktail menu than the Establishment’s reputation as a pick up joint.
Located in the back area of the ground floor bar, the Gin Garden has a different feel than up the front. There’s a wide range of gin behind the bar (the website claims there are over 24 varieties) and the décor is colonial-themed with ferns and birdcages containing candles.
To be honest, I’d never reviewed the Establishment before because I didn’t associate the ground floor with quality cocktails but a month back I was here with a colleague and was impressed with their bloody plum negroni.
In addition to the negroni’s usual ingredients of gin, sweet vermouth and Campari (the Gin Garden version uses Plymouth Navy strength gin and Martini Rosso vermouth), this negroni also has vanilla and pressed blood plum in it, which adds some freshness and makes it easier to drink for most. In fact, if you’ve never had a negroni before then this would serve as a gentle introduction.
The menu has several classic cocktails from early last century, including the Twentieth Century (Plymouth gin, white Crème de Cocoa and Lillet Blanc shaken with fresh lemon juice) and the Clover Club (raspberries, Plymouth gin and lemon juice) but I’m in need of a stiff drink without any dilution so I opt for the Vesper martini.
The problem with the Vesper is that, because it’s actually a martini that first appeared in a James Bond novel and became well known after Casino Royale hit the screen, I probably look like another loser who thinks he’s James Bond by ordering it. However, when made well the Vesper is actually a great variation on the standard gin martini.
The Gin Garden makes the Vesper with Plymouth gin and Belvedere vodka shaken with Lillet Blanc, a French aperitif. I particularly like the thick lemon peel (pith removed) that’s twisted so viciously above the martini that I can see the citrus oil spraying into the drink.
(Incidentally, the author Ian Fleming apparently created the Vesper because he thought the ingredient Kina Lillet would seem exotic to the average British reader in the 50s. These days Kina Lillet is no longer available, so most people use the less bitter Lillet Blanc instead. If you want to create a cocktail that’s as close as possible to Ian Fleming’s original concept in terms of flavour, however, then a great blog post to read is at Summer Fruit Cup.)
The Gin Garden’s version might not be as bitter as Fleming’s original but that could be a good thing – this Vesper is light with almost a sweetness to it and doesn’t taste as strong as I know it is.
It’s a weeknight and while most people in The Establishment’s front bar are men in suits, with the odd group of women dotted around, the Gin Garden is largely filled with couples, with the exception of myself and a lone woman who keeps checking her mobile and peering anxiously through the doorway.
The DJ is playing ambient music and, thanks to the restorative powers of the Vesper, I no longer have Gilbert Sullivan going through my head. However, as I watch the woman finish her drink and walk dejectedly away, I can’t help wondering what song she has going through hers.
Gin Garden at The Establishment, 252 George Street, Sydney. See the Gin Garden – The Establishment website
Now it’s your turn – how do you rate the Gin Garden?