“It’s like a science experiment,” the bartender says as he balances a brandy glass filled with Remy Martin Cru, vanilla sugar, grappa, Montenegro and two muscatel grapes on top of a separate glass filled with boiling water.
After the glass heats up he sets the contents alight, poaching the grapes, while squeezing oils from fresh orange zest into the glass.
The result is the Bedtime Blazer ($18), one of the best cocktails you can have in Sydney. It’s also one of the most potent.
“Don’t breathe in,” my gay wingman (or GW as I’ll call him from here on out) advises as he hands the glass over to me so I can sip it. He’s right – as soon as my nose enters the glass’s atmosphere an intense brandy-esq waft knocks my head back in a way that puts wasabi to shame. Once you overcome the fumes, however, the drink is warm and full-bodied with a rich flavour.
It’s a Saturday night and we’re in the elegant olde-world surrounds of The Victoria Room to celebrate my gay wingman’s birthday, although I suspect I might be appreciating the crowd, which is largely composed of young attractive women, more than him.
The atmosphere here is relaxed but stylish. Ambient lounge music is playing quietly and the wallpaper, chandeliers, old-fashioned lampshades and paintings of upperclass English hunters add to the mood.
The GW doesn’t look relaxed, however, as he furtively looks around. When asked what’s the matter he tells me he’s itching for a cigarette but can’t go outside to have one as he’s worried the doorman won’t let him back in – despite shows like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, the truth is that not all gay men are style mavens and my wingman turned up tonight wearing Converse high-top sneakers, which are distinctly un-Victorian. As such, even though his birthday mojo was enough to sneak him in the first place, he doesn’t want to push his luck.
To calm him down I insist we have more drinks. The jumpy GW orders a Confused Romantic ($18) because he thinks the name suits both of us although the ingredients appeal as well – it’s made from Peruvian plum pisco, Campari, Rutherglen muscat and lemon juice and is served in a Campari-dusted glass (in other words, it’s rimmed with what looks like red crystals). The drink is a dark plum red and has a strong, slightly sour flavour.
I order an Alabama Fog Cutter ($18), which the menu says is an interpretation of a Tiki classic. Served in a tall glass, it contains Havana Anejo rum blanco, Remy Martin Grand Cru, Beefeater gin, orgeat syrup (which is made from almonds), lemon and lime juice and Pedro Ximénez sherry, all of which are topped off with a maraschino cherry and a mint sprig. This has a fresh fruity flavour that will appeal to those who like mojitos and caipiroskas and the almond flavour of the orgeat syrup gives it a nice twist.
I’m tempted to order the parmesan and basil deluxe organic popcorn or the calamari fritti with preserved lemon aioli that are on the bar menu but the GW’s twitching is reaching new heights and it’s time to put him out of his misery. For those who are hungry, however, you can also sit in the dining area for the supper menu (available from 11.00pm Friday and Saturday) and have meals such as the four cheese fondue with fennel sausage, roast potato, witlof and herb bread or the cheese plate.
High tea is also served on Saturdays (12.00pm – 5.00pm) and Sundays (1.00pm – 5.00pm) and although I know women who like the idea I have to admit that, as a guy, the appeal is lost on me – in fact, a girlfriend once dumped me because she wanted me to have high tea with her at the Victoria Room and I told her that that’s what mothers and sisters were for. Perhaps, in hindsight, I made a mistake. Nevertheless, I certainly appreciate the cocktails here – and the next time I come, I’ll insist my GW dresses properly first.
Victoria Room, Level 1, 235 Victoria Street, Darlinghurst. Phone 9357 4488 or see the Victoria Room website.
Now it’s your turn – how do you rate the Victoria Room?