At first look, Charlie Parker’s in Paddington may remind you of its older sibling, Palmer & Co. but the basement bar is far removed from the speakeasy vibe and classic cocktails.
Charlie Parker’s is the result of a creative team, an innovative project that took two years to realise, led by Sam Egerton (Head of Operations of Paddington Precinct) and Toby Marshall (Venue Manager).
The bar takes the “chefs’ approach to flavour”, Sam Egerton explains. Much like the nose-to-tail ethos, the team uses every part of the plant and chefs’ equipment to extract flavour and reassemble it in a cocktail.
“The equipment is used as a method of infusion”, Sam adds. This means immersion circulators for sous vide, vacuum chambers for atmospheric infusions like oleo saccharum, and rotovap for evaporation infusion. The latter removes atmospheric pressure and lowers the boiling point to 20oC to enable capturing flavours at much lower temperatures. The end result is clarity and brighter flavours.
The cocktail menu is designed around the anatomy of the plant, a Botanical Drink Classification starting with lighter and spritzer style drinks (Nut & Fruit) and leading to dark, earthy and bitter drinks (Root & Soil).
Cocktails aren’t given names but a hero flavour and a list of ingredients. There is no reference to spirit brands but an emphasis on botanicals such as agave rope and parsley stem. Even the word “cocktail” has been removed from the menu.
The Burnt Pecan, Pisco, Mandarin Reduction, Olorosso typifies the approach. Mandarins are juiced and turned into concentrate. Their pulp is blitzed, dehydrated and turned into leather which garnishes the drink. The skin is dried and becomes a bitter. The rest goes into making syrup. Pecans are de-shelled and the shells are used to smoke Pisco while the nut is turned into orgeat. The result is a drink that balances smoke, sweetness and nuttiness with the brightness of the mandarin intermingled with sherry and Pisco notes.
“The Centennial Park cocktail is the height of my madness”, Sam explains. In capturing what a park tastes like before sunrise, he ventured before dawn into the park clutch samples of grass, parts of trees and plants to recreate flavours into individual infusions. “We ended up with four botanicals (Kikuyu grass, red bottle brush, nasturtium, jasmine), blended the individual infusions and stirred them with Lillet Blanc. The Martini-style cocktail no longer becomes a drink but an experience that engages the senses.
In recreating another cocktail that captures the forest floor, he washed whisky over schist pavers, put them in sous vide then broke them down into dust and ran them through the rotovap. The distillate was mixed with Talisker whisky, Dom Benedictine, and served with redwood bark, a piece of schist and sprayed with an atomiser with an infusion of moss and riverbank.
The cocktails trigger memories though one may not associate them with a drink. It could be the scent of damp earth after the rain or picking fresh parsley from one’s herb garden. It’s personal, engaging and lasting.
Despite the avant-garde approach to drinks, Charlie Parker’s is far from being intimidating. The bar sets a high standard for others to follow but remains at heart a neighbourhood bar.
Address: 380 Oxford Street, Paddington, Sydney
Phone: 02 9240 3000
Hours: Tue to Thu 5pm –midnight; Fri 12pm – midnight; Sat 12pm – midnight; Sun 12 pm – 10pm
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