Here’s the lowdown: it’s all about trying to pair cocktails with food. Or food with cocktails. It’s $150 a person for a set menu of five courses with five matching drinks. Everyone eats and drinks the same thing, set at two long communal tables in the private back room behind the bar. There’s no wine, there’s no beer. At the Roosevelt, their MO is “cocktails can be better tailored to match any dish than wine or beer ever can.” Challenge accepted.
The cocktails are hands-down exceptional. Luke Ashton (ex-Duke) is behind the cans here, and also doubles as your host for the evening. Think of the meal as a show. And we mean that almost literally – you have to make curtain. Diners who turn up late for the 7.30pm start run the risk of a “lock-out period”. Yikes.
Expect a menu of heavily worked mod-bistro dishes executed by Brian Geraghty, a chef with experience at Quay and Bilson’s under his belt. You might start with a surprise gazpacho (more on that later) then move onto a wedge of confit salmon with ribbons of seaweed and a drop of dashi cream. It’s served with a dish of smoke captured under a layer of cling film. We’re not sure why, but it sure smells pretty.
So, why would you eat here over say, Etch, where you’ll get food of a similar style and calibre, not to mention being able to choose your own dinner? It really depends on how you feel about the whole concept of having cocktails with your food instead of wine, beer or whatever non-drinkers drink with their dinner.
That salmon, for instance, comes with a mixture of gin, house-made dry vermouth and soda, iced by a river rock frozen at minus 38 degrees covered in parsley dust. It’s certainly a tasty drink. But, as far as we can see it doesn’t do anything to enhance the food like a glass of grüner veltliner, say, or sake or even a pilsener might.
Roast duck breast with almond butter and salted grapes, however, is a triumph paired with Ashton’s Hunter’s Punch – reposado tequila, poire and black walnut bitters. A ‘liquid BLT’ translates as a white toast gazpacho topped with a crumble of bacon-flavoured toast, tiny cos leaves and injected with tomato-flavoured jelly splodges. It’s somehow gummy and pasty at the same time. Someone at the table says it’s like eating the contents of a Petri dish. The jury’s out on whether this is a plus.
It’s paired with a creamy, soda-like bottled cocktail of vodka, soda, maraschino liqueur and citric acid – a really refreshing drink on its own, but a bit of a head-scratcher with the strange sandwich soup. It’s swings and roundabouts. We could take or leave the tube of hazelnut crème with beetroot and chocolate, but the Hunting Lodge coffee is a triple win with a side of amazing. Here, rum, myrtle liqueur, coffee liqueur and spiced espresso hits you faster than an adrenalin shot to the chest administered by well-known heterosexual John Travolta.