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Cocktail showdown: Laneway vs Super Whatnot

I keep a list at the back of my mind of things that I won’t even TRY cooking at home.  ‘Sashimi (fugu)’ tops the list, followed by ‘sashimi (normal)’ and ‘croissants’. I recently added ‘cocktails’ to the list, after an enraging series of failures to get even a basic mojito right – much to the detriment of my duty-free stash of oversized bottles of spirits. I don’t try making cocktails because they’re very hard to do well. Thing is, I can’t make ’em, but nor can half the supposed cocktail barmen I’ve ordered from here in Brisvegas. Getting a cocktail just right requires a lot of skill in balancing complementary flavours, and I only know a couple of places in town (like Bowery) that you can reliably get a good cocktail irrespective of what and when you order.

Thus, I was interested – and a bit apprehensive – when I heard that both Super Whatnot and Laneway had released new winter cocktail menus recently. I love good bars like a one-eyed cat loves its kittens, and I so wanted these two to get it right. Winter’s a great reason to come up with new ways to get drunk, and I’ve already seen mixed results in the beer scene, with Stone and Wood pushing their very hyped, very average ‘Jasper Ale’, and Two Birds releasing a vastly superior ‘Sunset Ale’ just in time for the chilly weather. Those two releases had a clear winner, but I wondered: which of the new menus would be better in the cocktail scene?

In these situations, the only sensible thing to do is put as much of each menu in your belly as you can handle, and let them fight it out. So I did.

I started with Super Whatnot, ordering what looked to be their most interesting menu item – the ‘Cobianchi Treacle’. $20 gets you a mix of rum and two kinds of bitters, mixed through a spiced pineapple reduction. I really should’ve taken a hint from the name…

Cobianchi treacle is served in a glass like the kind that your parents got as a wedding present, which is still around thirty years later both because of its sheer battleship-like construction and your mum’s propensity to actively hide it when guests come around. This also describes the vibe of the cocktail – formidable and about three generations back in flavour. It’s a dad-tastic mix that leads with rich, treacly sugariness but offers no acidity or lightness to ease things up a bit. Instead it continues into a mix of spice and marmalade, and finishes thus, leaving the drinker feeling like they have had had, in our dear departed Kevin07’s words, a fair suck of the syrup bottle. Or something.

I finished the drink slowly, feeling like SW had brought a rusty shiv to a culinary shotgun fight. This saddened me: not only is this an awesome bar, their bathrooms are, like, the best thing in at least Queensland. LOOK AT THIS CRAZY SINK.

I left, wallet hurting, vowing to return and cough up for the next best thing on the list.

I scurried onward to Laneway (linked to culinary heavyweights Urbane and the pleasant Euro bar), which was kind enough to treat me to a sampling of their new menu. Mysteriously, they decided to theme their range around train stations in Brisbane. I’m baffled. Trains are awesome, and they let me get around and drink far more delicious things every night than cars ever did, but they are the LEAST SEXY THING. Here is an actual train station; note the quality art and sensual signage.

Fortuately they do make rail travel feel cooler than it actually is in their smartly-designed menu. The cocktails are quite memorable, albeit definitely not designed to please the daquiri crowd. I sampled three and was happy with two, and respectfully fearful of the other, mainly because of its maritime sparseness and potent abundance of Plymouth Gin. The ‘Eagle Junction’ is a Gimlet-style cocktail, which means it’s essentially a mix of gin and cordial. I’m told this relatively old style of cocktail was traditionally taken by naval officers to ward off scurvy. The use of in-house pineapple and sage cordial certainly makes things interesting, but with the only other ingredient being (abundant) gin, this drop is a rough lover that will kiss you with walrus-like captain’s bristles before handing you the edible flower that nestles at the bottom of each glass. Not quite my thing, but its companions ‘Windsor’ and ‘Ferny Grove’ had far more depth and subtlety.

‘Windsor’ sparkles like sherbet on the lips before blossoming into elderflower on the palate, and finishes like a good home-made lemonade. Complex stuff, and very drinkable. I don’t recall similar experiences at Windsor station though. Ferny Grove was perhaps the most interesting – a ‘Terra Rossa’ cocktail that is apparently bottled. It smells like peaches but is only very subtly fruity and sparkling; the finish is extremely dry and earthy, almost like the smell of raw cinnamon. Must be the Quandong liquer.

I left Laneway feeling happy that most punters would find something on the list to enjoy, at least after a couple of hits and misses. It was time to hit up Super Whatnot again, and hope that round two would be a bit less of a grandpa experience. The ‘Smokin’ Paloma’ jumped out at me, promising a very creative twist on the traditional paloma – they use smoked salt, as well as orange liquer and grapefruit juice in addition to the usual lime and tequila.

This was just the ending to my night that I needed – it had bite, the salt worked well and the addition of complex citrus didn’t disappoint. It’s quite likely that this will beat any margarita you’ve ever sampled, but not because it’s flashy – the salt’s smokiness is very subtle and while the citrus goes down a treat, it doesn’t blow you away with novelty. Instead it’s just a solid, well-balanced cocktail that you won’t regret purchasing.

If you like new and clever things, go for Laneway’s menu – you might struggle through some of the drinks, but you won’t be bored. For me, they were the night’s winner, and definitely worth the trek down Mary street.

With that said, if you like safe and delicious things, go for Super Whatnot, but give serious thought to the (awesome) beer taps unless you’re a hardcore cocktail fundi, and remember: if a drink says ‘treacle’, know that they mean it.

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4 responses

  1. I only wish my Chinese bloodline didn’t make me react so badly to alcohol because these look really good… Oh and I love your blog think it’s the best blog I’ve read in a long time and the pictures are deceant too.

    May 29, 2012 at 8:05 am

    • Thanks so much Tracy – love your photography too. Having your kid eat stuff makes for entertaining viewing.

      May 29, 2012 at 10:09 am

  2. Dan

    You’ve somehow become a lot better at writing about things you like in a style that is as interesting as the one you write in when furiously indignant about poor service or shite beer. I like it. This article was very interesting. And smoked salt?? Wow. Never heard of it before, but sounds delicious.

    June 23, 2012 at 4:34 pm

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