Tag Archives: Bar

The Smoking Panda, Sydney

I always get a little thrill when I find the doorway to a hidden bar. It’s that rewarding feeling of solving the puzzle of where the bar entrance is, and of knowing something that’s maybe a little bit secret.

That’s how I felt when we walked into the Hotel Coronation, a dingy looking pub on Park Street that I’ve walked past hundreds of times. We knew there was a small bar around here somewhere but it certainly didn’t look like there was one when we entered the pub. We wandered upstairs to what I think was the actual hotel guest rooms (yep, definitely no small bar there), back down the stairs again, and up another flight of stairs where we began to see the fluorescent glow of pink neon lights of The Smoking Panda.

Blackberry & Sage Smash – $17

There’s an old skool Chinese takeaway restaurant feel in the decor, with booth seating and Chinese restaurant-style chairs and tables, but we wander past these and the lanterns straight over to the bar, where we fix ourselves up with a cocktail or two.

Interestingly, the drinks list deviates from the Chinese theme, with an American slant on the cocktails and a big focus on bourbon – there’s more than 50 types of bourbon available from the bar! Our first cocktail of the night, the bourbon-based Blackberry & Sage Smash is fruity but not too sweet, with the tart blackberry and lemon flavours layered over the bourbon.

Georgia Peach – $17

The Georgia Peach is also a bourbon-based cocktail with fresh peach and mint over crushed ice, making for a refreshing drink.

Blue Lagoon – $17

We spy someone order the Blue Lagoon, a lurid blue drink that by all accounts was actually quite tasty. That blue stuff? That’s blue curaçao, gin, vodka, lychee and dragonfruit which is topped with a lemonade foam and popping candy. We got a little taste of the lemonade foam which tasted kind of like a Sprite creaming soda.

San Choy Bao – $5 each

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Pocket Bar, Darlinghurst

Because we have a decent selection of spirits and mixers at home, we rarely go out to drink. Making drinks at home gives us the flexibility to make what we like, when we like – without the hefty price tag that often comes with cocktails. But sometimes, it’s worth the money to get the professionals to make something different that just might surprise and delight you, and we definitely found that at Pocket Bar.

The bar

We arrived at 7pm on a Friday night, and the place was already buzzing. The alcohol shelves behind the bar hold a massive range of spirits, and the extensive drinks list reflects that.

Cocktail menu

It takes us a while to read all the cocktails on offer but eventually we choose our poisons of choice. Sir D chooses “Day of the Dead” – a tequila-based cocktail with grapefruit bitters and vanilla sugar. The 1800 anejo tequila is aged so doesn’t have the same harshness as white tequilas, and you can taste citrus notes from the grapefruit and orange peel. Call me a sucker for novelty, but I’m most impressed with the sphere of ice that swirls around in the glass. Having the ice in a sphere shape cools your drink without diluting it as much as ice cubes. Genius!

Day of the Dead – $21

It’s a bit early in the night to be saying “take your clothes off” but if you want this cocktail, you’ll have to say it to order it! This is another tequila-based cocktail, but this time it is the un-aged blanco tequila that is used. I usually find this a bit strong, but the agave honey, lime juice, pear puree and cinnamon tones it down and makes it quite easy to drink.

Take Your Clothes Off – $19

Jaypee decides to go for the Tiki Times (in the English undergrowth) cocktail which is mai-tai inspired but given a gin twist. The Appleton rum base is mixed with Haymans Old Tom and sloe gins, and ruby grapefruit juice. Despite the 3 spirits within this cocktail, it doesn’t taste overwhelmingly of alcohol and is actually quite sweet.

Tiki Times (in the English undergrowth) – $21

We decide that it’s best to get some food in our stomachs before all the alcohol goes to our head, and there’s lots to choose from on Pocket Bar’s menu. The menu is inspired by street food from all around the world so it’s a great snack-like accompaniment to the drinks. First up are the cassava chips with salsa huancaína. We had no idea what salsa huancaína was but it turned out to be a spicy cheese sauce with queso fresco and aji amarillo chili peppers. It was a bit pungent for some but I loved it, especially with the fat fried batons of cassava.

Cassava chips – $9
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Li’l Darlin, Surry Hills

I’ve passed by Li’l Darlin several times in Darlinghurst, and have always meant to drop by for a cheeky cocktail or two. But it’s hard when Gelato Messina is only a few doors down, and somehow gelato always became a priority when walking down Victoria Street and the idea was quickly forgotten. Gelato can do that to you sometimes.

Luckily Li’l Darlin also has two other locations in Surry Hills and Randwick (which aren’t in very close proximity to a gelateria) so there was nothing to stop me from dropping by Li’l Darlin in Surry Hills to try some food and cocktails.

Salt and pepper calamari – $14

We begin with a few starters, including salt and pepper calamari with a choice of two sauces, nahm jim sauce or chipotle aioli. The calamari is perfectly tender and the chipotle aioli delivers a slightly spicy kick but I find the batter a little oily for my liking.

Arancini balls – $12

The arancini balls are crispy round nuggets of risotto stuffed with feta, fontina, tomato and herbs. It’s also served with the same chipotle aioli but I find that they’re perfectly tasty on their own.

Grilled chilli prawns – $13

A terracotta pot arrives on the table accompanied by some bread and we realise that lurking within the tomato-based sauce are some delectable grilled prawns. They’re great smothered in the tomato and chilli sauce and I keep going back for more of these.

Pork and beef meatballs – $12

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Buns & Balls, Potts Point

Yes you heard right… Buns AND Balls. Get your minds out of the gutter people – we’re talking burger buns and meatballs here! And that’s exactly what the new Buns & Balls in Potts Point offers – a selection of tasty meatballs and juicy burgers.

Fresh juice cocktails: Pineapple, ginger beer, vodka and bitters (left) and Watermelon, lime and vodka (right) – $12

Of course before we get into the buns and balls, we have a couple of drinks. At Buns & Balls, they have freshly made juice cocktails and we choose to sample the pineapple, ginger beer, vodka and bitters one first. I’m not a huge fan of ginger but thankfully this isn’t too gingery, and it’s also not tooth-achingly sweet because of the acidity from the pineapple juice. The watermelon, lime and vodka cocktail is equally as refreshing and is perfect for the upcoming warm summer nights.

Balls! Clockwise from top right: Spicy chicken, Barramundi croquette, Beef & pork, Crispy tofu (all $9 per serve), and Spicy Louisiana wings ($1 per wing)

We tried a selection of the meatballs on offer, as well as some of the spicy Louisiana wings. I enjoyed the barramundi croquettes with tartare sauce which reminded me a little bit of fish fingers. The crispy tofu balls were bathed in the deep fryer for a nice crispy outside and firm tofu on the inside. Both the chicken meatballs and wings used the same hotsauce and blue cheese dipping sauce, so they tasted very similar, though I preferred the wings to the chicken meatballs. The beef and pork meatballs with napoletana sauce and grated cheese on top were by far my favourite, reminding me of a classic meatball made by an Italian nonna!

Char-grilled cheese burger – $10
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Helm Bar, Darling Harbour

Helm Bar

Happy Friday everyone! With only a few hours left until the weekend, what better way to celebrate than a post full of cocktails?

Helm Bar's new cocktail list

I’m definitely more of a cocktail/spirits kind of girl rather than beer or wine, and with Sir D being a true cocktail enthusiast I’ve tried and made my fair share of cocktails in the past. But like food, it’s always refreshing to come across new flavour combinations and twists on old classics in cocktails, and the new cocktail list at Helm Bar offers exactly that.

Matt, Helm Bar bartender

Meet Matt. He was our bartender for the morning at Helm Bar, and he mixed up a range of cocktails for us to try. Even though I consider myself to be reasonably well-versed in the world of spirits, he was very knowledgeable and I managed to try a few different spirits that I’d never tasted before and sample some unlikely flavour combinations.

Espresso martini - $17

Bleary-eyed from the previous nights shenanigans, an espresso martini was a welcome pick-me-up/hangover cure to start the morning. Made with Smirnoff vodka, Tuaca (a vanilla and citrus flavoured brandy) and of course, real coffee, the espresso martini was shook up over ice and poured into a martini glass. The foam at the top is actually created purely by the shaking of the liquids rather than from the addition of any milk. Some extra roasted coffee beans were added on top for an extra caffeine hit.

Senorita margarita - $16
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