Just when you thought Braddon couldn't get any cooler, Canberra's hottest new bar has taken up residence on Lonsdale Street. Seating just 30, Alcove is a modern cocktail bar built around the concept of cocktails paired with canapés.
As menu options go it's really quite simple - a half set of three cocktails with matching canapés ($75) or a full set of six cocktails and canapés plus a palate cleanser ($142). There's also a vegetarian half set for $88.
Online bookings are only for set menus but you can pop in for a cocktail or two depending on seating availability. There's a small selection of beers and wines, though if you're here, you really should be looking at the cocktail (or mocktail) menu.
I don't want to over-narrate or spoil the surprise - Alcove is about the experience. Don't expect the conventional here; the cocktails are unlike any I've tasted before, crafted with impeccable attention to detail. Food is similarly brilliant - small bites that really pack a punch. Ricky (the drinks maestro) and Kenny (the chef) met at Monster and their partnership is well-matched, each pushing the other to new heights.
I'm surprised to learn that proof of concept for Alcove goes back to 2020 when Monster offered a special one-off cocktail that you could only get as part of their degustation. The cocktail was enough to tempt me into doing the degustation, and my positive review was enough for the pair to think that cocktail and canape pairings could work at a venue in Canberra. I wrote "the smoked aperitif has got to be the best start I've had to a meal all year ... a perfect bridge into the tuna tataki - quite honestly one of the best dishes I've had in a long time."
Imagine that, but stretched over six courses. Tomato and chawanmushi is an inspired combination. The cocktail is gin-based with clarified tomato, bright and fresh with a pop of herbs and a touch of citrus. I'm struck by the clarity of this drink - both from the flavours in it and also in its literal transparency. The ice is startlingly clear, so clear that you can see right through it - something that I've come to know as the mark of a bartender who has exacting standards. The chawanmushi is already the best dish I've had this year. It's rich yet light, silky throughout, full of umami and surprisingly, vegetarian. A charred daikon "scallop" adds texture and crunch. Perfection.
The shiso cocktail is an Instagrammer's dream. A translucent bubble sits atop a light pink cocktail, shimmering in the light. Pop the bubble with your nose and an aromatic citrus fog lingers. It sounds a touch pretentious, but it's just so much fun. Shiso is a reimagination of bubbly with a distinctive Japanese twist - plum blossom and peppery shiso. It's so elegant - aromatic and floral with a gentle fizz. I love the canape too, a smoked, cured trevally with guava and orange ponzu. The cocktail and canape are a delightful contrast - light fizz against dark smoke, the freshness of both floral and ocean.
There's a choice of desserts in whichever menu you choose. Strawberry cheesecake is a fun one - an exercise in what happens when the bartender and chef are given the same brief. None of either really makes sense when written down, but it all works somehow.
A strawberry cheesecake is balanced with a gentle heat from Sichuan pepper and the saltiness of grated parmesan. The cocktail is a base of clarified strawberry, mixed teas, whiskey and cheese foam - another strangely delicious, slightly salty component.
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I love the kaya dessert too. It's a twist on a Singaporean breakfast with toasted sponge coconut mousse, caramelised white chocolate and kaffir lime curd.
I'm floored by the food that's coming out of the tiny kitchen - one induction cooktop, a combi oven and one resolute chef who's plating up some very clever dishes. There's a savoury dashi macaron, for instance, filled with a duck liver parfait and perfectly piped Earl Grey leaf. Or a modern spin on a Chinese wonton in a crisp wafer thin shell, filled with Cantonese chicken, scallion and daikon.
Then, there are the cocktails. I've been to lots of cocktail bars, but these drinks are a class unto their own. They're complex yet delicate - layer upon layer of flavour unfolding, the drink changing as it warms up or cools down.
If you're wondering how one person drinks six cocktails in a sitting, Ricky tells me that the menu has some low ABV drinks to make sure it's a sensible amount of alcohol. There's just one thing though - six drinks is quite a few, and while the dishes are larger than your average canapés, you may well need to fit in a cheeky snack on the way home.
One thing's for sure, Alcove delivers a world-class experience in the heart of Braddon. There's no denying that it's a premium offering, but it is brilliant from start to finish. At the end of the night, I feel like I've stepped off a street in Braddon and wandered into a bar in New York or Hong Kong that's swanky, sophisticated and effortlessly cool.
Address: 105/16 Lonsdale St, Braddon
Phone: 0411 337 298
Hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 5.30pm-1am
Owner: Ricky Liau
Chef: Kenny Tse
Noise: Not a problem
Vegetarian: No issues, best to advise when booking
Outdoor seating: Not an option
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