A curved marble-top bar and dark-timber detailing add to Brooks' good looks. Photo: Eddie Jim
IT'S NOT SO SURPRISING THAT THE team behind Gerald's Bar, the slightly eccentric and much-chronicled benchmark local in Carlton North, has come up trumps with the bar at their city restaurant Brooks. But while a superficial glance might have you believing that the bar at Brooks is just a slightly nuanced repeat of the same successful formula - the well-packed timber shelving, soundtrack via vinyl and wine list that allows you to drink well without going into debt all evidence of shared lineage - it's actually very much its own entity.
First, this is obviously a restaurant bar and so, unlike Gerald's, is not the main event but a part of it. The presence of lauded chef Nic Poelaert (formerly of Embrasse) in the kitchen and a sizeable split-level dining room taking up most of the basement space might have made lesser bars shrink into insignificance as nothing more than a glorified holding pen for the main show, but not here.
Brooks' owners, Gerald Diffey and Mario Di Ienno, understand that the most successful restaurant bars (a surprisingly rare breed in Melbourne) bring in a crowd that might have no intention of dining in the restaurant. Though this might seem counter-intuitive when you're trying to get bums on dining room seats, the presence of a lively and busy bar that's intent on doing its own thing adds to the energy, glamour and flexibility of the whole package. You want to go back.
Bartender's shout: The Brooks. Photo: Eddie Jim
It's certainly a good-looking space with its curving marble-top bar (best position is at the end closest to the entrance, where small groups can sit facing each other at the rounded end, like at a table), dark-timber detailing and sizeable ice bucket jammed full of condensation-beaded good things to drink. Even better is the presence of bartender Shae Silvestro, who not only knows one end of a cocktail shaker from the other but is good with the kind of bartender intuition whereby he has more of an idea of what you want to drink than you do. The cocktail list is a two-page affair, with many of the concoctions riffing on the classics - the signature cocktail The Brooks ($18) is a take on a whisky sour - and a really nice lean to the savoury. The Paper Plane ($19), for example, is a mixture of bourbon, Aperol, amaro and lemon juice that's a beautifully balanced and thirst-quenching mix between bitter and sweet.
There's a decent list of beer (including the delicious 961 Red Ale from Lebanon, $10) and cider and a generous 20-plus wines available by the glass. The welcome variety on the by-the-glass list - welschriesling from Croatia, vermentino from Queensland, nebbiolo from Italy, savagnin from France - is echoed in the bottle list that, with a few exceptions, keeps the price in the very reasonable $50-$80 range.
Bar snacks come via the smaller portions on the main menu, starting with oysters and caviar (30 grams from Yarra Valley, $30; China, $110; Israel, $130) and moving on to excellent beef charcuterie from Warialda ($28), a meat or vegetarian ''cheeky bun'' (aka fancy hamburger, $18) or excellent little pillows of rye bread filled with a silky chicken parfait ($15).
Brooks is a vastly different beast from Gerald's Bar, but it does share a particular cheeky/quirky attitude that's almost its own genre. The city is a better and more-rounded place for it being there.
Cheers A well-rounded, self-assured restaurant bar
Jeers The wrenching decision of having to drink here or at Gerald's
Shae Silvestro says he was ''brought up'' in a classic way with cocktails but is increasingly adding seasonal elements, new finds (particularly French aperitifs and spirits) and ingredients he's worked on with the chefs in the kitchen (he recently found an effective way of infusing alcohol and pineapple using vacuum-sealed bags more commonly used for sous vide).
The Brooks' signature cocktail, The Brooks, was a matter of trial and error that happened over a few days with a group of regulars who insisted the restaurant should have its own drink.
''It took a little while,'' Silvestro says. ''But I finally came up with something that we all agreed captured the essence of the place.''
60ml rye whiskey
5ml Fernet Branca Menta
30ml fresh lemon juice
3/4 shot (22ml) of sugar syrup
1 egg white
Dry shake (without ice) so the egg white gets frothy, then shake with ice to cool the drink down. Strain into an Old Fashioned glass (small tumbler) and shake a few drops of Angostura bitters onto the foam.
- 03 9001 8755
- Features - Licensed
- Cards accepted - AMEX, Mastercard, Visa, EFTPOS
- Opening Hours - Mon-Fri, 11.30am-1am; Sat, 4pm-1am
- Author - Michael Harden