362 Elizabeth St Melbourne, VIC 3000
|Opening hours||Daily 10am-1am|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard|
Want to watch a bar walk a tightrope? Hot foot it to Byrdi. The place deserves some kind of bravery award and not just because it's in a shopping centre. The cocktail menu has an ingredient list that includes fermented honeycomb, mushrooms, cabbage, clarified butter and olive oil and there's an emphatically local approach that means bar staples such as tequila are MIA.
On paper, it might sound like optimum conditions for an outbreak of pretentiousness but Byrdi serves some of the most delicious, original and exciting drinks in town and does so with knowledgeable, earnest hospitality.
A background check helps explain how it successfully negotiates the tightrope. Owners Luke Whearty and Aki Nishikura caught the attention of the drinks world with their lauded and awarded Singapore bar Operation Dagger. Whearty cut his teeth at Der Raum, artist Matt Bax's (now closed) pioneering cocktail lab in Richmond, and that bar's experimental ethos and imagination is at Byrdi's core.
Byrdi is part of the mix at the new ELLA food precinct that's next to Melbourne Central and pitching itself at CBD's urbane, food-savvy youngsters.
It's a good fit for the bar and though the minimalist, earth-toned fitout might suggest high-end homewares or skincare rather than booze, it's a calming space in which to spend some time.
There's a minuscule number of beer (craft) and wine (natural) on the list but it's the cocktails, highballs and ferments that are the reason for seeking out Byrdi.
Not Mezcal is a brilliant highball that mixes a house-made spirit made from dried and smoked Yarra Valley pears that emulates the smokey moves of mezcal. Topped with Strangelove pear soda, it is refreshing and fortifying with a clean subtle sweetness.
Also from the highball list is the G(um) & T(ea), a version of gin and tonic that adds depth and texture by way of kombucha flavoured with strawberry gum that pairs beautifully with 78 Degrees gin from the Adelaide Hills.
Weisbar plays on the classic ice-cream by way of rye whisky, double-fermented mango, whey and white chocolate while Mushroom Apple is a showcase for Yarra Valley apples and mushrooms (king oysters, infused in apple brandy) that produce a thrilling earthy sweetness that tastes like a promise of good health.
A short list of ferments changes seasonally (like the rest of the menu) and should not be missed. Served in wine glasses and looking like white wine, the ferments, all made in-house, blur the line between wine and cocktail.
There's a light, just-sweet-enough number made from fermented honeycomb and another that highlights lilly pilly, made with a refreshing base of apple juice fermented with red cabbage. They're as compelling for their flavour as they are for technique.
A brief list of bar snacks includes salt-and-vinegar green beans with crunchy tempura batter and excellent grilled lettuce hearts flavoured with pistachio and riberry vinegar. Clever stuff, simply done.
Stracciatella - a soft, milky cheese - is topped with fried capers and parsley "jam". King prawn (the only non-veg item) is grilled and doused with garlic butter. Smoked-egg pavlova is topped with passionfruit and cured egg yolk syrup.
In the morning, there's a house-made crumpet, muesli with fermented strawberries and Aki's baked goods, maybe chocolate and wattleseed scroll. It's quiet food, nothing show-pony about it.
Who would have thought experimental and boundary-pushing would find its way into a food court? Byrdi's like nothing else in Melbourne right now – a brave, delicious new cocktail world.
Martini meter n/a
Byrdi's non-traditional all the way – ask them for a drink that's martini-adjacent and strap yourself in.
Go-to bar snack
Salt and vinegar beans with lacy tempura batter, subtle vinegar notes and slightly firm core, are a tasty snack that leans healthy without being boring about it, $10.
with Dani Valent